Dreams Come True
Visiting nations and communicating with people, has been a desire that I cherish. Being a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church, to be able to meet with the Spiritual Head of the Church, had been my dream. Ever since childhood, my desire to meet with HH, deepened. During the Apostolic visit of His Holiness 1982, I was not born. Nevertheless, as and when I listened to my mother’s narrations and read souvenirs published on HH’s historic visit, I used to wish and wistfully pray that our Holy Father might visit Malankara once again to bless his spiritual children. In 2000, when HH visited Malankara to attend to the Bishopric Golden Jubilee of the Chief Metropolitan of the East, for me it was a dream come true. The great meeting organized at Puthenkurizhu turned out to be the venue where Almighty let me see HH, for the first time when I was a seventeen years old. As one of the Hundred and One members of the ‘Syrian Melodies choir’ under the patronage of Kottayam Diocesan Bishop H.E. Thomas Mor Themotheose , Almighty granted me the grace to sing a welcome song to HH on that day. Though I was not able to witness the Mass led by HH and 16 other celebrants (Pathinezinmel Qurbana) that took place at Chingavanam, the only solace was listening to the audio recording of the Mass. I have heard this recording at least five hundred times.
Dreams come true
One of the Rembans (Monk), his name was Betros, led us to HE. The moment HE saw us HE recognized us to be people from Kerala and asked as “Sukham Aano?” It was hilarious to hear Malayalam from a Syrian Bishop’s lips. I said “Sukam Thanne” The Remban, on our request, took our pictures along with HE who was kind enough to pose with us. After spending some time in friendly conversation, we left the church compound. We visited another ancient Church named Mor Elian, a beautiful small church bedecked with ancient paintings on the walls and within its sky dome. In an interior part of the Church, lies remaining of St. Elian, within a raised tomb. Our Homs visit had come to an end. Once again, we were on our way back to Seydnaya.
We travelled through the mountainous roads that stretched through miles. The sand dunes glistening in the sun, the rows of pine trees and olive trees took me to a realm of serenity. Since the road crossed Maaloula, we had an opportunity to gaze once again at the ancient village nestled down in the mountains. Before evening, we reached Seydnaya.
Fulfilment of my desire
The hour had come. At 6 pm, Deacon Markose took us to the third floor of HH’s palace. At that time, we were told that a meeting HH had with the Metropolitan of Beirut HE Daniel Mor Cleemese was still going due to which we had to wait a little longer. We spent some time with Deacon Markose in the Chapel discussing on the maiden book ‘Trails of the Shepherd’ which Mohan Achachen has written. The book shortly will be released from New York. At 6:30, we were beckoned to HH’s Office Room. Exhilarated, I was rather in a dream world at that moment – I gazed at the Spiritual Head of my Church transfixed whom I had so far seen only at distance on the occasion when he visited India. I did not know what to say for words seemed to have clogged in my throat. The moment my childhood dream had come true -- a blessing that does not come the way to thousands, an occasion to personally meet with the vicar of our heavenly father on earth, to kiss the arms of the blessed Holy Father. First HH wished “ Merry Christmas” Then HH gently asked from where we are. The realization that we were from Kuwait, made HH ask whether the Church in Kuwait was functioning well. It was clear evidence how concerned and how loving HH is about his spiritual children. When we talked about the new book, HH blessed Mohan Achachen and graciously assured him of his prayer support for the success of the book. It was a time for my big brother to be overwhelmed with joy, tasting the goodness of HH.
Then came a bigger surprise. HH invited us to join him at his personal table, for dinner. I thought I would lose my consciousness at that point, for it was quite a rare privilege.
We were guided to the inner room. The table was small that could accommodate only four chairs around it. HH sat on one of the chairs. On the opposite chair sat Isaac Mor Savarios. HH asked us to sit on the remaining two chairs. If we had sat, it would have meant two other Bishops, HE Daniel Cleemese and HE Mathias Filaxinos, who were in the room, have no option but to sit on the back seats in the room. We politely told HH that we would rather sit in the back seats and let the bishops occupy the two chairs. Our request was granted. We sat on the back seats along with Deacon Markose. HH’s prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Syriac. After the prayer H.E. Mathias Filaxinose served food to HH and to H.E. Isaac. Offering us plates, the young bishop gently asked “Can I serve you food?” ‘Goodness gracious, in which world am I in, who am I to be served food by a bishop?’ Plunged in those thoughts I must have swayed my head in consent. H.E. served us food. Then H.E. looked at my plate again and said “Excuse me. I served you less food. With your permission, shall I serve you a little more” There was no way for me to say no to H.E.’s affectionate gesture. More food was served. It was a rice dish with nuts and meat in it, served with gravy. One spoonful of the food filled my stomach for I was still in the dream world. HE Filaxinose closely watched whether we were comfortably eating. Probably because of the excitement, the food clogged in my throat. Realizing my predicament, H.E. served me bottled mineral water which helped me to swallow what was stuck in my throat. I, somehow, ate the food. After food, came another request from H.E. “Can I take your plate” For a moment I thought of the incident when our Lord washed the feet of His disciples in the Upper Room of Sehion. H.E. collected the plates from us. It was yet another convincing gesture that H.E. Filaxinose, who holds the position of the Principal of Mor Aprem Seminary which operates within the Patriarch’s palace, by all means, is a chosen High Priest who has responded to the call of our Lord to be a shepherd to exemplify the love of Jesus through his deeds and words. The instruction of HH to give us sweets, was immediately obeyed by the young Bishop. H.E. served us Arabic sweets and then fruits. After the food, HH prayed once more after which walked to the Visitor’s Room. We were invited to the room. HH with deep interest asked our whereabouts and background. HH, the ambassador of God on high, placed hands on our heads and blessed us. Before parting, HH sincerely asked to visit him again. Once again kissing on the holy hands, we parted with HH Ignatios Zaka Iwas the First, descendant of St. Peter the Father of Fathers and Shepherd of Shepherds.
In the lower floor of the palace, we had a conversation with Deacon Markose from whom I learned about the ecumenical visits of Patriarchs of other Churches to Aprem Seminary and about HH’s return visit to their offices. In addition, I heard from Deacon Marcose that HH is very well respected in Syria even by the political leaders. Once a year, either the Syrian President visits HH in his Palace or HH pays visit to the President’s House. HH equally pays attention to the downtrodden and the oppressed. About 3000 Iraqi refugees are given accommodation near the Palace, under HH’s patronage. I felt extremely happy when I heard that HH personally pays attention to the well being of those refugees who had to leave their motherland on grounds of religious persecution. HE Isaac Zaka Mor Savorios of whom I have mentioned earlier, making use of his international connections, supports HH collecting funds for the refugees and helping them to migrate to European nations. While HH graciously accepted the rasheesa we offered for the refugeses’cause along with an icon of Ponpally Punniyalachen as keep sake, I kept praying for long life of HH.
We retired to the guest house near the palace. After a peaceful sleep we got up early in the morning. Deacon Markose had promised to accompany us till Damascus. Our guide came on time with his car and our return journey started. We entered the ancient city. With him, we had brisk visits to a few significant locations. We visited a huge mosque which used to be a Church. After Muslim seizure, they turned the Church to Mosque. In spite of the attempt of the captivators to wipe out signs of Christianity, three relics still remain indelible. The first one is a baptismal place located within the mosque. Attempt to demolish this Christian sign was blocked by a divine intervention. It is said that upon each attempt of the captivators, blood started gushing out from the floor and finally out fear, they gave up their attempt. The second is a monument under which St. John’s head is buried. This remnant, as well is located within the mosque. The third sign is writing in Greek language, in one of the exterior roofs of the Mosque that proclaims that Jesus, our Lord, will come again. The existence of these three signs draw lot of Christians to this, otherwise Muslim Centre.
We did some more shopping from a souvenir shop located near the mosque.
Our next visit was to an ancient market place. As we walked through the market, once again I felt as if I were stepping into a distant past.
We continued our journey to the ancient walls of Damascus. On our way, we visited the Head Quarters of HH where Deacon Maarkose had some work to do.
The next spot was the House of Annanias, the very place where Annanias prayed for St. Paul after having become blind at the sight of Jesus on His way to Damascus to seek permission to destroy Christians. We spent silent moments in the house which is partly underground, remembering conversion of Saul to Paul. God transformed the life of a man whose intention was to destroy Christianity to a man whose mission turned a life for Christ.
At the gate of Damascus Deacon bade farewell to us. His affection and care shall remain in our lives always.
Our driver took us to the airport. Within two hours, as the plane took off I gazed at the disappearing landmarks of Syria beneath, with a silent prayer that I should come back again.
Our journey to Syria turned to be a pilgrimage for us during which we met many a number of great personalities who have given their lives to serve the Lord. The Rambans in Aprem Seminary do not crave for luxuries or for the position of bishops. What I have seen in them is the compassion of Jesus and what I have heard from their lips are praises to the lord. I must say, the Rambans in Aprem Seminary are role models. I wish to write, in particular, about a Ramban whose name is Sleeba. Every morning he takes a tractor and goes to the olive orchards in the Palace compound and work for long hours tending to the olive trees. I must relate another incident; the act of HE Mathias Mor Filaxinose, who with a smiling face, was found re-arranging the chairs after a programme, on the day we had first arrived at the Bishop’s palace. It was this same bishop who had served us food in HH’s chamber. All of them, the monks and sisters who live in HH’s palace display humility through their deeds and words. Their central point pretty much, is HH at whose feet, I humbly place this travelogue.