My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 29 November 2013

Farewell to the Saffron Monastery

in the courtyard of the monastery
I feel very sad to be going to our last early morning liturgy at the Saffron Monastery. I shall miss these Orthodox services. This time the female members of the party make sure we sit on the left side of the church as we enter, our heads suitably covered. Actually wearing a shawl around the head and shoulders so early in the morning is a comfort. Even though the day is likely to be hot, at 6 or 7 in the morning it is still chilly before the full force of the sun is felt.
I am now letting the liturgy get under my skin.
We are getting used to the format of the service, knowing to always stand when the thurifer is engaged with his thurible of incense around the church, or when the prayers are marked by the prostrations of the monks and boys. Otherwise we sit whilst psalms are intoned antiphonally from side to side by the two groups of boys and monks gathered around their respective lecterns. When one no longer has to worry about standing or sitting at the wrong times
the Saffron Monastery entrance
it is possible to allow the mysteries of the sounds and smells of the service surround you in a far more deep and spiritual way. And I feel sure that any one is capable of feeling this spiritual connection, whatever their religious convictions.
the Saffron Monastery
So for the last time, we climb the steps to kiss the bible on the lectionary in front of the sanctuary, take our last blessing from the hand of the monk as we come down the steps the other side, make our last reverential bow towards the sanctuary, light our last candle at the back of the church and emerge blinking into the bright sunshine; and so to our last breakfast in the monastery.

the Saffron Monastery
There is an optional visit this morning to the ancient Mesopotamian city of Dara, near the village of Oguz, about 30 kms east from Mardin. This was originally on the itinerary for yesterday but time overtook us so it was rescheduled.

on the road to Dara
There are some in the group who prefer to take time out, staying behind in the Saffron Monastery this morning to assimilate the events of the last few days, to simply “be”, to reflect and contemplate, perhaps to meditate, on all that we have experienced this trip, and who can blame them? It being Saturday, and an important Muslim festival as well, large numbers of visitors are expected to the monastery, as it is clearly on the tourist trail. Indeed as our coach heading for Dara turns onto the main road we see two coaches heading up the hill to the monastery. Those of the group staying behind had hoped to gain access to the quiet and private gardens set aside at the Saffron Monastery known as “Paradise”. But it wasn’t to be. I hope they found peace and quiet anyway.

In my next post I shall describe the wonders of the Necropolis and other ruins of the ancient city of Dara...
on the road to Dara - notice the bed on the roof to the left - in
the summer when it is very hot people sleep on their roofs


  1. I continue to be struck by the barrenness of the landscape in Mesopotamia, that land between the rivers that was apparently so green and fertile a few millennia ago. Constant and intense human habitation, coupled with herding, has apparently made it impossible for anything larger than cultivated crops and weeds to grow.

    1. that's interesting - I hadn't thought about that.