Friday, February 4, 2011

6th Crystal: Deir Mar Musa Christian Monastery in Syria

     After Athens, I flew to Turkey where I spent a week with 5 women friends on one of the "Princes' Islands" off the coast of Istanbul where no cars are allowed and most homes are used primarily as summer vacation spots. In this idyllic location, provided by our Turkish member, we walked, talked, played, and supported one of our members who was facing a serious cancer threat.

      Then, I went by bus to Turkey's capitol, Ankara to visit another friend, who lives there teaching the professional tools for working with women who have been victims of sexual violence. We took a walk up a hill in the center city where the biggest Mosque in the country was recently built. From the women's balcony, I saw this beautiful golden ball of lights and crystals, looking  like the "Network of Light" that I hope I am a part of in this world. There I prayed our Peace Prayers. 

      From there, I traveled to Konya to drop most of my luggage and proceeded by overnight bus to the south of Turkey and over the Syrian border. We traveled through the ancient city of Aleppo and further south along the "Silk Route" to a drop-off along the road. 
     I walked the stone steps up the mountain, where in the 3rd century, an Etheopian Prince named "Moses"(Musa), leaving his wealth behind to become a Christian, had come to this mountainous canyon to pray, much as Jesus had done before him. Other Christian Monks hid out here in the caves as well, during times of persecution. Later in the 11th century, a church and monastery was built out of the rocks of mountain and inhabited for hundreds of years, after which it fell into disrepair.

     In the past 30-some years, the church and ancient  monastery were "rediscovered," repaired and  reactivated through the work of an amazing Italian priest, Padre Paolo, who went to the desert to pray (much as Musa had done centuries before) and search for his mission in life. 
     He became proficient in Arabic and took as his mission an interpretation of Christianity which honors Islam as a "sister" religion. To this end, the Catholic "Mass" is said in Arabic and people of all religious persuasions, or none, are welcome to come to Deir Mar Musa to retreat, pray, offer their services and speak of peace together!
    During this visit, I met people from Korea, Iran, Iraq, Norway, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Lebanon, Sweden, Germany, England, Japan, South Africa, and Australia--as well as many local Syrians--Muslims, Aramaic and Syriac Christians. All of us shared a mutual hope for Peace in the Middle East, as well as throughout the world!

During my first visit to Deir Mar 
 Musa in 2003, as part of an "Interfaith Peace Pilgrimage," I totally "fell in love" with it. Most of my group slept in the guest area across a swinging bridge over the dry "wadi"  below, which was being constructed, using stones from old houses being torn down in the valley below. 
     I had the auspicious opportunity to sleep in the cave where, it is thought that Musa himself had lived. There, I celebrated my 59th birthday, waking before dawn to to look out over the ancient "Silk Route" below in the valley, where Bedouin shepherds started their morning breakfast fires before beginning another day of fasting in honor of the Islamic month of Ramadan. As I too, was fasting, I would have a little breakfast before preparing to go across going across for Mass in the church,sitting on rugs on the floor and leaning against frescoes painted by Monks, perhaps in the 13th century!

     During this visit, I was disappointed to discover that "my beloved cave" had been made into a "chapel" to Musa complete with a rug on the floor and a cross against the back wall. So, it was clear that I would not be able to sleep there this time.

     Nevertheless, I was able to go in on the day of my 66th birthday and to say our Peace Prayers and to leave there a candle, some sacred cedar from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and of course, our 6th Crystal from the World Community of Saint Francis. May our candle shine out from the cave and add light throughout the world!

Prayer before the Cross of San Damiano

Most high and Glorious God,
Bring light to the darkness of my heart.
Grant me right faith, certain hope and perfect charity.
Lord, grant me insight and wisdom,
So I might always discern
Your holy and true Will.

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