Sing: All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord, UMH 554
The nation of Armenia was the first nation to declare itself a Christian nation. They did this in 301, before the days of Constantine, but Armenians had been living in Jerusalem since 95 B.C. The Armenian Quarter was established on Mount Zion in 301. Right before the Crusader period (1099-1187 A.D.) the Armenian Quarter began to develop. It reached its current size during the Ottoman period (1517-1917). Today the Armenian “quarter” covers about one-sixth of The Old City. We tried to find the Church of Saint James but this area is not as conveniently marked as the other quarters and they do not seem to be as visitor-friendly. It started raining on us while we were looking for the church and so we started to head back to the Damascus Gate. Along the way we found . . .
The Church of Saint Mark is home to one of Jerusalem’s smallest and oldest Christian communities, but it is the setting for a remarkable set of traditions – including the claim to be the site of the Upper Room of the Last Supper. Its worship employs the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, based on the rite of the early Christian Church of Jerusalem. The language used is Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.
Saint Mark (also known as John Mark) came from Cyrene in Libya. He became a traveling companion and interpreter for Saint Peter, and used Peter’s sermons when he composed the earliest of the four Gospels. Mark’s mother, Mary of Jerusalem, had a house where members of the early Church met. It was to this house that Peter went when an angel released him from prison. The Syriac Orthodox believe the Church of Saint Mark is on the site of that house – a belief supported by a 6th century inscription discovered in the church in 1940.
The Syriac Orthodox Church claims Saint Peter as its first patriarch, in Antioch in 37 AD. The word “Syriac” is not a geographic indicator, but refers to the use of the Syriac language in worship. Syriac Christians see themselves as the first people to adopt Christianity as natives of the Holy Land. Often called “Jacobites” (after an early bishop), the Syriac Orthodox form one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that became separated from the mainstream of Christianity in the 5th century over a disagreement about the nature of Christ. They are not in communion with either Constantinople or Rome. Their community in Jerusalem, centered on the Church of Saint Mark, numbers only about 600 including our tour guide, Nader.