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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

A Priest, a Holy Bible, in an Ancient Text - But What Denomination & Where is this? (Updated)

Updated: May 20, 2021

Every Picture Tells a Story [Don't it?] 26: As I took this photo, unbeknown to me, an unholy

cloud of dust was rising in the skies above northern Ukraine and Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union. Yes, it was April, 1986, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was happening (or about to happen, I can't pinpoint the day of this pic. I only learned a week or ten days later, like most others.)

This priest, of course, was equally in the dark about current events, his life rumbling on seemingly untroubled. But what kind of priest is he? For what church? And where is this?

While I was there with him, some soldiers called on him. He was very deferential, and spoke their language, though it was not his mother tongue. It was a peaceful visit.

Here's another clue - something he brought out to show me.

It might help you solve the puzzle - on the other hand .... it might just appear as gobbledigook.

If you think you know the answer, let me know via the website contact form, or send an email. I'll post the answer to this here on Thursday morning (I think I'll be too busy tomorrow).

This is probably a tough one: you may have to ponder long and hard, and sleuth deep :)


Wow – One can't underestimate the quality of people in here. This site may not boast a massive readership, but there are some great people who really think about these photo challenges. I thought this one would be well nigh impossible.

OK, so some new entrants were perhaps guided by the Perspectives Budapest name: I don't think Utibe, sitting in Nigeria, realised this was in the Off Topic Ramblings 'category' (as the website terms it) – so the photo may be far away from both Hungary and central Europe – and in this case, is so.

Similarly, Reader 6674 (I don't know your name) thought it might be Serbian Orthodox in Szentendre. ((My apologies, Utibe and 6674 – it is somewhat more obscure than Hungary.)

Otherwise, we had suggestions from Serbian Orthodox in Kosovo to Russian Orthodox in Chechnya or Georgia, to Coptic in Egypt.

Marilyn Brown, for example, thought the priest could be Greek Orthodox.

Alan Sutton reckoned “He looks like one of the priests at the St Catherine Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai.

In any event, I think the diagram is of the World since its creation according to the Orthodox Church. But it is Arabic. Is he a Copt?”

Lawrence Chell wandered in that direction too. He wrote: Kester, Many thanks for all your challenges .All very enjoyable.

I think I may know this one. My first reaction was :- Aramaic,Maronite and The Lebanon.

However,on reflection I think I prefer:- Coptic and Egypt."

Sharon Lee wrote that in her “Humble Guess” it could be Georgia, and a Georgian Orthodox priest.

Mike Glover confidently called out: Syriac Orthodox Church, Kester. Looks like Rhodes, but more likely Jerusalem.

Well, that's put the holy cat amongst the pigeons, I'd say, Mike.

Alex Faludy, keen as ever, was first in with this incisive logic.

"The script looks like Syriac. So the priest is Syrian Orthodox (NOT to be confused with either the regular Eastern Orthodox like Greeks Russian or the more exotic 'Oriental Orthodox’ IE Copts and Armenians).

"The photo will likely have been taken in Syria where the said community is linguistically distinct, would not have been afraid of publicly displaying religious identity to sympathetic/ curious foreigners and enjoyed a degree of protection from the state.

"It could theoretically have been taken in Lebanon perhaps but given the civil war and all I don’t think even YOU would have been foolish enough to got trainsporting in the vicinity at the time!"

Alex is an ordained Anglican minister, so he should know a thing or two about this, of course.

Then we had Tom Chilton: "He is an orthodox priest in a country where they write funny (this doesn't narrow the field much!) But the script isn't Russian or Greek methinks.

"It looks like a hot place. I could plump for a Georgian Orthodox priest who was talking to some Russian soldiers but I don't think you were in Georgia in 1986. Maybe he is an Amenian Orthodox priest who was talking to some Turkish soldiers, but I don't think there are any Armenian monasteries left in Turkey.

"So my final vote is that he is a Syriac Orthodox priest in the "Saffron" monastery near Mardin (SE Turkey). üdv. TLC"

Now Tom also has an inherent advantage: he misspent many middle-age hours in a pub trying to beat me at pool, during which time he acquired a good knowledge of my travels. And he lived for a year or so in Istanbul. So he knows a bit about Turkey.

​Finally, this rolled in from Viktor Friedman:

Dear Kester, Let's make a bold but somewhat informed guess: The priest is from the Syriac Orthodox Church (the second clue is the list of the Patriarchs until Ignatius Zaqqa I, which is not very helpful for figuring out the time, since he was in that position 1980-2014), and the place is the Mor Hananyo Monastery. Let's see whether I'm right. Wow! Well, you might be right, Viktor, but I've lost my notes. What is sure is that this is in Mardin, a wonderful town that sits on a rocky outcrop above a broad plain in south-east Turkey. It is not far from the Syrian border (and not very far from where the Turkey-Syria-Iraq borders all meet, a few miles to the east).

The town is also special in that it has large ethnic Kurdish and Arab populations, plus a bunch of ancient Christian churches and monasteries. But this is not the Saffron Monastery, which is 3-4 km out of the town. I'm fairly sure I didn't get there. However, yes, he is a Syriac Christian. The second clue, as I remember it explained, is a list of patriarchs starting with St Peter (the apostle) – so in a way, it might be construed that they are challenging the Roman Catholic Church to the claim of being direct inheritors of 'the true church' - but I don't know the reality of church politics. I really don't know which monastery this is (or indeed, if it is more a humble church than a monastery). Congratulations to all competitors, and Viktor and Tom in particular.

Update to Update - Tom Chilton tells me that the Mor Hananyo and Saffron Monastery are the same place, and he is convinced this is where it is. Well, you might be correct, Tom, I just don't remember going out of Mardin. I'll see if they have a website and send them the link to this piece, maybe we'll have the puzzle finally solved that way.

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