Heleen Murre-van den Berg
This article highlights the role of St. Mark’s Convent in Jerusalem as a center of transnational Syriac Orthodoxy. Beginning with Manuel Vásquez’s discussions of transnational religion, it underlines the processual aspect of the transnationalism that characterizes contemporary Syriac Orthodoxy in the Holy Land, as it emerged from a mixture of pilgrimage, genocide, and diaspora as well as the combined forces of ecclesiastical expansion and changing political contexts. A complex web of relationships thus connects the community of Jerusalem to the other Syriac Orthodox groups in Bethlehem and Jordan, to the Syriac Orthodox center in Damascus and Ma‘arat Saydnaya, to the monasteries in Tur Abdin, to the faithful in India, and to the many communities in the diasporas of Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In Jerusalem this network is maintained by a narrative expressed in texts and images that combines the ancient connection to the holy places with the nationalist narrative of the lost homeland, brought together in the profuse use of Classical Syriac, the symbolic language of both church and nation.
While this community in many ways resembles the other small orthodox churches of the Holy Land, especially the Armenian and Ethiopian churches—whose members, like the Syriac Orthodox, tend to see themselves as ethnically different from the majority of local Christians—the Syriac Orthodox differ in that their homeland is a virtual one, existing primarily in the transnational network that ties all the different locations together. In the creation of this virtual homeland, Jerusalem plays a crucial role as the least political, most ecumenical, and most international of all current Syriac Orthodox centers.