The mother church of Damascus is Greek Orthodox, led by Ignatius IV Hazim, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. The Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch have resided in Damascus since the patriarchate was permanently transferred from the impoverished town of Antioch in the 14th century. About 350,000 Greek Orthodox Christians, a well-educated and prosperous minority, live in Damascus and its environs. The Greek Orthodox run several elementary and secondary schools, orphanages, senior citizen housing and a dispensary.
Damascus is home to the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Maximos V Hakim, who also bears the title of Patriarch of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. The Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate moved to Damascus from the mountains of Lebanon in the mid-19th century after a century of Ottoman persecution. The Greek-Melkite Catholic community is the largest Catholic community in Syria, numbering some 95,000 people.
The Syrian Orthodox Church has perhaps suffered the most from emigration. Thousands of families have left their native villages for Damascus, Lebanon or beyond. In 1959, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate settled in Damascus, leaving behind its traditional home on the northern frontier, near the current Syrian-Turkish border. The present Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, guides more than 6,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians who also call Damascus home.
The Damascene Syrian Catholic community which totals sonic 6,000 people is shepherded by Archbishop Eustache Joseph Mounayer of Damascus.
The Maronite Church in Damascus, which numbers more than 8,000 people, is guided by Archbishop Antoine Hamid Mourany.
The Armenian community, both the Apostolic and Catholic, is a flourishing one, operating a number of schools. Bishop Kanil Georgian, Armenian Apostolic Bishop of Damascus, leads more than 3,000 people. The late Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch of Damascus, Archpriest George Tayroyan, shepherded the Armenian Catholic community, which also counts some 3,000 people, until his sudden death in April.
Several thousand Chaldeans, Maronites and Evangelical Christians round out the Damascene Christian community.
At the convent of Notre Dame du Bon Service, the Sisters of Notre Dame du Bon Service run a program for Christian girls from poor village families. With little to look forward to in their lives, the girls are taken under the wing of the religious community and schooled until they turn 19. Then they may choose either a lay or a religious life.
Their need for accommodation was met when a generous Syrian Christian financed the repairs of an old Syrian house. This wonderful house and the Christian life inside should be on every Christian pilgrims itinerary in Damascus. Here, perhaps, is a living Christianity even greater than that of the house of Ananias.
Another must on any Christians tour of Damascus is the Street Called Straight. Today, cars and small trucks blast their horns in deafening cacophony to warn the pedestrian that any divergence from the straight but narrow sidewalks could cost him or her dearly. Spice merchants, grocers and a wonderful man who sells bags, plates and all things made of paper add color to the street.
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