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Syriac church reopened in Turkey after 100 years

The Syriac Catholic Monastery of St Ephrem in southern Turkey has been reconsecrated, a century after it was requisitioned by the state.

The Monastery of Mor Efrem (St Ephrem) in Mardin, southern Turkey, an area which was once the heartland of Syriac Christianity, has once again opened its doors to believers.

Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, head of the Syriac Catholic Church, presided over the reconsecration of the building and celebrated its first Divine Liturgy in a hundred years.

Founded in 1881, the Syriac monastery was seized by the Turkish army during the First World War. It briefly returned to the Church after the war ended, before being transformed into a military hospital in 1922. In more recent times, it had served as a prison and a warehouse.

The ceremony

Patriarch Younan consecrated the church according to the Syriac rite on 13 October, 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 – ܚܽܘܪܘ̱ ܠܘܳܬܶܗ ܘܣܰܒܰܪܘ̱ ܒܶܗ  , or ‘Look at Him and trust in Him’ – inscribed above the large cross behind the altar, encouraging the congregation to keep their gaze on Jesus and put their faith in Him.

The ceremony was attended by Syriac Catholic prelates from across Turkey and the Middle East, the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, and Syriac Orthodox bishops and clergy.

Archbishop Orhan ŞanlıPatriarchal Vicar of Turkeygave a speech before the ceremony began, thanking all those who had made the re-opening of the monastery possible, including members of the laity who had volunteered their time.  

Ancient history, current struggles

The area that is now southern Turkey (along with parts of the Middle East) has been home to communities of Syriac Christians, also known as Assyrians, since the first centuries of Christianity. Many still speak Neo-Aramaic, a language directly descended from that spoken by Jesus Himself.

Their numbers have dwindled enormously over the centuries, however, often in the face of violent persecution. Hundreds of thousands were killed by government and local forces during the First World War. Some countries including Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands say the violence was genocide. Today, Assyrian Christians represent only a tiny fraction of Turkey’s population.

In the photo a Syriac monk outside Mor Yakub d`Karno monastery in Turkey. Source: Vatican News

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