A solemn group of Christians held their first prayer service in years on Saturday in the ravaged church of St. Mary in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor city.

Stones, strips of wire, papers and remnants of rockets were strewn across the church floor, and bright sunlight streamed in from the blown-out windows. Holding thin white candles under pockmarked archways, the congregation of less than two dozen worshippers relished their first service in nearly six years. Fighting has gripped Deir Ezzor since rebels captured part of the city in 2012, and grew worse when the Islamic State jihadist group shot to prominence there in 2014. Syrian troops recaptured the entire city in November and residents have slowly begun to trickle back. Saturday's service -- which was also attended by Muslim clerics -- was led by the silver-haired Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Aphrem II. He presided over the service from behind a small table draped in a white cloth, as the church's altar had been badly damaged.


Teachings of Christ

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’" (John 7:37-38 ESV)

Encounter

Rejoice, O Mother of God, Virgin full of grace. * From you has risen the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, * shining upon those who are in darkness. * Rejoice also, you righteous Elder; * for you received in your arms the Deliverer of our souls, * Who has given us resurrection. (Troparion, Tone 1)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

O Christ God, through Your birth You sanctified the Virgin's womb; * and blessed, as it was proper, the hands of Simeon. * Now, having come, you saved us. * Give peace to Your commonwealth in times of war * and strengthen our civil authorities, whom You have loved, O You who alone loves mankind. (Kontakion, Tone 1)

(The Feast of the Encounter is February 2nd - the 40th Day of Christmas)

Random Proverb

"My son, do not lose sight of these — keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul." (Proverbs 3:21,22a ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved. To look upon another – his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects – is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you’d never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him, do unto him as you would have him do unto you.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk