Visits to Baalbeck, Zahle; Meeting with His Eminence, Metropolitan SPIRIDON of Zahle; visit to area churches, including “Our Lady of Zalzale” - 11/09/10

Baalbeck & Zahle, Lebanon

The biggest and best preserved Roman ruins are not in Italy, but at Baalbeck, Lebanon. It is considered the largest and most noble pagan temple ever built and one of the wonders of the ancient world. Baalbeck’s original name, as designated by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C., was “Heliopolis” and it certainly was the “city of the sun”, as we experienced one of the warmest days of our trip. Many of the columns and intricate carvings that adorn the temples still exist in near-perfect form today, and archaeologists are still uncovering treasures thought to be lost forever. The heavy stone structures that hovered over us stood up for the first time in the first century B.C., and we can only marvel at the workers and slaves who lifted them with no modern machinery.

Next was a visit to another of Sayidna JOSEPH’s boyhood mentors, His Eminence, Metropolitan SPIRIDON (Khoury) of Zahle. He visited the United States in 2003, which included a celebration of the Divine Liturgy with Sayidna JOSEPH at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles. His Eminence had enlisted the help of many of the faithful, some of whom were in our delegation, in remodeling his chancery and cathedral, which is also named for St. Nicholas. The group got to see the result of this assistance: a beautiful facility, complete with fully furnished offices, an outdoor corridor and, of course, new icons inside the cathedral. Interestingly, Sayidna SPIRIDON’s throne sits up against the icon of St. John the Baptist on the iconostasis because there was no other place for him to sit; every last inch of the nave is saved for the faithful. His Eminence then thanked the Church in America for its generosity and, in return, he gave each of us brand new copies of his biography, filled with pictures of his ministry before and during his 45 years as Metropolitan of Zahle. He then hosted us for yet another wonderful lunch.

The delegation visited several area parishes, but the one that stood out the most was named in honor of the Virgin Theotokos in the neighborhood of Zalzale. This little parish is indeed miraculous. Zahle once suffered a major earthquake that left the city in ruins, but not “Our Lady” because the falling mountain stopped right at the edge of the church, thus providing shelter and sanctuary for the destitute people. Another time, Muslim extremists sought to destroy the parish, but our Mother Mary caused a dust storm that blinded the invaders and forced them into retreat. We received holy oil from this parish and, as we turned to leave, we noticed two large icons that each covered a wall. On one side, we saw the helpful person who lived in poverty, yet would be carried into Heaven by an angel; on the other side, we saw the wicked person who lived in wealth and would be ignored by the angel. The icons are next to the main doors so that the believer can ask himself: which one am I?