Mar Sarkis Monastery, Maalula, Syria - the place where the language of Jesus is still alive

Mar Sarkis Monastery, Maalula, Syria - the place where the language of Jesus is still alive

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The story

I had the honor and opportunity to lead two groups to Syria - in 2022 and 2023. On both occasions, we visited Mar Sarkis Monastery in Maalula, the largest of three villages near Mount Qalamun, where Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, is still spoken.

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Legend has it that Jesus once passed through this 3,000-year-old village, where religion intertwines with folklore. Aramaic can still be heard here today, 2,000 years later. Due to the complex history and geography of the area, the language sounds somewhat like Arabic with a Hebrew accent (listen to the voice in the video below). The story of Aramaic is significant, as it was once one of the world's greatest languages, although it now has very few native speakers.

Nowadays while some residents of Maalula take pride in speaking the same language that Christ preached in, many consider it to be simply the language of everyday life and nothing extraordinary. In the Syrian Orthodox Church, services are conducted in Syriac, a modern form of Aramaic. Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, and all evidence suggests that Aramaic was Jesus's mother tongue.

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At Mar Sarkis Monastery, we had the opportunity to listen to sermons in Aramaic. On the second visit, the sermon was delivered by a young girl who was not a nun.

A prayer in Aramaic at Mar Sarkis Monastery, Maalula, Syria

During our first visit, we were fortunate to speak with a priest who had recently returned to the monastery after spending a significant portion of the Syrian civil war in Lebanon.

The most ancient Syriac-Aramaic gospels are now known as the Vetus Syra or Old Syriac texts. Only two representative manuscripts have survived. One is from the Library of the Convent of St. Mary Deipara in the Natron Valley of Egypt, now referred to as the Curetonian text. The other was discovered by Agnes Smith Lewis in Saint Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai in 1892 and is known as the Sinaitic Syriac text.

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The village of Maalula itself has suffered greatly from the war, including the monastery. During our visit, extensive reconstruction work was underway, but many private homes and buildings remained destroyed.

Mar Sarkis Monastery was constructed in the fifth century on the remains of a pagan temple. It is believed to have been founded before the time of Emperor Constantine due to the rare survival of a horseshoe-shaped altar table. The monastery houses two of the oldest icons in the world, one of which depicts the Last Supper.


Mar Sarkis Monastery, Maaloula, Syria

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