April 16, 2012

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Greek Church of Saint George in the town of Ezra'a, Syria

Ezra'a is a town located 80 km south of Damascus on the west edge of the volcanic wilderness area of the Hauran in Syria. Today, the city is divided into two sections: the “Mahatta” or station and the “Balad” or city. In the former part, live 45 Christian families and 120 live in the latter. All the inhabitants depend heavily upon agriculture for income. Unfortunately, as a result of poor economic conditions brought about by drought, the poverty level is at an all-time record. Families of the Archdiocese have been forced to migrate into Damascus. Others went to Lebanon or emigrated to distant lands.

Ezra'a has one of Syria's oldest functioning churches, the Greek Orthodox church of Saint George (Mar Girgis) which was build in 515 AD. In its historical and religious associations this is perhaps one of the most remarkable buildings in Syria. The Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George is one of the oldest churches still in use in Syria, its architecture has been largely unaffected by its changing fortunes and has remained in a remarkable unchanged state. The church it is still standing and is a living historical monument, a witness to the famous ecclesiastical architectural style of that period.

According to tradition, Saint George died in the Hauran and his relics were kept in the church of Saint George until they were transferred from Ezra'a to the place of his birth in Lydda in Palestine. However some of his relics were kept in the church were they remain to this date, and for this reason the church is a very important place of worship and is visited by the believers of all faiths and regions.

The tectonics of this church are quite unique. It is built of black basalt, the local stone of the Hauran. Consisting of two octagons inscribed in a square base, the plan is beautiful in its simplicity. A Greek inscription on the lintel of the main entrance indicates that the church stands on the site of an earlier pagan temple. It reads as follows:

"This has become a house of God which (was once) the residence of demons. Where (once were) sacrifices to idols, now (are) choirs of angels, and where God was provoked to wrath, now God is propitiated. A Christ-loving man, the official Ioannes, son of Diomedes offered (this) noble structure at his own expense as a gift to God, placing herein the revered relic of (the) holy martyr Georgeios, the gloriously victorious, who appeared to him, Ioannes not in sleep but manifestly in (indiction) 9, year 410” (515 AD.) ".
Ioannes (John) son of Diomedes was a member of the town’s noble council, and he wanted to commemorate the memory of the martyr George who was martyred and buried in the Hauran, according to an eleventh-century manuscript (417) kept in the library of the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai.

Today, almost 1500 years after it was built, the church of Saint George is threatened by collapse. This report will shed light on the importance of this Orthodox monument, a beacon to all believers who appreciate beauty and who are attentive to history and culture, and to all who have adopted Saint George as their patron saint.

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