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September, 2018
Volume 44, Number 3
  
18 December 2012
Greg Kandra




The church at Saint George’s Monastery houses rare Arab icons. (photo: Sean Sprague)

This morning, some big news in the Orthodox world:

His Eminence, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Western and Central Europe, has been elected Patriarch of the Great City-of-God Antioch and all the East.

The Patriarch-elect Youhanna X [Yaziji] was elected by the members of the Holy Synod earlier today, 17 December 2012, during a special session held at the Balamand Patriarchal Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Born in Syria in 1955, the Patriarch-elect received his primary, secondary and university education in Latakiya, Syria graduating with a degree in civil engineering. He earned a degree in theology in 1978 from the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox of Theology at the Balamand University and a doctorate in theology (emphases in liturgy and Byzantine music) in 1983 from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He was tonsured a monk at the Athonite Monastery of Saint Paul on the Holy Mountain, was ordained to the holy diaconate in 1979 and to the holy priesthood in 1983, and in 1981 became professor of Liturgical Studies at the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox Theology at the Balamand University. He assumed the position of dean of that theological school from 1988-1991 and again from 2001-2005.

He was elected and consecrated to the sacred episcopacy in 1995 with the title Bishop of al-Hosn. He has served as superior of the Monastery of Saint George al-Humayrah in the Christian Valley (Wadi al-Nasara) in Syria, superior of the Our Lady of Balamand Monastery, and spiritual father to the Convent of the Dormition in Blemmana, Syria. In 2008 he was elected and enthroned as the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe.

Last year, we took readers to the monastery where he served as superior:

In its heyday, the monastery was one of the region’s major theological centers. Scores of monks once lived, prayed, studied and worked there, and its seminary trained the region’s priests. But dwindling enrollment forced the monastery to close its doors not long ago. Father Andrew, a priest in the nearby village of Amre, studied at St. George’s.

“We are sad that St. George’s is no longer a seminary,” says the priest, adding, “there is talk to start it up again. There is a convent in the nearby village of Marmarita, where students can study theology for three years and then go on to Lebanon to finish their studies.” But only three monks remain at St. George’s, which has become a favorite stop for bus loads of pilgrims and tourists.

“We get up at 5 a.m. to pray in the chapel and then do various chores like cleaning or working in the library, until breakfast at 8:30,” says Mar Christo, the monastery’s energetic abbot. Cloaked in his traditional black cassock, his woolly hat outlining his pointed beard and laughing eyes, he says that soon after breakfast, “the tourist buses start to arrive, so we show them around.

“Our two big feast days are Saint George’s Day on 6 May and the Triumph of the Cross on 14 September — plus of course Christmas and Easter,” he continues. “On feast days, many pilgrims come to stay at the monastery. A big market is set up outside selling icons and food. On Sundays, the villagers come to the liturgy, but not so many.”

Read more about Syria’s Christian valley in the January 2011 issue of ONE.



Tags: Syria Christianity Monastery Syriac Orthodox Church