Malula (Syria): Far
from the sounds of gunfire and civil conflict that embroil Syria
lurks an oasis of faith and miracles in this tiny village perched
on the rugged mountains. It's one of the last places on earth
where the Aramaic language Jesus Christ spoke still lives on the
tongue of its inhabitants.
Barely a 45-minute drive (around 50 km) from Syrian capital
Damascus, that is in the crosshairs of frenetic global diplomacy,
Malula, which in Aramaic means "entrance," transports you to a
self-enclosed world of belief, miracles and divine mysteries.
"Welcome to the place where the language in which Jesus Christ
spoke is still alive," Sister Georgette, clad in black robes, told
this visiting IANS correspondent, ushering us into the Convent of
St. Serge, a 4,000-year-old monastery that sits atop a rock cliff
5,000 feet above sea level.
Inside the elegantly restored Byzantine interiors are icons of
Christ, his face ennobled by suffering and redemptive suffering
for mankind, and the Virgin Mary. In front of the altar, she
recites "The Lord's Prayer" in Aramaic.
Malula is among three neighbouring villages where Aramaic is still
spoken by around 18,000 inhabitants. The other two places which
boast of a living linguistic connection with Christ are Bakhaa and
Malula is a microcosm of this multi-religious mosaic of a country
embroiled in international headlines for being the new epicenter
of Arab Spring-like protests against the long-standing regime of
President Bashar al-Assad. Walking around amid proud believers and
the keeper of an ancient legacy amid exhilarating mountain air,
one would not know that barely a few kilometres away in Homs, the
government forces are battling out protesters in a fierce battle
The holy hush that inhabits this picturesque place, made famous by
Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ", is, therefore, all
the more striking.
Aramaic, the Jesus dialect, is imbibed as a mother tongue and
children go on to learn Arabic, the language spoken in most of
Syria, only in schools. Sadly, the oral tradition predominates as
none of them can write in Aramaic, the language of sacred
"It passes from generation to generation, but we don't know how to
write," Mikhal, a 50-something resident, told IANS.
Elsewhere in Syria, where Christians comprise nearly 10 percent of
the population, even the ancient churches conduct services in
Arabic. But finding the alphabets and script of Aramaic are not a
lost cause, efforts are on at both individual and state level to
resurrect the language in which Jesus probably spoke to Lazarus to
wake up and walk with him.
The government has funded an institute to revive the written
Aramaic and to teach the younger generation this sacred tongue.
George Rizkallah, a 65-year-old retired local schoolteacher, has
started a school to teach local children the ancient language. He
is finding new ways to resuscitate the language and has been
composing Aramaic songs. The language will survive, but we need to
find ways to preserve this ancient tongue, he said.
According to Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the
University of California, Los Angeles, the three villages
represent "the last Mohicans" of Western Aramaic, spoken by Jesus
in Palestine two millennia ago.
People of Malula are hoping that when Jesus returns, he will speak
to them in their native tongue.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)