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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Our apprentice in Canada - The Assyrian church


I remember the words of Professor  Saana Svard of the Assyriology department in Helsinki University very clearly: “it [Assyria] is an ancient culture with a dead language.”  What I witnessed earlier this month was anything but dead. It was a display of pride in heritage, strong community values and spontaneous acts of kindness, all centered around the church they built with donations. 

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We made the 5 hour drive to Toronto two weeks ago and while that journey warrants an entry on its own, I decided I won’t write about Toronto and it's architecture till I’ve had time to get to know it better. Someone in Ottawa told me that the Assyrian community spoke Aramaic and I needed to see this. The best place to go, I thought, would be an Assyrian Church. 
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I went to see the Holy Mass held on Sundays in the Catholic Church of St Mary, a prominent Assyrian church in the outskirts of Toronto; and I have to say that I was completely at awe by what I witnessed and left a little speechless afterwards. 
As soon as we made the turn into Skyway Avenue the traditional exterior of the church caught my eye. Not the kind of traditional that I had become accustomed to in England, where flint walls and tracery windows were the norm. It was the kind of traditional building that Inanna could have called her home. The brick building is a replica of an ancient Mesopotamian church traditionally found in Northern Iraq.
It was absolutely packed despite the fact that it was just a regular Sunday. The interior of the great hall was just as modest but as elegant as the remainder of the church’s interior. We lit candles as we entered and I turned around to admire the altar when it struck me that there was no imagery of Christ or even the slightest symbolism referring to the Stations of the Cross.
There was no imagery, be it on stone or otherwise, of any saints or beast. Or as in the words of an Assyrian church goer: A truly non-pagan worship. The altar was decorated with two stained glass windows and a back-lit stained glass cross. The images on the stained glass were in the neo art-deco style and of abstract shapes and fruits of harvest.
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