The entrance to the “Street Called Straight,” where Ananias came in search of Paul. (photo: Rev. Leon V. Kofod)
Another view of the “Street Called Straight” — as ever, bustling with activity. (photo: Rev. Leon V. Kofod)
Part of the ruined wall — over which St. Paul escaped in a basket — remains in present-day Damascus. (photo: Rev. Leon V. Kofod)
The Syrian desert. As ever, it is hauntingly quiet, limitless, seemingly untouched by time and so, somehow apart from a world filled with men of foolish passion.
But the peace and timelessness have at times been disturbed by such restless men as on a day in 35 A.D .
A small caravan, destined for Damascus, slowly makes its way across the sands. A young zealot leads them lately, an approving witness at the stoning death of Stephen, a follower of the infant Christian religion.
Still breathing threats of slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, (Acts 9,60), this man of misguided convictions is travelling to the capital city with yet another message and mission of subjection for the oft-prostrated people of Syria. Saul of Tarsus plans to conquer the fast-growing Christian sect which poses a threat to Rome and to the Sanhedrin.
But the terrible mission is not to be. For as he rides, a heavenly light shines around him, and a voice asks: Saul, why dost thou persecute me?
In answer to this question, Paul poses another: Lord, what wilt thou have me do? And from that moment, there was Paul, Gods new instrument in Syria.
The converted Paul was a conqueror such as Syria or the world had never seen. In the past, various groups had successively subjugated part or all of Syria, because of the countrys strategic position on trade and military routes.
But Christianity would not be another bitter or temporary conquest, as those of untold centuries before and after .
Excavations have revealed that as early as 2000 to 1600 B.C. Syria had accumulated wealth sufficient to invite the conquest of the covetous Egyptians.
Bounded on the north by Turkey, on the east by Iraq, on the south by the Holy Land, and on the west by Lebanon and the Mediterranean, Syria inevitably became one of the main battlefields and trade crossroads of the ancient world.
In successive waves, the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian and innumerable other hordes descended upon her lands, to loot what was then a country of great wealth and high cultural achievement. Into Damascus they came vying for the colonial textiles, for the Royal purple so necessary to the hierarchies of the ancient kingdoms; hoping to take from this Queen City of the East some of her bronze work, carved ivory and polished gems.
Following the example of so many others, the Roman legions under Pompey arrived in 64 B.C., to plunder the country once again. And it was during the Roman rule that the Christian mark was indelibly made in Syria on that day in 35 A.D.
Christ walked among the people of Palestine, but little among those of Syria, save for Tyre and Sidon (now in present-day Lebanon). It seems strange that He did not do so, as the shore of Galilee on which He did walk many times actually touched a small section of Syrian land. Apparently, His work was for Paul and others to accomplish in Syria.
And so, into Damascus blinded and humbled this man of Tarsus was led by astounded companions an unlikely conqueror. To the Street Called Straight God sent the disciple Ananias to find, baptize and thus change the infamous persecutor into a believer and a missionary of God. Over the city wall they lowered Paul by night, to safety, and to a life of preaching the Good News.
Syria would be conquered again, in the seventh century A.D., by the followers of Mohammed, who attempted to purge the land of Infidels. By the worlds standards, the Islamic conquest was the lasting one, as Syria is 80% Moslem today.
But such facts and figures cannot negate Pauls work. For he, the Syrian Christians whod awaited him, and those whom they converted, saw the world not as an object of mens ambitions, but rather, as it was and is ephemeral, unimportant in comparison to Christs truth. As such, their triumph is of a different nature.
Today, there are vivid reminders of the imprint of Christianity on Syria the thriving, if not large, Christian community in the country; the house of Ananias, as it was when Paul sought haven within; the wall over which Paul escaped so that he might continue the work hed begun in Syria.
And of course, Pauls words to the whole world belong to Syrians, as they do to all Christians words so especially poignant and applicable to the boiling melting pot that is the Middle East:
You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and have to put on a new self . There is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, barbarian and Scythian, slave or free man. There is only one Christ: He is everything and He is in everything. (Colossians, 3:8-11)
No amount of conquest could suppress such words.
Djinna Gochis is a freelance journalist who is also currently pursuing a career in communications law.