Meeting with His Eminence, Metropolitan GEORGE of Homs, Visits to St. Ilian Church, Forty Martyrs Cathedral, Krak des Chevaliers, St. George Monastery and Al Housen Hospital - 11/05/10

Homs, Syria

The pilgrims boarded the bus and drove 90 minutes north to the city of Homs, where we were warmly greeted by the first of Sayidna’s friends from his childhood at the Balamand Seminary. His Eminence, Metropolitan GEORGE (Abu-Zahkem), immediately took us to venerate and pray before the tomb of the protector of Homs, St. Ilyan (Julian) the Martyr and Unmercenary Healer. He was a skilled physician, healing illnesses not only of the body but also of the soul. St. Ilyan never charged for his services and he converted many people to faith in Christ the Savior. He also encouraged them to give up their lives for Jesus Christ, which he himself did in 312 A.D.

We next visited Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastia Cathedral, the official see of His Eminence. We stood in awe of the iconography of this parish that was written throughout the centuries. Sayidna GEORGE then took us into his chancery, where he discussed life in Homs and Syria in general and recalled the childhood memories that he shares with Sayidna JOSEPH. The entire delegation felt the brotherly love between these two men who grew up to become leaders of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. His Eminence then hosted us at a nearby restaurant to a lunch that was so sumptuous that it did not even feel like it was Lenten for a Friday. Sayidna GEORGE then presented us with a small gift to remember Homs: icons of the Holy Forty Martyrs.

We bid a temporary adieu to Sayidna GEORGE, once he informed us that he would be celebrating the Divine Liturgy with us at the Balamand Seminary. Our next stop was the Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site and one of the most important medieval crusader castles. The limestone castle was originally built in the eleventh century, with major additions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The hallways were built wide and tall enough for soldiers to ride through on their horses. The steep floors were made of cobblestones so hard and smoothened to walk on that we wished we had horses! At 650 meters up, Krak des Chevaliers sat along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. The castle had all sorts of rooms and living quarters, but also a walk-in baking oven and a chapel complete with altar and bishop’s throne. With the thick limestone walls, even the chanters’ whispers must have bounced throughout the chapel; their singing voices must have been that much more powerful.