|This weekly bulletin insert complements the curriculum published by the Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America. This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org.|
On September 24 the Church honors the Protomartyr Thekla (or Thecla), a young woman whose life was changed when she sat for three nights by her open window and heard Saint Paul preach.
Thekla gave up her planned marriage, and accompanied Saint Paul as he traveled and preached. In later years she retreated from travel and lived a life of solitary prayer, escaping jealous pursuers by taking refuge in the opening in a rock that God provided for her.
A young Orthodox woman wrote, a few years ago, about being part of a group that visited the cave in which Thecla lived. It is located in the desert village of Ma'aloula, Syria and is cared for by the nuns of the Monastery of Saint Thekla. Pilgrims constantly come to pray in the cave, and to drink from the spring that flows in it. It has been the site of numerous healings.
The young visitor describes her experience in this way:
"We had to climb up steps hewn into the mountain to get to the cave, which is somewhat like a large, three-sided room. In the deepest part, about twenty feet back from where the sunlight can reach, we saw a tree growing. Its branches hit the cave ceiling and ran towards the sunlight, all the way to the cave's opening. This was the tree we had seen as we approached the village in the minibus. It looked as though a beautiful hanging garden had been cultivated inside the cave. Nearby was the spring of holy water that God had provided for Thekla. This spring is still running after all these centuries and has no source to replenish it other than the One who gave it. It is a sort of well now, and there is a metal cup so that people can drink from it. Like so many before us, we drank too... "
(Hilary Chala, in "Encountering Women of Faith" Volume 2, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011.)
At the further end of the cave is the chapel and the saint's tomb. Nearby is a stack of crutches and canes that pilgrims have discarded because they no longer needed them after receiving healing in this cave carved from the mountain.
Visitors can also go to the base of the mountain and walk into the opening that miraculously opened for Thekla, and make their way along a path, with water constantly flowing, inside the mountain. In places the path is wide enough for two to walk abreast; in others it is so narrow that a person is barely able to get through, face and body pressed against the stone. But the experience is an unforgettable one.
We can only pray that with the terrible carnage and upheaval that has Syria in its grip, Ma'aloula will be able to remain a place where visitors can come so close to the life of a saint.