|I believe this to be a Public Domain Picture from Asianews,|
The Following is a Guest Post by my Husband.
Please pray for these Nuns and their Families, for the Orphans, and for their captors.
The tears are never gone from the eyes of Mrs. Leila S. these days. It has been already a month since guerrillas kidnapped her sister, Gerontissa (=Eldress) Pelagia, with 11 nuns and four young orphans, whom they were raising at the monastery of St. Thekla, in the picturesque town of Maaloula, 55 km NE of Damascus. Both Leila and Pelagia had themselves grown up in Syrian orphanages, after the death of their father when they were still infants. The dedication of Pelagia to the service of others was manifested early, and when she was sent to rebuild the ancient Monastery of Maaloula in 1990, she turned it not only into a place of prayer, but also into an orphanage for girls. One of her graduates recently ranked first in entry exams to the university, securing a full scholarship to become a pharmacist. From three when they began, the nuns became eighteen and their orphans exceeded 30. Some months before the rebels arrived, they had sent them to Damascus for greater security, but kept with them only 4 more mature girls. The Orthodox of Maaloula, just 4,000 souls, are the oldest Christian community in Syria, and a few days earlier you could not distinguish them from the 2,000 Muslims. Next to the monastery church, where Aramaic is still used at liturgy, is also the mosque. The shrine of the Saint, perched on the stone cliff, was a refuge for all and a source of cures. Her story starts in the 1st century, when, according to Leila, "to escape the wrath of her pagan father, she fled into a cleft of the rock, which closed behind her like a grill, excluding her pursuers. In the same cleft are buried her remains, and from there uninterruptedly drips water of unknown origin, miraculously sanctified for those who gather it carefully in their bowls, without distinction of origin or religion." Many in our community here in Ohio, remember Memer (= Mother) Pelagia when she visited her sister in 2011, and became godmother at the baptism of an infant from one of the families that have been touched by her charity work, and are now scattered across the five continents. Nuns from the homonymous Cypriot monastery near Mosfiloti were housed for two weeks in Maaloula, and the Abbess Konstantina reciprocated the compliment when Memer Pelagia arrived in Cyprus a while ago for the wedding of a friendly couple. This Christmas, this couple held in their arms their first baby, and only anxiety for Memer and the others held poisoned the atmosphere. Leila lost a few years ago her husband, is deprived of her children who are still in Syria, and now she feels she is losing her homeland, too. Like Cyprus, it also has been split in two, and everyone is forced to choose which part to love more. "It was not like this in our country, for many, many years," said Leila. "Christians and Muslims lived together in the same villages, in the same neighborhoods, and shared the joys, the sorrows, the traditions and customs of their fellow human beings, with whom we associated in close friendships and relationships. In a region where war and killing one another was the rule, Syria was the exception." Will the good old days ever come back? Will the townsfolk reconcile again? Will Syria rediscover her peaceful, conciliatory herself? Only God knows, and Leila finds comfort in the grace of Saint Thekla. She has been for centuries the protectress of Maaloula, because there was and is her home. If her intercessions are granted, Pelagia and her entourage will return to their pious work, and normalcy will return to Maaloula. Until then, however, only the pleading tears remain, ever trickling down Leila’s cheeks. I, too, share in her grief, as is possible, friend reader, along with Cyprus, and her people. Until when will the division and lament last? See you!