Posted 21 октября 2021,, 10:04

Published 21 октября 2021,, 10:04

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

Burnt relic: how the holy belt of Virgin Mary survived the Syrian war

Burnt relic: how the holy belt of Virgin Mary survived the Syrian war

21 октября 2021, 10:04
During the hostilities in Homs, from the church where this Christian relic was kept, the belt of the Virgin was taken to a safe area, and in 2014 it was returned to its place.

Unfortunately, about the Syrian city of Homs, which is two hundred kilometers north of Damascus, in Russia, if anyone has heard, it was mainly due to the bloody clashes between Islamists and the Syrian army, which, with the support of our "invincible and legendary" kick the militants out of him a few years ago. But in this ancient Syrian city the greatest shrine of Christians of the whole world is kept - the miraculous belt of the Virgin Mary.

Sergey Putilov

At one time, shortly before the civil war that broke out in Syria, the author of the interview had a chance to contemplate this shrine. Only a slender bell tower made of black and white stone blocks, which looks like a chessboard, gives out a church in the building. This is the famous "Umm Zunnar" - the temple of the belt of the Mother of God. I enter a room flooded with electric light. Directly in front of the entrance - a niche, decorated with a small pediment on the columns. An amazing silver flower on a stand is placed behind bars. In its center, surrounded by delicate petals under glass, lies a thin woolen belt twisted into a ring. The spiky camel bristles were slightly tousled around the edges. After finding the belt of the Most Holy Theotokos under the altar in 1953, pilgrims and suffering people reached for the relic.

Miracles began almost immediately and included many healings. Gradually, a whole "museum" of crutches and prostheses left as unnecessary was formed at the temple. During the battles that have declared the city since the beginning of 2012, it was reported that the temple was damaged. A picture of a church with a damaged roof was spread in the world media. The theologian and historian, rector of the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy Sergiy (Khrameshin) told Novyye Izvestia about the history of the shrine and how it was preserved during the Syrian war.

- As the headman of the temple in Homs told me, after the Ascension of Christ, the Mother of God remained in the care of the Apostle John the Theologian. Once the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that in three days she would leave her earthly life. At the appointed hour, the apostles, who were then preaching in different countries of the world, were transported in the clouds to Jerusalem and gathered at her deathbed. Only Thomas was absent. He was spreading the gospel in India and therefore was late. After Jesus appeared surrounded by angels and took the soul of the Mother of God, her body was placed in a cave in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to Jewish custom, the entrance to the tomb was filled with a large stone. Three days later the apostle Thomas also appeared. He was very sad that he did not find the Mother of God alive and asked to open the tomb. Mary was not there, only the shroud remained. To convince Thomas of her ascension, Mary threw her dress belt from heaven to him. The disciple of Christ took the expensive gift with him to India. After his martyrdom, one part of the belt was returned to Jerusalem, and the other ended up in Homs. After that, nothing was heard about the belt. However, in the middle of the last century, a sensational discovery was made. In the spring of 1953, an ancient Aramaic manuscript was discovered at a monastery in Mardin (modern Turkey). It followed from the manuscript that the famous belt of the Mother of God was kept in the Chomsky church. Excavations have been carried out. In the corner under the icon of the Virgin, on a table covered with a red velvet tablecloth, there is now a square black stone. It is dotted with lines of Aramaic writing with a characteristic slant of the letters to the left. The inscription reads: "This temple was founded in 59 AD". That is, only two decades after the Resurrection of Christ. “When the slab was lifted,” said the elder, “this little 'coffin' was under it. His knobby index finger slowly moves towards a marble cube with a round recess inside, worn out by time. There was a silver reliquary. Inside was a camel-hair belt twisted into a ring. and gold threads about 60 cm long. It was clear from the parchment that the belt was woven by the Mother of God herself. An analysis carried out by scientists showed that the find had lain in the ground for about a thousand years. The belt was hidden either from the Arabs during the assault on Homs in 636, or whether from the crusaders. How should this whole story be perceived - as a myth or a reliable fact? What is the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to these semi-legendary events?

- Today, several miraculous relics are known, which are considered to be parts of the belt of the Most Holy Theotokos. And in particular, this is the well-known part that was brought to Russia from the Vatopedi monastery, a part donated to the Athonite monastery by the Serbian prince Lazar. Also revered relics are considered to be the parts of the belt located in the Georgian Blakherna Church in Zugdidi, in the Italian Prato temple, in the Trooditis monastery in Cyprus, fragments in the Kazan Cathedral of St. Petersburg, the Moscow Church of Elijah the Prophet Ordinary, the temple of Prince Igor next to the Patriarchal residence of Peredelka. A piece measuring 75 centimeters is kept in the Syro-Jacobite Orthodox Church of Umm Zunnar in Homs. This temple, named after the belt of the Most Holy Theotokos, was originally erected in about 59 and was an underground cellar in which the first Christians, hiding from persecutors, secretly performed their divine services, and according to legend, there was also a cell in which for some time lived the apostle Thomas. In 313, the Christians of Emesa (the previous name of Homs) built a large basalt church over the ancient temple. The belt itself was transferred to the Edesian (as in ancient times Homs was called) temple by the monk Avid Al-Torabdini in 476, where part of it was hidden until it was found in the 20th century. The existence of this church, dedicated to the Mother of God, was documented as early as 478. Under the present-day church, reconstructed in 1852, above the building of the Roman era, there is a spring at a depth of 20 meters. The temple is divided by a wall into two parts - for the Orthodox and for the anti-Chalcedonites, which allows two confessions to independently perform divine services at once.

- How was the shrine discovered?

- Actually, the main shrine of the temple - a part of the belt of the Most Holy Theotokos was found as follows: in the spring of 1953 in a monastery in Mardin (modern Turkish Republic), an ancient manuscript in Aramaic was accidentally discovered, which testified that it was in the Khom church that part of the belt was hidden Blessed Virgin Mary. Excavations that took place in a solemn atmosphere, with the confluence of the clergy and the people, really made it possible to find this Shrine, the meaning and authenticity of which were confirmed by multiple healings. Moreover, a whole "museum" of crutches, which had previously belonged to the healed, was formed next to the temple. For believers, miracles and healings, and for those in doubt, scientific research that confirmed the dating of the manuscripts located next to the relic and certifying the description of the Christian shrine itself, became an unconditional confirmation of the originality of the part of the Mother of God's clothing. At the same time, such a late discovery of a special Christian relic on the territory of Down Town Homs does not cause surprise, since the ancient Christian catacombs under old residential buildings are quite common for its inhabitants. They are especially revered. At the same time, Christians still live mainly on the territory of the Old City. The Syrian part of the girdle is kept in the shape of a circle in a flower-shaped silver vessel.

- What was the fate of the miraculous belt during the hostilities in Homs, when the city was seized by the Islamists in 2012?

- During the period of fierce hostilities in Homs, the church building was significantly damaged, however, the belt was taken to a safe area at that time. After the liberation of the city by the troops of the Syrian army, carried out with the support of the Russian army, the restoration of the temple took place and it became possible to return the especially revered relic back, which was solemnly held on August 15, 2014.

- How the Orthodox should relate to the Syrian shrine?

- The Chomsky temple belongs to the Syro-Jacobite Christian Church. The residence of the primate of this church is in Damascus, but most of its followers live in India, who especially revere the Apostle Thomas. Actually, this fact is additional proof of the authenticity of the Syrian part of the belt of the Most Holy Theotokos.

- What is the position of Christians in modern Syria?

- According to the New Testament texts of the Holy Scriptures, Damascus was one of the first regions from which the preaching of the Apostle Paul began. At this time, there were more Christians in Damascus than in other cities. However, during the Umayyad Empire, Islam spread to its territory, and many Christians converted to Islam. Despite the fact that throughout the 20th century the number of Christians in the country has been growing, their share in the total population of the country has been steadily declining - from 16% at the beginning of the century, to 10% in 1970 and 7.8% in 2000. This was due to both a higher natural increase among Muslims and a significant emigration of Christians to North and South America and the richer countries of the Persian Gulf. According to the latest data, Christians in the Muslim Arab Republic (92.8% are Muslims) make up about 5-6%. On the eve of the civil war, Syria temporarily became a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees. As the conflict escalated in Syria itself, the latter emigrated to neighboring countries or returned back to Iraq. Thus, the number of Christians in the country is significant enough to ignore their opinion. Christians are in the ranks of the Syrian army, which is waging a liberation struggle against radical Islamists professing extremist ideology. The authorities and Muslims of Syria cannot but reckon with the opinion of the Christian population.

- But Syria is an Islamic country, how free can the adherents of Christ feel in such circumstances?

- There is no legal religion in the Syrian Arab Republic. According to the Syrian Constitution of 2012, the state is obliged to “respect all religions and ensure the freedom to perform all rituals that do not violate public order” (art. 3). Also, the basic law of the country proclaimed the equality of all citizens, regardless of religion. Along with this, the Syrian Constitution establishes that the religion of the president is Islam, and Islamic law should be the main source of legislation. Today, in Syria, there are a lot of Christian churches of various confessions, in which services are held every Sunday and holidays. It is necessary to note the distinctive features of Christian schools - they, in contrast to the official days off on Friday and Saturday, rest on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, Christians have their own courts empowered to resolve civil matters such as marriage, divorce, etc., which base their decisions on biblical doctrine. This is not to say that Christians in Muslim Syria feel absolutely free, but much more free than in other countries where Islam is the state or main religion for sure. This in Syria is facilitated, among other things, by the fact that the family of the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad professes his Alawite direction, which is not typical for the country, which is more loyal to Christian traditions, and some of whose customs were partly formed under his influence. Most Christians in Syria belong to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, however, Christianity in it is not monolithic, but is represented by its various directions, in particular: Orthodox, Syro-Jacobites, Syro-Catholics, Armenian Gregorians, Armenian Catholics, Maronites, Protestants, Latin Catholics rite, Greek Catholics. Syrian Christians usually live in large cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Latakia, Suvaida, Tartus, Hasaka. According to research, Christians are more likely than representatives of other religions to get higher education and are highly qualified specialists, the so-called. "White collars".

- How has the war in Syria affected the Christian minority?

- The civil war made serious adjustments. Christians have become the most vulnerable and persecuted group by Islamic radical extremists. As a result, in the period from 2011 to 2016, the number of Christians decreased from 1.25 thousand to 0.5 million. Many of them turned out to be forced refugees. In Eastern Ghouta, over the years, not a single Christian remained under the rule of the militants, temples were destroyed, and shrines were desecrated. In the process of liberating the country from the militants, there is a gradual return of Christians to the country, although this process is not fast, but important for the revival of the national economy.

- Does Russia, which has assumed the function of a defender of the Bashar al-Assad regime, participate in the establishment of a full-fledged life for Christians in this war-torn country?

- Since 1958, a representative office of the Russian Orthodox Church has been opened in Damascus, at which in 1973 a church in honor of Ignatius the God-bearer was consecrated. During the period of active hostilities, the activities of the mission were temporarily suspended. However, it has now been resumed and has become a hub for humanitarian aid sent by the Russian Orthodox Church. The number of Russian-speaking Orthodox Christians in Syria has increased since the late 1990s thanks to women from the former Soviet Union who married Syrians. Later, the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate were also formed in Latakia and Aleppo. On the territory of the Russian base in Khmeimim there is a chapel in the name of the great martyr George the Victorious. Russia, through the All-Russian organization of veterans "Combat Brotherhood", has restored one of the main women's Syrian monasteries of St. Thekla, who is in the devastated Maalula. The nuns were able to return to it and continue their ministry and prayer life, return the orphans to the monastery shelter for girls.