It was in the city of Antioch that the followers of Christ were called “Christians” for the first time. St Paul (Saul) established the first organized Christian community in Antioch, ancient Syria following his conversion on the Straight Road to Damascus now known as “Midhat Pasha Street”.
After the conversion of Paul, he took refuge at Ananias church near that road. This is where our Lord Jesus through Ananias cured St. Paul’s blindness. In a short time, Antioch became the See of the Patriarchs of the whole East.
In the town of Maalula, close to Damascus, many people still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. The town is one of the few places where that language is spoken.
The first Church established by St. Peter after the Church of Jerusalem was in Aleppo; and around it some 3000 churches, monasteries, and schools were built most of which were destroyed during the Ottoman and Mamluk era. The Grand Omayad Mosque in Damascus was a church where the grave of St. John the Baptist is there till today. Blessed Pope John Paul II visited the site in 2001. Some of the great Christian thinkers came from Syria such as Paul, Tatianus, and John Chrysostom.
Syria has given Rome 4 Popes, and 5 Emperors, and in it were founded some of the most prominent theological schools such as those of Antioch, Aleppo, Ruha, and Nessebein. Churches are scattered around the cities of Marcein and Adana in the North as well as Deraa and Izraa in the South reaching to Jordan.
The prominent monk, St. Maron, who established the Maronite Church in Lebanon, was from Aleppo. Another was St. Simeon Stylites whose church is still standing till today in the vicinity of Aleppo.
Syria became 100% Christian nearly 1700 years ago when Emperor Constantine converted to the Christian faith. Most residents converted to Islam in the seventh century when many Arab tribes who were originally also Christian moved to Syria.
At the end of the 20th century, the number of Christians in Syria was down to 2 million as a result of migration after the bloody events of 1860 when many Christians fled to Mount Lebanon and Beimt. In 1956 they were around 15% of the population of Syria, and 8% at the end of 2000.
The Christians in Syria live in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Hasseka and Damascus but are now subject to annihilation where there are some of the holiest places in the world after Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. These are the Straight Road to Damascus where St. Paul’s conversion took place, Ananias Church in Damascus, the burial place of St. John the Baptist, Maalula with St. Takla’s Church and monastery.
From conversion on the road to Damascus in the first century to annihilation in the 21st century, the fate of Syrian Christians is in the hands of Jesus Christ himself and your charity as St. Ignatius of Antioch himself said in his “Letter to the Romans, IX, I”.