The monastery of Mar Sarkis - Mar Bacchos (Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus) is one of the jewels of the Christian village of Maaloula: famous place for Christians in Syria, with a Greek-Catholic tradition, it is undoubtedly one of the oldest Christian buildings.
Its construction dates from the 4th century, as evidenced by the shape of its altar marked with gutters for the flow of blood. These altars were banned since the Council of Nicaea in 325.
Located beside the hotel overlooking the valley where the Islamists of Al Nosra settled, it is a painful testimony of the darkest hours of the village. A shell fell on its dome during the violent fighting. Its century-old icons, known throughout the world, have been looted or destroyed. But, like the village, the monastery was rebuilt by the inhabitants, as a promise, a hope for better days.
Like their action in the village, the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient actively participate in the life of the monastery. The volunteers help with various tasks: harvesting, collecting sumac or olives, lumbering for the winter, making incense bags for feasts, building sites...
The monastery has a farm, vineyards, sumac fields and orchards from which it derives its main income, and also with donations from pilgrims who have increased in number since the end of the fighting.
Today, the mission is to gather the pomegranates from the monastery in order to squeeze them and produce juice that will be sold in the monastery's store between wine and sumac powder, a spice much appreciated in the Levant. The pomegranate is a winter fruit. It is available from October to February. Pomegranates have been cultivated in the Middle East for centuries. In Christianity, it represents the Church as a community of believers and is represented in many paintings, especially from the 15th and 16th centuries. It is often associated with the Virgin and the Child Jesus.
Juicing pomegranates in a bombed village, under the fire of Kalashnikov and mortars for many months may seem funny... Nevertheless, we put our hearts to work, armed with our knives, pressing machines and our good will.
This rather bitter fruit, which the Syrians love, will make an excellent juice and good jams.
Already, Naime, the cook, invites us taste her excellent Syrian dishes. Once the grace said by Father Abdallah, we rush to eat the chickpeas, rice, cakes, peppers and bulgur typical of Syrian cuisine.
At the end of the meal, we politely refuse a new plate, Daymé, and it is time to get back to work. A pomegranate is mature when the bark turns clearly red. It must be smooth and shiny, without brown spots. The juiciness of the fruit is measured by its weight: a juicy fruit is heavy.
Several bottles filled later, we hear the melodious voice of Fairuz, a famous Lebanese singer, whose Aramaic angelus is broadcast by loudspeakers throughout Maaloula three times a day, just like the muezzin's call at the top of the minarets.
Later we will have the chance to hear Rita, a Maalulite employed at the monastery, sing in front of the iconostasis, the Psalm 135 in Aramaic for Russian tourists.
Their voices resonate like songs of hope in a region in desperate need...
In the evening after our day's work, we attend the inauguration of a manouche shop in the village square. More and more small businesses are reopening, a testimony to the renewed vitality of the village. We see in it, a beautiful symbol of this city being revived, like its monastery.
Jean-Baptiste, volunteer in Syria.