Mar Musa Monastery
Jun 28, 2007
I left Damascus with a French guy, Edouard, and a Spanish girl, Sara. Our destination is Mar Musa, an ancient monastery in the hills.
We take a bus as far as the town of Nebek, and then find a reasonably priced taxi to take us the rest of the way. I'm sad to see that the monastery has been a bit Lonely Planet'ized - tourism is having impacts all over the world. A few years ago, you had to hike a mile across rough terrain to reach the monastery; your first view when you arrived was looking down a cliff at the monastery. I speak a lot about the way you reach a spot impacting your experience - it must have been amazing.
Now there is a parking lot at the bottom of the hill with stairs up to the monastery. But it's still amazing. Saint Moses (not that Moses) traveled from Ethiopia up to Syria in the 6th century and founded the Monastery. The Monastery was repainted in the 11th century, and those frescoes remain today. Though sadly, they were at one point defaced. The Monastery remained open as a monastery until the 1800s when it was finally abandoned. But then in the 1980s, it was reopened, and repaired.
The monastery provided free food and rooms for us. The room Edouard and I shared was a converted cave; just completed and very nice. Sara was of course banished over to the adjacent Abbey.
One of the people staying at the Monastery is an Iraqi refugee whose family had been killed. There was a very tense moment, when he heard that I was an American. But after I told him "Bush bad" in Arabic, his attitude reversed completely, his anger vanished, and he gave me a huge hug.
That night we attend a wonderful intimate candlelit prayer session. The candles light up the face of the priest as he's reading, and dimly light up all of the ancient paintings. The prayer service was done in Arabic, but the tone was very different than the Muslim prayer calls that I'd grown accustomed to. It was much more like the singing of a Jewish cantor. After the reading of the New Testament, there was a reading of the Old Testament. We were encouraged to follow along in our own languages. Then the priest and religious students had a good old-fashioned discussion and debate, half in Arabic, half in English.
I speak of the differences between authentic travel experiences, and the somewhat shallow imitations. This was the real deal, and it was incredible. Forget what the State department might tell you - Syria is an amazing place to visit.
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