Year Abroad in Syria – Day #11

08/09/08

Day 11

Things are going well. My stomach has finally settled, at least for the time being, and I am feeling really well.

I went to two church services yesterday. First to a catholic church called “Fatima” and then to a protestant church called “Jesus, Light of the World”. It was very interesting to observe the differences between the two and the style of each church.

The catholic church was of course very elaborate with lots of icons and huge artwork on every wall. There was a very strong smell of incense. The service followed a set liturgy, with the priest speaking and the congregation responding. They had communion, the bread was dipped into the wine and then they would eat the bread. There was also a woman at the front sitting with the congregation that would sometimes sing the liturgy as a solo, like the Agnus Dei for example. Her singing was pretty amazing.

The protestant service was of course very different. The church was very simply decorated, without any pictures or icons, just a large cross above the pulpit. There was no lectern. Instead the pulpit, which was centred in the front, served as both the pulpit and lectern. There was not even an altar and there was no communion. I don’t know if it was just that week, or if they never have it at all. The service was relatively contemporary in style. It began with a reading from the Bible, then a prayer by a layman who was sitting with the congregation. He stood up and prayed something, with both his hands in the air, while the preacher said “Amin” from time to time. The preacher said something next, not quite sure what, but he finished by asking “Amin?” then the congregation said “Amin”, but he said it again louder, “Amin!?” and the congregation responded louder the second time, “Amin!”. It reminded me of the stereotypical African American Baptist Church, where the preacher is constantly saying “Amen!” Then we sang three consecutive hymns, all contemporary in style. I really enjoyed singing along – I thought it was great practice for my Arabic, especially since there was so much catchy repetition. Next was the sermon, about 40 minutes long, delivered by a layman. Next were the prayers delivered by the pastor. They actually call them pastor in Arabic – pronounced “Bastor”.

I noticed a difference in etiquette between the two churches. Even though you would expect the catholic service to be more conservative, it was actually the protestant church where you saw the women covering their hair and it was also the protestant church where the women sat on the left side of the church and the men on the right (unless a woman was sitting with her husband, in which case she would sit with him on the right hand side of the congregation). At the end of the catholic service the congregation left the church virtually silently and simply went home. At the protestant church they had tea and coffee afterwards downstairs – it was like being back home at a Lutheran church!

Speaking of Lutheran churches, I asked and the closest seem to be somewhere in Jordan, but none in Syria. I have been amazed by how many people have heard of the Lutheran church over here. It is almost as if more people know who Lutherans are here in Damascus than England! The pastor at the protestant church had heard of the Lutheran Hour ministry in Beirut as well, which I hope to visit at some point in the future.

I hope to revisit the church again, but this time go to the later service, at 7 in the evening, because I have been told that this when most of the youth my age go. I was also told that for the later service they have simultaneous interpreting into English. The pastor said that one day I may be able to help with that. Simultaneous interpreting, however, is the most difficult of all interpreting, so it may be a while before I do anything like that!

By the way, I discovered the phrase that sounds like Naumann. I am not sure exactly how it translates, but I know the context in which it’s used. For example, after you have had a haircut, someone will say to you “Nai-man!”, which means something like “you are blessed!” The response is then, “Allah ya-naim alayk”, which means something like “God bless you”.

One of the other students from my course has just arrived in Damascus, and so I showed him about the place yesterday. I quite enjoyed being a tour guide for the day!

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