It looks as though, God willing, I’ll be going to Syria for two weeks at the end of the semester. We’re calling it a mission trip, and there is some work planned, but apparently it’s more of a good-will trip toward the Syrian Christians. The church I’m currently attending is Antiochian Orthodox, which means they’re under the guidance of the Patriarch of Antioch, IGNATIUS IV (one of these days I’m going to have to ask where the convention of capitalizing bishop’s names came from), who’s actually in Damascus (the capital of Syria; that’s where Paul was heading when God knocked him off his donkey), rather than Antioch. Anyway, for reasons that are obscure to me, Wichita and mid-America (that’s us) is considered the sister diocese of Bosra-Haran in Syria, under Metropolitan SABA (that’s who we’d be visiting). It has somehow happened that Bishop BASIL (of Wichita) and Metropolitan SABA (bishop of Bosra) have given their respective blessings that two priests from Texas lead a group of 13 or so college-age youth to go visit Met. SABA’s diocese, etc., and I’ll most likely be going with them. On the one hand, I don’t know any of these people. On the other hand, Fr. John does know some of these people, and thinks they’re great, and Fr. John is pretty great, so he’s probably right.
As you have no doubt figured out, most of this is obscure to me. I suppose a wee bit of research on the history of the Antiochian Orthodox church is in order. In any event, the proposed schedule is as follows:
Monday May 24th Depart Houston’s George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport at 8:00 pm, via Emirates Airlines.
Tuesday, 25th Arrive Dubai 8:30 pm, overnight hotel accommodations in Dubai
Wednesday 26th Depart Dubai 7:15 am, arrive Damascus 9:30 am. Travel to Suweida and have lunch at the residence of Metropolitan SABA and observe the local ministries of the Archdiocese
Thursday 27th Tour the Archdiocese and observe its various ministries.
Friday May 28th Work projects within the Archdiocese.
Saturday May 29th Travel north to the ancient Aramaic-speaking village of Ma’aloula to make pilgrimage to the 1st century Women’s Monastery of St. Thekla the Protomartyr. Then continue north to make pilgrimage to the 6th century Men’s Monastery of St. George Al- Humayrah in the “Valley of the Christians” and the 20th century Women’s Monastery of the Theotokos near the mountain village of Al-Muqa’abriyah.
Sunday May 30st Attend Divine Liturgy in the port city of Lattakiya (ancient Laodicea), the See City of Metropolitan YOUHANNA of the Archdiocese of Lattakiya. Then travel east to the city of Homs (ancient Emessa), the See City of Metropolitan George of the Archdiocese of Homs, to make pilgrimage to the Church of St. Julian (Mar Ilyan), a 3rd Martyr and Unmercenary Healer, where his sacred relics are enshrined.
Monday May 31st Travel to the Archdiocesan monastery to make candles and work on icons
Tuesday June 1st Work in Swueida preparing food stuffs for the poor
Wednesday & Thursday, June 2nd and 3rd Travel north to Damascus, the capital of Syria and the See City of our Father-in-God Patriarch IGNATIUS IV, to visit the Patriarchal Cathedral and other ancient sites in the Old City. Walk down “Straight Lane” to the home of Ananias, where St. Paul was healed of his blindness after his conversion. Then continue north to the village of Saydnaya to make pilgrimage to the Holy and Patriarchal Women’s Monastery of Our Lady (built by the Emperor Justinian), where we will pray before the famous wonder-working icon of the Most Holy Tehotokos known as “Al-Shagoura,” and to the other monasteries in and around the village, including the Monastery of the Cherubim and that of St. Moses the Ethiopian in Nabak. That evening we travel south to overnight in Suweida.
Friday June 4th Work day within the Archdiocese.
Saturday June 5th Travel to the Golan Heights.
Sunday June 6th We are in Swueida for Liturgy and visit the Roman amphitheater in Bosra.
Monday 7th Leave Damascus 7:30 pm arrive Dubai 10:30 pm stay overnight in hotel
Tuesday 8th Leave Dubai 9:05 am arrive Houston 6:25 pm
This website may be helpful: http://sor.cua.edu/Patriarchate/index.html