The Tur Abdin Region. In the hilly country of eastern Turkey, the Silk Road passes nearby a number of Syriac monasteries. And it was to three of these monasteries we went to on Saturday.  The first we visited was to check in with the Metropolitan of the Tur Abdin region of

The Silk Road - with the ever present dust storm that's been here since we arrived
The Silk Road – with the ever present dust storm that’s been here since we arrived

Turkey, Bishop Samuel Akatas, who is also helping to make arrangements for our transportation across the border. We also visited monastery Mor Augin, the oldest monastery in the Syriac Orthodox church, which has been and will continue to be Fr. Dale’s current home.

The region we’re in now known as Tur Abdin, Syriac for “Mountain of the Church of God.” This mountain range of barren hills was the home of hundreds of monasteries. Now only five remain.

A brief pause for a three-paragraph history of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Suriani Christians (those who follow the Syriac Orthodox faith) speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.  The Syrian Orthodox church broke off from the Greek Orthodox faith early in the third century, but it traces its origins to the church founded in Antioch in 37A.D., where church members were first called Christians.

The was the largest of all the churches in the first 1000 years after Christ, and it brought the Christian faith to India and China. By it, Greek culture was transmitted to the Arabic world.

The Suriani are now a people living in diaspora. At the beginning of the 20th century, 200,000 lived in Turkey. After the killings of the 1915, only 70,000 remained. By 1990, only 4,000 were left, and now there are around 900, with only a handful of monks and nuns.

Whole villages have been abandoned just in the last decade. And it is to these empty Christian villages that Bishop Samuel would welcome the refugee Christians from Iraq and Syria. In a sense these refugees would be returning to the land their ancestors were forced to abandon in one of many purges long ago.

“What can we do?” Bishop Samuel asks. “We don’t want the refugees to keep running. How do we keep them here?”

It is possible that Seeds of Hope-Nineveh could plant the means that would enable these refugees to settle in these empty village, in their ancestral homeland instead of in Europe or the Americas.

At the same time, Bishop Samuel believes that the Tur Abdin region would would benefit by having a third-party monitoring group here who could advocate on behalf of the refugees.

“We need to get someone here, like the Human Rights Watch,” Bishop Samuel stated. “We need to get them here so they can keep pushing back on those who would force the refugees out.”

At the same time, the Turkish government has not been helpful in Bishop Samuel’s efforts to continue to renovate Mor Gabiel. The Turkish bureaucracy has swallowed up the building plans, despite personal pleas of heads of other governments, including Andrea Merkel.

This is a multi-faceted issue that will require a multi-pronged response and is something that we will continue to work after our return to the USA.

Mor Augen Monastery.  We met Mor Augen’s abbot, Fr., Joacim, who has almost single-

Mor Augin Monastery
Mor Augin Monastery

handedly been restoring the monastary since it was returned to the church four years ago.

The monastery is named after its founder, St. Eugene, a 4th century pearl diver from the Red Sea who learned about communal monasticism begun in Egypt by St. Anthony of Egypt.

“Before St. Eugene,” Abbott Joacim explained, “monks lived like wild men. Many wore no clothes and ate weeds as a sign of their faith, but St.Eugene changed all that. Monks began to live in community, with prayer as the center of

Abbot Joaqin
Abbot Joaqin

their lives.”

Although the Turkish army built a road to the monastery and brought in electricity during their occupation, there is still much bureaucratic red tape that prevents much of the reconstruction process. Perhaps the Turkish government is hoping to stall the process long enough in the hope that the Christians will all die off and they can open the site as a tourist mecca.

Sunday: Lots of Church. In the subsequent blog..,