10/27/2022, 12.43
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Vicar of Anatolia: the Syriac 'third lung' tradition of Christianity

by Dario Salvi

A book by Monsignor Bizzeti and the Prior of Bose, Sabino Chialà, to describe the churches, monasteries and places of the Syriac Christian tradition to pilgrims and educated people. A "precious" reality, from texts to monasteries, which has remained "more in touch with Semitic culture". A 'spiritual' dimension able to fascinate young people. A meeting in Milan. 

Milan (AsiaNews) - After the Byzantine and Western Churches, the Syriac Church - born "also in Antioch" - is "very precious" because as it has expanded eastwards "it has remained more in contact with Semitic culture, with the world in which the Bible was born".

This is why Monsignor Paolo Bizzeti, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and President of Caritas Turkey, together with Br Sabino Chialà, Prior of the Monastic Community of Bose, produced a volume entitled "Turkey. Churches and monasteries of the Syriac tradition" in Italian, but soon to be translated also into English and Turkish. The book, in which the main places of the tradition are described, with a gallery of pictures, information and maps, is at the centre of a meeting scheduled this afternoon in Milan, promoted by the San Fedele Foundation in which the two authors will also participate. 

He told AsiaNews "in the Syriac liturgy, we have an approach to the mystery of salvation through images, poems, narratives, different from the Byzantine and Latin ones, which are more linked to Hellenistic culture". It is, for the vicar of Anatolia, a theological culture that is "fascinating, rich in symbols and poetic inspiration, which today is once again the focus of attention; metaphors and images with an evocative and attractive charge" that goes beyond "cold definition".

The Syriac tradition, an essential component of Christianity in Turkey, has left ample traces in the south-eastern area, considered a 'middle ground' between East and West, despite persecution and the forced exile of entire villages. It preserves a heritage of inestimable value: architectural gems and small communities that still endure today.

The development of local and international tourism - especially in Mardin and Midyat - and the scarce indications for tracing these ancient architectural treasures and enhancing their history have prompted Msgr. Bizzeti and Fr. Sabino Chialà to compose this guide. A useful text for the pilgrim and the cultured traveller to get to know places and places of worship, churches and monasteries, that would otherwise remain hidden. 

The Syriacs, says Monsignor Bizzeti, "have remained tied to the territory" with their monasteries and churches in northern Syria, Iraq and south-eastern Turkey, and represent an "interesting and not alternative, but complementary" way of conceiving places of worship to that of the West. Great importance, for example, is given to the ambo, above which the word of God is placed; this is what the Second Vatican Council recalled in which it emphasised 'the importance of the Bible and the Word'.

Finally, there are reasons of 'architectural and artistic' interest thanks to the restoration work on buildings from the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries that are 'perfectly preserved, with a skilful use of stone and an integration between "the church itself and the place where the faithful could then gather after the liturgies. They are splendid structures,' he says, 'that have nothing to envy our monasteries'. 

The work of Msgr. Bizzeti and Br. Sabino Chialà makes a great heritage available to the public, ranging from texts to places that are "difficult to find"; in fact, the aim is to "provide precise directions to reach and see them". Then there is a symbolic journey through history and its origins, to guide "the pilgrim on the path of discovery and knowledge".

"Even in the Syriac tradition, there is a Catholic and an Orthodox branch, but both offer an interesting way of being Church," he emphasises, "because of the importance of the laity, the monasteries as centres of evangelisation and a very rich liturgy: for example, there are about 90 prayers of Preface". Lastly, there is a 'flourishing' spiritual reality, he concludes, so much so that it is increasingly common to see 'young people who are immediately in tune with these texts, which go beyond the arid definitions of our catechisms'.

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