Glory to God for all things! Although we were in another lockdown, and we had to cancel the planned pilgrimage to NSW due to border closures, we made the most of what God had given us. ACOY Month in Victoria kicked off with an exciting online pilgrimage, featuring talks from 4 speakers, each with their own perspectives to bring to the table.
Week 1 started off with the Holy city of Jerusalem, as well as various sites around the Holy Land. Fr Jean Mawal beguiled us with stories from his very own pilgrimage in 2016, where he was even fortunate enough to meet the Patriarch of Jerusalem! We ventured into the tomb of Christ, the tomb of Lazarus, the Mount of Olives and the chapel of the Transfiguration. It is astounding that even under immense pressure from the Israeli authorities, and other religions, that the Orthodox faith still stands strong in the Holy land. Photographs and videos can barely do justice to such an incredible place, but Fr Jean tried his best to transport us all there with his captivating tour guide skills.
With the pilgrimage off to a strong start, we then took a hike to visit Mount Sinai in Egypt. The Mountain of Moses himself, where he received the tablets of the law from God. Yousef Attallah took us through the sites of St Catherine’s and St George’s, and the many wondrous relics and artifacts, as well as the rich history of the place. Starting from the bottom, we saw the two trails up the mountain. We covered relics such as the burning bush, the grave of Moses, as well as the library with countless historical documents, and icons preserved from the iconoclast years, due to the providence of God, and the monastery’s remote location.
Next, it was off to Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. Many of our youth have relished the opportunity to learn about Mount Athos, especially our girls, to whom, the Holy Mountain has been inaccessible. Joe Elcheikh took us through the various monasteries located on the peninsula, and the priceless artifacts located in each one, such as the Icon of the Three Hands, of St John of Damascus, located in the Serbian monastery of Hilandar. Joe took us through the culture of Mount Athos, and how the monks live. It was truly an otherworldly experience, learning how a large community of monastics function. The stories of the many miracles that occurred there, were truly fascinating. His talk left us with a sense of awe.
On our final stop, we arrived in our homeland of Syria. Historically, the city of Antioch had always been a part of Syria, and the seat of our Patriarchate had been located in Damascus since the 14th Century. This is a very special part of the world and it was only fitting that our pilgrimage made its final stop there. Shadi Hanna took us through the many special sites in Syria, such as the Street Called Straight, and the house of Ananias, mentioned in our Bible, in the book of Acts. The monasteries and churches of Saidnaya where thousands of Christians from all over the middle east gather on feast days. There are even villages in Syria that speak the very same Aramaic tongue that our Lord spoke!
Overall, it was extremely rewarding to be able to vicariously experience so many incredible sites during ACOY month. ACOY has received excellent feedback and God willing, once things return and the virus abates, we may visit these sites in person!