The Syriac Catholic monastery of Saint-Ephrem, in the south of Turkey, has been reconsecrated, a century after its requisition by the State.
By Joseph Tulloch
Mor Efrem (St Ephrem) Monastery in Mardin, southern Turkey, an area that was once the heartland of Syriac Christianity, has once again opened its doors to believers.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, head of the Syriac Catholic Church, presided over the rededication of the building and celebrated his first Divine Liturgy in a hundred years.
Founded in 1881, the Syriac monastery was seized by the Turkish army during the First World War. After the war ended, it briefly returned to the church before being turned into a military hospital in 1922. More recently it had been used as a prison and warehouse.
Patriarch Younan consecrated the church in the Syriac rite on October 13, anointing the altar, walls and doors with oil of chrism, before celebrating the Divine Liturgy.
In his homily, he drew attention to a Syriac phrase – ޚޘުޘ̱ ޠޘެ ޘޣްޒްުޘ̱ ޒޗ, or “Look at him and trust in him” – inscribed above the large cross behind the altar, encouraging the congregation to keep their eyes on Jesus and put their faith. In him.
The ceremony brought together Syriac Catholic prelates from across Turkey and the Middle East, the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, as well as Syriac Orthodox bishops and clergy.
Archbishop Orhan Şanlı, Patriarchal Vicar of Turkey, gave a speech before the start of the ceremony, thanking all those who had made the reopening of the monastery possible, including the lay people who had given their time.
Ancient history, current struggles
The region that is now southern Turkey (as well as parts of the Middle East) has been home to communities of Syriac Christians, also known as Assyrians, since the earliest centuries of Christianity. Many still speak Neo-Aramaic, a language directly derived from that spoken by Jesus himself.
However, their numbers have dwindled enormously over the centuries, often in the face of violent persecution. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by government and local forces during World War I. Some countries, including Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, say the violence was genocide. Today, Assyrian Christians represent only a tiny fraction of the Turkish population.