Letter to the Friends of the Monastery of Saint Moses, 1996 / 97

February 1997

DMM AngelI wished you had received this “Letter to all friends of the Monastery of Mar Musa” before Christmas, but you will read it for Lent, as I hope.

I heartily thank, personally and on behalf of the community, all those who sent us greetings and wishes letters. Evening prayer is the privileged place in which we can meet all of you in spirit of solidarity. We feel tied up one another, so that we can deeply touch your sharing to our community enterprise.

The well

I delayed giving you news because I really wished I had announced you the successful excavation of the well,...the point is that we went deeper into the 250 meters well we had dug in 1990. We got to 502 meters and we rejoiced knowing that water had gone up to 370. Total success! Then, the excavation company itself put inside the well an iron case from top to bottom. We paid almost all the agreed price (around $20.000) and we provided for the pipes, the pump and the generator. Some friends from Aleppo supported us so that everything was ready in June. When time to install the pump came, a mistake clearly appeared in the laying of the case or even in the excavation itself: it was impossible to reach the water. Several unsuccessful attempts were made. This led us to continuous discussions and accusations. At last, the company decided to come and try to remedy the fault. We went from bad to worse: the pump fell down to the bottom of the well, a large part of the case was destroyed and,...the company ran away. In December a company from Nebek made a last attempt, but their generous effort was unsuccessful. Now the well is dead and the pump is drowned down there. Tied to the well, there is a project of agricultural and forest experimentation, mostly financed by Switzerland, that should provide our maintenance.

We have come out from this situation more humble, less omnipotent, but more united and resolute to success. It was difficult to not let ourselves be completely caught by worries, keeping on drawing our attention and practising the key-aspects of our vocation.

We will know soon to which extent the first company is ready to respect the contract. If we consider their attitude until now, the case is nearly hopeless. This will probably force us to bring legal action against them, and only God knows when and how it would end. On the other hand, we have already begun to dig a second well at the bottom of the valley down the monastery. We should get to the water at 200 meters,...and the new company consents us to pay at the end of the work. The cost of this second well is one third of the first one’s and it will guarantee, God willing, the idrical needs for the Monastery, our little dairy, one of the experimental seeding nursery compatible with goats breeding and for apiculture development. Nevertheless it will not replace the first well, at the top of the mountain, that will provide the irrigation for the largest part of the cultivable land and for another nursery. This project has a vital importance for us and it also represents our engagement for the economic and social development of the area.

We need help. If you like to help us, this is the right moment.

The community

Last year the monastic community lived a settlement period. Two novices, George and Badri, left us. That is not surprising during the noviciate and is not completely inevitable even later. It is important to face these situations not as human and spiritual failures, but to perceive them, when possible, as signs of growth, whose outcome is the persisting friendship. We surely have to reflect on the vocational frailty of our community, that lives a foundation phase and it is set in a complex cultural and ecclesiastical context. As far as I am concerned, I experience the weariness to bear my character’s weight beside my responsibility’s one.

Two are the new novices: Jens, Swiss-German, who asked to be monk after receiving the baptism last Easter and Butros, Syriac from Hassake. Huda from Damascus, Renata from Milan and Nabil from Aleppo are in the second year of noviciate. Elena, also Ambrosian, is in the third year, that preludes the monastic consecration. Badiaa, from Damascus, is at the moment the only postulant, but new arrivals are forecast.

Father Jak goes and comes from Lebanon, where he attends Oriental Liturgies specialisation courses, to his and his professors’ satisfaction.. The Maronite monks of the Baladite order, who manage the University, kindly welcome Jak for free.

In dialogue toward the twenty-first century

One of the most intense moment was the one week seminary on Islam we organised last June. We invited a young Muslim master from Damascus to give the lessons. Since then, the community studies together the Koran sometimes in the week, and the result is that we feel a deeper sharing with the Umma, the Islamic Community.

Here in Mar Musa, we intend to devote ourselves to the love of God, in Jesus of Nazareth, for Islam, for Hagar’s children, the Ishmaelites, who have been blessed by Abraham’s intercession. We want to be prayer for Islam with feelings of friendship and regard. The value of this engagement cannot be esteemed with the yardstick of diplomatic success and precedes the practice of dialogue itself. We strongly felt the syntony with the seven trappist martyrs in Algeria, who remained of their own will in danger and misunderstanding. In this way they were witnesses of the love of Church that, in spite of historical scum, is faithful to her source: the wounded hurt of Jesus. Massignon once said that the lance stroke that injured Jesus’ chest prefigures Islam, in its polemic refuse of Incarnation and in its jealous defence of transcendence. So the Church is wounded by a particular and, at the same time, universal love. Our engagement for Islam is expression of our universal (catholic) faith.

It strikes me the total lack of heroism in the martyr monks from Algeria. They did not feel either better or less guilty than their killers. Everywhere Muslims saw those seven as eschatological sign of reconciliation and life.

Few months before dying, father Christian, the Prior, spoke in a very intense way about a Christian theocentric monotheism: Bible and Koran are monotheist. Jesus confessed one God. In spite of what some theologians say, Christianity is not Christocentric: Christ is completely turned to the Father” (Pro Dialogo, 1996/3, p.316). I see the risk that the theological Christocentrism goes with a psychological and historic one, hiding Jesus’ witness to God Father, whose style we are asked to imitate as disciples. To divide history in two, before him and after him, could mean to affirm the centrality of the “Christian civilisation”, spread all over the world by colonialism along the history, and expression of no evangelical value. Jesus inaugurates the “propitious time” without intermitting human events. His way to be central is to be “one who serves”. Jesus goes into history, choosing to be outskirts, provincial, weak, non-violent. He centralises the Other, the Father, the Neighbour.

If we all agree to count years starting, for example, from the universal declaration of human rights, the disciples of Jesus would not say anything and would rejoice seeing people who “live as brothers all together”. Nevertheless it will be fine to celebrate, with simplicity and emotion, two thousand years of Jesus’ presence in our history. By then we wish we would complete the restoration of the frescoes, so that we will consecrate again the church of the monastery. We wish the Muslims, who count years from hejira, the Prophet’s emigration, would share as brothers our joy for the jubilee, as a result of the spiritual importance of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in Islam.

The dynamic process of decentralisation has ecclesiological repercussions, because it does not let us define our identity owing to difference and exclusion. On the contrary, it makes us centre a higher Jerusalem, toward which we move on through wider horizons.

Being a monastic community, that is part of the catholic communion in faith and fidelity, we want to serve the ecumenical communion. Being an ecumenical community we want to put ourselves in the perspective of a brotherly and universal human community.

Day by day

In this spirit and joy, we welcomed a study and work camp organised by the Middle East Ecumenical Council, whose main theme was the teaching of the Church on ecology and environment safeguard.

Another meaningful moment was the ignatian month of spiritual exercises in November. Just one member of the community, Huda, made the entire itinerary with two guests. Other persons engaged for one or two weeks. All the monastery lived a more silent atmosphere, recovering what is essential.

The community is more and more engaged in the study of Arabic, that is for us a communication means and, deeper, it is the language of our spiritual mission and identity. For this reason we are doing a big effort to make our library, that is most of all in Arabic, up-to-date and easier to consult.

The hospitality develops even apart from the television programs that showed the monastery in several countries. Among the persones we welcome, there is the ten-minutes tourist, the diplomat friend who takes a good bottle, many families (especially muslim) coming from Nebek and outskirts, the sporting and cultural associations, every kind of ecclesiastic group, those who come for spiritual retreats and those who spend with us some months with the desire to choose their way in the Lord.

We live a particular friendship with a group of consecrated laic who serve the poor and the excluded in Aleppo. The animator is Lutfi, a young doctor who made a radical choice of gratuity. Some of us spend some time to support their activities.

In the future

We rejoice for the building of new rooms out of the monastery for monks and guests and we wish, during 1997, we would begin to build the nuns’ rooms. Our intention is not to limit hospitality, but to safeguard the contemplative characteristic of our vocation. It is also opportune to create particular conditions of life either for the women’s side or for the men’s side of the community. In this way we want to deep the meaning of the affective ascesis connected with our choice of monastic life. Enough occasions for common life will remain. We experience how positive is this brotherly life between men and women. In this way we hope to bring the comforting announce that it is possible to overcome the reciprocal fear and scorn, as Jesus and the mixed community of his friends did.

During 1997 we will engage in the first drafting of our rule (the “typicon” of the monastery) on the grounds of some texts we have been writing during the past years. We ask for your help either through prayer or simply communicating us those aspects of our form of life that you think, in the Lord, we should underline, develop or reform.

For what concern my canonical situation, we have come to a deadline and it is necessary to take a decision before summer. I wish that the Society of Jesus and the Diocese could come to an agreement that allows me to keep on my engagement in Deir Mar Musa, without giving up my belonging to the Society of Jesus. In the last year, the dialogue with the Bishop and with the Jesuits Fathers became more frequent and deeper, so there are good reasons to foresee a positive development. I ask a thought for me during these months and a particular prayer for our dearest Bishop Musa, deeply engaged in the difficult renewal of the Diocese.

Ask for peace

 I am writing this letter in the last days of the Islamic fasting of Ramadan, that has been for us a priceless occasion for spiritual solidarity with the largest part of men and women of this area. In this perspective, even Lent is an occasion to intensify engagement for peace, so difficult to pursue here in Middle East. Jerusalem is still the centre of our worries, with moments of great hope and moments of bitter disillusion. Anyway, it is not possible to accept any monopolistic pretence on those places, where just the respect for human rights will realise the “right of God”. We cannot surrender to the logic of abuse of power, force and negation of the neighbour, because it means to undervalue the sacred relation between the three monotheistic religions and the Holy City. If all this happens in Jerusalem, between Israelis and Palestinians, among Hebrews, Muslims and Christians, among the children of Abraham, where else may we meaningfully speak of peace?

At last I can only thank all of you for friendship and help, offered with touching generosity. Come to visit us! It is easier than how you imagine and you do not need to give your name.

Since now and on behalf of the community, I heartily wish all of you a happy and holy Easter.

father Paolo Dall’Oglio

Monastero 1997