I had heard of Mar Musa from many people before coming to Syria and wanted to experience seeing and staying at a monastery especially a Christian one in a mainly Muslim country. There are actually quite a few Christians in the country but don’t think that is reason for it’s existence.
The Monastary of Mar Musa is very much like the past 1500 years never happened. It’s a throwback to the 6th century heyday of Byzantine Christianity when the arid alienating landscape provided shelter for thousands of tiny, isolated, self sustaining and pious communities. Mar Mua is one of few monasteries to survive. Mar Musa is perched high on the edge of a cliff, facing east over a vast barren plain. It’s well and truly off the beaten path as it’s over 17 km from the nearest town. Then there is a 20 min walk up a steep sided gouge. It’s a heck of a view as it’s perched high on the cliff and an awesome view from there looking down too!
Legend has it that it was founded in the 6th century by Moses (or Musa) the son of the King of Abyssins who chose the monastic life over the throne. The church was built in the 11th century flourishing until the 15th century. Then it gradually declined until it was finally abandoned in the 1830’s. An Italian former Jesuit rediscovered it in the 1980’s. Then with the help of the local community and foreign funding revonated it and had it reconecreaed. The highlight of a visit to the Monastery is the ancient church.
Then since 1991 it has been home to a small group of monks, nuns and novices. It is a monastery of both sexes and is unconventional in that it is home to both Syrian Catholics and Syrian Orthodox Christians.Visitors are welcome so decided to see and experience this monastery. But since it is off the beaten track we would have to take a taxi or a mini bus to the Monastery 4 of us decided to go together to lessen the expense. We had to pay 100 lira/$2.25 on a bus from Damascus to Nebeck a small town about 1 hr north of Damascus. Then we paid 75 lira/$2 each for a taxi to the bottom of Mar Musa. I took my pack cus I was heading north after visiting Mar Musa while the others left their packs in Damascus cus the tale of the walk up the hill must have frightened them. But the walk up the hill wasn’t all that hard or difficult.
The church ınsıde the monastery ıs really cool as ıt ıs not bıg and everyone sıts on the floor well on carpets on the floor. Notıce the art work on the walls and ceılıngs!
As u can see we all pıtched ın and dıd some work around the monastery- lıke pıckıng camomıle to bag and sell ın the monastery shop to help keep the monastery afloat!
As you can see there are some beautıful Syrıan chıcks lıke Lynne who taught me how to make a wrıst band from nylon rope. They make them also to sell ın the Monastery shop. I gave her a couple of extra ear pıercıngs which I had cus ıts hard to get ın Syrıa. Hey not a bad swap a couple of pıercıngs for beıng taught to make wrıst bands!! Hey maybe I can start a new business when I travel - pıercşngs for learning a trade (as could use a job to supplement my travelling)! Plus ıt gave them the ımpressıon that not all us weird looking travellers are wild and crazy but well may be a bıt off the wall! ha ha
Awesome vıews perched ın the monastery hıgh on the hılls. Check out the wındy staırcase to get to the place!
We got there on a Fri afternoon which was not a good day cus a lot of Syrians had the day off so went to visit the monastery. So it kind of gave me the wrong impression cus I wanted to go there to chill and enjoy the quiet mediation time there. But when we arrived in the Monastery there were a lot of day visitors talking really loud and hanging around the place. But they soon left and it left about 30 people staying there. This included a couple of monks and long term people staying there. I met Father Paolo who started the monastery up in the 1980’s He was a nice man with a good sense of humor and could speak excellent Arabic, French, English and of course Italian. We were welcomed and assigned a room for the 3 of us guys. Len’s wife was given a bed in the woman’s dorm in woman’s section. There is also another building of the Monastery perched higher up the hill for longer term helpers, etc. Our room was sparse but we had a bed and mattress for 2 of us and 2 others slept on mattresses. Water is scarce up there so there were signs to ration water for showers. So I had an excuse not to shower but simply washed my tshirt by lathering it and scrubbing myself down and rinsed off, 2 jobs at once.
We waited around in the room and at 2:30 pm the bell rang for lunch. We enjoyed the lunch of pita bread, several cheeses, olive oil andpa some tasty Syrian seasoning, olives, tomatos and oranges, etc. We could eat as much as we want which we all liked. Then we all pitched in to clean up and wash the dishes. Then we volunteered to go down to pick up some of the trash left in the parking lot where the visitors had left their cars and others were having a picnic on the open dirt fields. It’s amazing how there are garbage barrels and signs telling them to use them but they still manage to throw trash all over the place. They also didn’t follow the signs that asked people to respect the quietness of the monastery.
Then we had a quiet time so we climbed the bigger hill behind the Monastery to what we thought was a cross on top. But after climbing the rugged steep hill we reached the top to find that it wasn’t a cross but a tall stand with a pulley system to move things up and down the hill. There is also a pulley dumbwaiter system to carry groceries up the hill from the parking lot. The Monastery had no fridge so real persiables are brought in daily. The cellar is the storage to keep food cool.
We found that the Monastery is self sufficient to a certain extent. They raise chickens for eggs and meat, there are goats for milk and they a room to make cheese. They have a garden where they grow tomatos, seasoning, olives, etc. A lot of the seasoning they pick, dry and bag to sell in the Monastery shop by the parking lot. One afternoon a couple of us worked in the garden picking chamomile to dry and bag along with rosemary. We had to take the dried pieces and bag and weight the bags and label them. It got me thinking it was nice to help out and do some work cus hadn’t done any work for the past 6 months or longer. Heck I had never been much of a gardener type but working and talking to the other people staying there passed the time and made it enjoyable in the hot sun.
The Shop also sold cd’s of religious music, religious plaques, ornaments and some odds and ends. All the revenue from the sales helped run the monastery along with donations that visitors gave when they visited. One evening one of the Syrian girls gave me a lesson on how to make a wrist bracelets made of nylon string. I’m not very artistic but have always watched street people in Central and South America and Africa make these wrist bracelets. So after screwing up a few times I managed to make myself one yippee. They make these bracelets to be sold in the shop.
Then in the morning and evening at 7:30 am and pm there is a 1 hr mediation time. Then at 8:30 am and pm there is prayer service. I missed the mediation the first evening us I was making a wrist bracelet. But I attended the prayer service. But unfortunately it was in Arabic so didn’t understand it so sort of dozed off. Then after the service a couple of my friends were saying that I had started snoring during the service. So I got a bit embarrassed so didn’t attend another service. Also never woke up in time for the morning mediation hr or prayer service. The church inside is quite impressive as it’s inside an old stone room with carpeting on the floor. The night I attended the service it was quite windy so was a bit cool. But inside the church it was quite warm and toasty.
It was quite refreshing to see everyone pitch in and help out to do things. There were Syrians, French, English, Italian, Belgium, Swedish, American, Canadians, a Japanese, Korean and a few other nationalities. So it was interesting to talk to them to find out how long they had been there. One of the French guys had been there 2 years. A French girl had been there about a year and was running the library.
We ate 3 times a day so we felt that with the lodging and food people staying at the Monastery were getting a good deal. So when I left I left a donation that would cover some of the food I ate and help me feel better that I worked and left a donation.
The night before we left a bus load of Lebanonese came to visit and stay the night. So it got to be crowded but I thought that this Monastery was a bit different. Cus it seemed it welcomed visitors as a means of getting donations to subsidize the operation of the monastery.
The next day 6 of us planned to leave but had no transportation back to Nebeck the town to get a bus or minibus to Damascus. So the Lebanonese bus gave us a ride to this main road in hope of getting a ride the 17 km. But since I was going partly in the same direction as the bus I got a ride back to a main highway where I could flag down a mini bus to take me to this Homs a town where I was headed.
I found the experience at the Monastery to be very enlightening and was impressed with how all the people who came to visit chipped in to help and socialize. It was an Spiritual experience that I’ll remember for a long time cus don’t stay at a Monastery very often tho I’ve visited Buddist Monasteries in Laddadh in Northern India. But this was one I stayed in and it was Christian. A Great experience in a mainly Muslim country!!!