Visits to Judas House and Ananias House, Meeting and Tour with Their Graces, Bishops LOUKA and MOUSSA at the Patriarchal Cathedral and Headquarters - 11/03/10

Damascus, Syria

Our first of extremely full days began in Damascus, which is Sayidna’s hometown and where he spent years of ministry as a deacon, priest and bishop. The first stop was to Judas House where, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle Ananias healed St. Paul from his blindness. We also visited Ananias House, which is now maintained by Franciscan monks as a shrine. Forty icons depict major events in St. Paul’s life, through his persecution of Christians, his conversion and eventual martyrdom. We continued our way along the Street Called Straight, which is 1400 meters long, with a column every three meters because it was built for chariots. In ancient times, Christians lived on the north side of the street and Jews on the south.

Midway through the day, the group joined Their Graces, Bishop LOUKA (Khoury) and Bishop MOUSSA (Khoury) at the Patriarchal Complex. Sayidna LOUKA explained that the Cathedral (Al-Mariamiyeh) was a gift to the Christians from the Omayyad Muslim leader in the eight century, when he took St. John the Baptist Cathedral to himself and made it a mosque. The current cathedral has three altars: the center in honor of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the right in honor of St. Nicholas, and the left in honor of St. Demetrios. The cathedral was burned and pillaged many times over the centuries, especially in 1860, when Islamic radicals rounded up some 9000 local Christians, locked them inside and burned it to the ground. The most famous martyr was St. Joseph of Damascus (July 10), who jumped from rooftop to rooftop to commune and anoint his spiritual children before their impending deaths.

Just as St. Ananias protected St. Paul, Sayidna MOUSSA told the delegates that they are protected to continue their work in this part of the world. He said that if people are connected to the Church others will be, especially the children who will realize that it’s their home. Sayidna again stressed that Christians are very well treated in Syria, and even Muslims visit their monasteries. Because Friday is the holy day of the Muslim week, Friday and Saturday make up the weekend in Syria. More Christians go to church on Friday, but the government allows two hours on Sundays for believers so they can miss their jobs without penalty.

Our last stop of the day brought the delegation to Holy Cross Church for Divine Liturgy. Many people, including his family, filled the church with great joy to welcome home their native son, who was instrumental in building the parish and Holy Cross Halls before he left for America. Following the beautiful service, Sayidna JOSEPH addressed the congregation and talked specifically about his delegation’s mission to see the Middle East’s holy sites and get a first-hand understand of cultural and social conditions. He also stressed that there is no difference between us and them. We moved to the Halls for dinner, joined by many dignitaries from the area, including leaders of ladies societies, teachers, principals, orphanage directors and city officials who were all connected to the church. Sayidna asked his priests and two lay delegates to speak on our behalf to introduce us, our lives and ministries in America so that we can find our similarities and bridge any gaps.