Tour of Beirut, St. George Cathedral and Byblos; Meeting with His Eminence, Metropolitan ELIAS of Beirut; Visit to St. Elias Patriarchal Monastery; Dinner with His Eminence, Metropolitan ELIAS of Tyre and Sidon - 11/10/10

Beirut, Byblos and Dhour Shweir, Lebanon

Beirut is a bustling, cosmopolitan and modern city, but it is an apostolic see: the Church was established here in the first century A.D. by the Apostle Quartos (Kodratos). Fittingly, he the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Beirut, and we were in his city for his feast day. We visited St. George Cathedral in downtown’s Martyrs Square, and both have been totally rebuilt following the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The cathedral is gorgeous, but it had not been in recent years. During the war, soldiers from all sorts of factions literally fought and opened gunfire inside the temple, leaving “bullet wounds” in the halo of Jesus Christ in an icon on one of the walls. Other frescos suffered such wounding. The clergy tried their very best to remove every holy item—especially a miraculous icon of the Theotokos—that they could so it would not be lost as “spoils of war.” Thank God, the cathedral has returned to its former splendor, as new icons and frescos have adorned practically every inch in the past six years.

Our bus wound its way through Beirut’s cramped, traffic-infested streets to the chancery of His Eminence, Metropolitan ELIAS (Audi), who had just celebrated 30 years as archpastor of the city. His fame spans the entire Middle East, especially Lebanon, for his bold sermons calling for peace and unity in a region where these can be foreign ideas. Sayidna ELIAS took no credit for his words, saying that they spread only because network television wants to broadcast his words live every Sunday. We also walked through the chancery’s outdoor garden to the chapel, adorned with new iconography.

We next went to Byblos, the ancient Phoenician capitol that sits right on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the city that gave the world its first alphabet, the builders of Solomon’s temple (I Kings 5:32), the first paper for books (hence the world “Bible”) and is considered the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world, dating to 5000 B.C. A multitude of tribes and nations conquered and inhabited Byblos, craving not just its strategic location for trade and shipping, but its picturesque blue waters, classical buildings and green mountains.

Also picturesque is the “summer residence” of the Patriarch of Antioch, St. Elias Monastery in Dhour Shouier. This slice of Heaven overlooks most of Byblos, Beirut and the Mediterranean beyond. On a clear day, one could see the nation-island of Cyprus. The tiny chapel named in honor of the Prophet Elias hosted history on August 14, 1966 when His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba) was consecrated to the holy episcopacy. The chapel was bursting with people, the majority of whom had to stand outside and listen, hoping to record every second in their memories. Some in the group remarked that, when they saw pictures of Sayidna PHILIP’s consecration, the temple looked much bigger. The monks greeted all of us, including one who, like Mother Katerina in Deir El Natour near Tripoli, had been severely beaten by thugs during the civil war. This holy man welcomed us with open arms and would not let us leave until he climbed onto our bus to seek Sayidna’s blessing before we drove away.