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Friday, October 7, 2011

St. Tekla

Today [or on Sept. 24 per the Gregorian calendar] is the Feast Day of St. Tekla, the first woman martyr. She is also known as The Holy Protomartyr and Equal to the Apostles.

To tell the truth, I did not know about St. Tekla until a cold night last November when we arrived at the Orthodox Convent in Maaloula, Syria. Tekla was converted to Christianity by St. Paul and later sought refuge in the desert. Her legend says that a rock opened up and she was able to hide.
In daylight, as one drives the highway north of Damascus, rugged mountains completely hide the town of Maaloula [which comes from the Aramaic word for "entrance"]. But, a knowledgeable driver can pick the correct road and, after twists and turns passing through what looks like solid rock, the rock-face "opens up" and a town suddenly appears.
The monastic community, led by a petite and energetic Mother Abbess, was happy to great our pilgrimage group, led by Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West. After a brief series of blessings and many photos, we climbed to the sanctuary to venerate the remains of the Saint.

The sanctuary is part natural rock and part stonework.
There is a mysterious spring in the overhead rock that mists water down to a carved stone basin. The misting water is very fine and is said to bring blessings.
When you hold your hand above the basin it seems that nothing is happening. However, a combination of faith and patience brings success. It seemed to take forever before I felt the misty water drops, and then I did not want to take my hand away. I'm glad I waited because afterward I could not stop smiling. The same was true for our group too.
The monastery also houses an orphanage for girls. After we venerated the remains of St. Tekla, we all said the Lord's Prayer in a variety of languages. First, the girls and the nuns said it in Aramaic, the language still spoken in Maaloula. Then we said it in English, Greek, Slavonic, French, and Arabic.

P.S., Tekla is spelled in a variety of ways, including Thecla and Thekla.  For more information, go here or here.

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