"Maaloula is located 55 km from Damascus. One of the few places in the world where people still speak Aramaic — the language Jesus used to preach in."
With the jihadist vanquished, Syria's Christians are now openly celebrating their faith without fear of persecution.
In Syria, because it follows Eastern Orthodoxy, Christmas, as in Russia, is celebrated on the 7th of January.
Much work is left to be done, many churches need repair, relics and icons must be recovered or replaced. Despite all of this hardship, Christmas is celebrated with joy. The following clip is taken from Russian nightly news with transcript below.
Syrians can now celebrate Christmas without fearing for their lives. Over the course of the war, the number of Christians decreased by half as almost a million believers left the country or were murdered. And now, thanks to Russian military and diplomatic support, the bells are ringing in the monasteries once again. Orthodox and Catholic Christians once again attend services in the ancient city of Maaloula.
Mikhail Fedotov with the details.
From the dawn of time, church bells and azan, the Islamic call to prayer, were ringing in unison in these mountains. This is Maaloula, the bed of Christianity in the Middle East. The chime had been silent for four years, and the locals had already lost hope. Militants stole the bell and attempted to smuggle it abroad. Thanks to Syrian intelligence, the relic was intercepted at the Lebanese border.
This is a fragment of a statue of Jesus Christ — a gift of the Moscow Patriarchy. Terrorists cut it into several pieces. The head of the Savior is still missing.
"Here's the main part and here's the platform. It's all that's left from the statue of Jesus. Terrorists wanted to smuggle it out as well."
For several years, militants were smuggling antique and religious treasures, including artifacts from Palmyra and Aleppo. 28 antique icons were smuggled from Maaloula during its occupation. Some of them were later retrieved.
Fr. Abdulla Alhamadi, prior of St. Sergius and Bacchus Church:
"This icon of Christ is unique — he's dressed in Arabic clothes. Only Syrian iconographers used this technique and this level of detail. And here's the Last Supper - it's one-of-a-kind, the table is painted upside-down."
Maaloula is located 55 km from Damascus. One of the few places in the world where people still speak Aramaic — the language Jesus used to preach in. That's why Islamists destroyed everything they couldn't smuggle and sell.
But the most damage was done to the Church of St. Elias in the Monastery of St. Thekla. St. Elias was a disciple of the Apostle Paul. The church is still undergoing repairs.
Joseph Salladin, mayor of Maaloula:
"This church was defiled first. Militants gathered all the wooden furniture, threw it here and burned it. The fire destroyed most murals."
The stolen icons were replaced by copies, the crosses by stringed wooden planks. Even the priests can't assess the damage.
Fr. Abdulla Alhamadi:
"I have no idea how to assess it. The icons alone can cost millions, dozens of millions. They were unique, painted by ancient Syrian iconographers. That's why they're so valuable."
The Syrian government has already submitted information to the stoplists of all auction houses, even though it's unlikely they are going to be sold legally. More than a hundred icons and other religious relics looted from churches by the militants seem to be lost forever. It's unclear where they are now — perhaps in some private collections in the EU or over the Atlantic.
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