Sunday, November 10, 2013

Day #6 of Land Tour, Part 1: Mor Gabriel

Part of our little tour group in our nice little MBZ bus

Our little tour group departed Midyat for the final time.  There would be 2 destinations today, and then a long drive back to Şanliurfa.  Our return flight to Izmir would be out of Şanliurfa late the following afternoon.  Today we would visit Mor Gabriel and Hasankeyf.  I had researched Mor Gabriel prior to this trip and knew about it.  Hasankeyf was totally unknown to me.  I will post a separate entry about Hasankeyf.

Inside courtyard-like area
According to Wikipedia, Dayro d-Mor Gabriel (also known as Deyrulumur) (Classical Syriac:  ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܓܒܪܐܝܠ; The Monastery of St. Gabriel) is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world.  It is located on the Tur-Abdin (Land of the Servants of God) plateau near Midyat in the Mardin Province in Southeastern Turkey.  The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch is based in the Eastern Mediterranean, with members spread throughout the world.  It employs the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, the Liturgy of St. James the Apostle.  

Sign near entry.  Wow! 1615 years and still in use.

The Monastery was founded in 397 A.D. by Mor Samuel, who died in 409, and Mor Simon, who died in 433.  The honorific 'Mor' is the Syriac way of saying 'Saint'.  Both saints are interred inside the monastery.  The monastery has been known by several names.  It finally became known as the Monastery of St. Gabriel after the 7th century Bishop Gabriel of the Monastery and Tur-Abdin, who lived 634-638. The monastery was completely restored in the last century.  The funds for the restoration chiefly came from wealthy Americans, who are Turkish families who immigrated to the USA during the last century.   Some of these families still own commercial properties in Marmaris, including one large hotel and 4 jewelry stores. 

Main entry of Mor Gabriel
As mentioned in some of my previous blog postings, the church uses Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic which was spoken by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, as its official and liturgical language.  The church is led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.  The church traces its history to one of the first Christian communities, described in the Acts of the Apostles (New Testament, Acts 11:26) and was established by the Apostle St. Peter.  The church has 26 archdioceses and 11 patriarchal vicariates.  In 1959 the Patriarch was moved to Damascus in modern-day Syria.  Last month he made a trip to London appealing for help against the insurgents who killed 39 Syriac Christians in one village in Syria in September.

Lighting another candle for
brother, Fr. John

Services are still held on Fridays and Sundays at Mor Gabriel.  A young man was assigned to be our guide; and, as was done when we visited the Saffron Monastery, the young guide would speak in Turkish to our guide, Taş; and then Taş would translate to English for us. 
Bible in first church
 I found it almost impossible to understand anything anyone said inside the buildings because voices reverberated badly.  So I wrote almost no notes of what we were told inside the buildings.  My camera also died just as we arrived so any photos we took were with the iPhone and that does not work all that well in dark cavernous buildings.

Doorway behind pulpit.  Oldest mosaics
in Turkey back there but we were not
allowed to enter.
Here is a link to the official site for this monastery where you can learn accurate information: 

Let's see.  Just what were we told that I bothered to write down?  Here is that hodge-podge:

*Newborns are christened at 14 days after birth.
*The oldest mosaics in Turkey are behind the pulpit    door opening.  
*Visitors are not allowed beyond that pulpit door  opening.
*Gabriel performed many miracles, including  resurrecting 4 people after death.
   (Seriously? See why I have difficulty with religions.)
*Gabriel lived in a tiny cell in the left corner from the    pulpit.

Painting of The Last Supper.
Note the pink mortar of The Refectory building.

The refectory has pink mortar holding the stones together.  It is round and had 6 arches to round alcoves.  It was impossible to understand anyone talking inside this building so I gave up trying to understand any explanations at this point other than the fact that this second building was built in the 6th century.

Replica of the monastery made of 12,000 matches

In one building there was a replica of the monastery constructed entirely from matches.  Twelve thousand matches were used to build this replica 40 years ago.  

There are a total of 60 people living in the monastery today.  This total is comprised of 15 nuns, 3 priests, 25 students, and 1 Patriarch called a Metropolic.  The remaining people are families of the students.  As I explained in the blog posting about the Saffron Monastery, it is illegal in Turkey to teach religion of any kind; so only the language can be taught here.  To be taught religion they must go to Damascus -- not a safe place to visit these days.

The second church inside the monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  This church was built because the first church was not large enough to hold everyone attending services.

In a lower level beneath the floor near the Church of Virgin Mary are tombs.  There are only 15 tombs but according to the young man these 15 tombs hold 12,000 priests.  Honestly??!!  Surely something was lost in the translations from Aramaic to Turkish to English!

Grave of Mor Gabriel where soil is taken each year

Mor Gabriel is buried beneath the floor on the right side down in the tomb area.  Someone in our group asked the gruesome question and the young man confirmed that Mor Gabriel's head is buried there, not the rest of his body.  Each year a tiny amount of soil is taken from that hole in the floor leading to Mor Gabriel's head.  That soil is mixed with holy water and that is believed to have curative effects.  Five fingers of Mor Gabriel are encased in gold and are at the Metropolitan in Damascus.  

Main entrance
The Syriacs got into a disagreement with the government of Turkey some years back.  Seems the Syriacs agreed with the Armenians that the Turks had committed genocide during the last century when so many Armenians were killed when the Turks sent them back to their own country of Armenia.  The Turks do not consider that genocide.  They consider what Hitler did during the Holocaust to be genocide -- where one race or religion of people were targeted and killed.  The Turks claim that the Armenians were not killed because they were Armenian; they were killed because they would not leave Turkey.  And that many people on both sides were killed.  A lot of Turks died during this relocation of the Armenians.  The Turks get very touchy when accused of genocide of the Armenians.  Because of the unabashed verbal public statements by the Syriacs about this topic, the government of Turkey took away most of their lands at Mor Gabriel.

Inside near back area of monastery

Very recently the Turkish government decided to return most of the Mor Gabriel lands to the Syriacs.  

The news story can be read at this link:    Mor Gabriel lands returned

This concluded the Christian part of our tour.

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