"Syria is the glory of Christianity"


The above is a saying of our beloved Patriarch Gregorios III Leham. Syria is the glorious homeland of the Apostle Peter, as well as his brother Andrew and the apostle Phillip (cf. John 1:44)  – all these spiritual giants hail from the city of Bethsaida (which means in Aramaic/Syriac “House of Fishing”). Bethsaida was located on the north east coast of the sea of Galilee in modern Syria[1].

 

Jesus himself traveled through Syria, performing many of his greatest miracles here, including the feeding of the 5000 (cf. John 6:1f) and the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (Mk 5:1f, Lk 8:26f).

 

 Damascus was the site of the conversion and first preaching of St Paul. Syria’s ancient capital in Roman times was Antioch, the city of St Luke the evangelist. Antioch was the base of missionary operations for the Church of the East from the time of St Paul onward. No less than seven popes were from Syria, three of them saints such as Pope Sergius I who introduced the “Agnus Dei” in the liturgy as wells as feast-days of the Virgin Mary that are celebrated to this day in the universal Church. Syria has a very rich Christian tradition in both Greek and Syriac thanks to its great saints and doctors, such as the great martyr St Ignatius of Antioch, St Ephraim the Syriac, a poet, deacon, and doctor of the Church, St Simon the Stylite, whose church built in around his famous pillar was the largest in antiquity, St John of Damascus “the last of the Fathers of the East”, St Maron (Father of the Maronite Church), St Tecla, St Elian of Homs, St Isaac of Nineveh, and countless others.


What is not often known or spoken of is what modern research has shown: Syria remained rich in Christian tradition even during the summit of the Islamic Caliphates – and it is a little known fact that while these rulers were Muslim, the great majority of Syrian people were Christian and remained so for a thousand years [2]. Despite periodic massacres and the infamous Ottoman “blood tax” Christians in 1910 still constituted a 3rd of the Syrian population (source Catholic Encyclopedia). 

  

There is one remarkable fact that the world should know about Syria: for centuries the Syrian society has been a shining example of mutual respect and unity between Christians and Muslims, where babysitting each other’s’ children, breastfeeding each other’s’ babies (before powdered milk was brought in), working each other’s farms, were as normal as drinking tea– even celebrating religious holidays together.  Walid, our refugee brother who is a Sunni Muslim says, “The Syrian peoples and faiths are one fabric. The Syrians living in Syria today are more united than ever because they reject the extremist Islamist ideology that has entered the country in the last ten years. They reject this culture of death. The people want a culture of life, to live as one again”.


[1] The historic, biblical Bethsaida is officially in "the Syrian Golan Heights territory, which Israel has occupied since 1967". Also, "the Golan Heights, a 450-square mile portion of southwestern Syria that Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war." (CRS Issue Brief for Congress: Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues, Congressional Research Service. 19 January 2006). "The international community maintains that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and without international legal effect." International Labour Office (2009).The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories (International government publication ed.). International Labour Office.p. 23.ISBN 978-92-2-120630-9.


[2] Philip Jenkins, The Hidden History of Christianity – the Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church of the Middle East, Arica and Asia – and How It Died. Harper Collins Publishers, New York