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The '''Convent of Our Lady of Saydnaya''' is located in the mountains north of the city of [[Damascus]] of Syria, the seat of the ancient Patriarchate of [[Church of Antioch|Antioch]]
. The village of Saydnaya has many ancient associations with the Holy Bible. The local inhabitants can show you the reputed place where Cain slew his brother Abel. It is also an area renowned for its faithfulness to Orthodoxy. In former times when many cities and villages in Syria apostatized from Christianity, Saydnaya always remained a zealous defender of the Orthodox Faith. The convent rises above the town like a veritable fortress and is dedicated to the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. One may not enter the small chapel without removing one's sandals; inside, the walls are covered with myriad signs of gratitude to the All-pure One. The Icon of the All-holy Virgin is believed to be one of four icons extant that were painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. In the Syriac language this icon is called the Chahoura or Chagoura, which means "The Illustrious, Celebrated, or Renowned." The word is a loan-word from the Arabic Chahira or El Mash Hura which have the same meaning. There are also many other fine icons of the Holy Virgin and the saints, which date from the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. There are about fifty nuns in the convent, presided over by an abbess, and it owns several inalienable properties in Syria and Lebanon. Thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world visit this holy place every year, particularly for its feast, the Nativity of the Theotokos on the eighth of September. In its library, which contains hundreds of valuable manuscripts, it can be documented that the convent was founded about the year 547.
It is said that Justinian I, Emperor of Byzantium, while crossing Syria with his troops either on his way to the Holy Land or on a campaign against the Persians, came to this desert, where his army encamped and soon suffered thirst for lack of water. When they despaired, the emperor saw a beautiful gazelle off in the distance. He vigorously gave chase, hunting the animal until it tired and stopped on a rocky knoll and approached a spring of fresh water, but without giving the emperor the opportunity to shoot it. Suddenly, it transformed into an icon of the Most-holy Theotokos, which shone with a brilliant light. A white hand stretched forth from it and a voice said, "No, thou shalt not kill me, Justinian, but thou shalt build a church for me here on this hill." Then the strange heavenly light and majestic figure disappeared.
When Theodore returned to the convent, these events tempted him to keep the valuable icon for himself, and he decided to bypass Saydnaya and sail back to Egypt. However, he was unable to set sail, for such a fierce storm arose, it seemed the ship would inevitably sink. His conscience was pricked, and he quickly left the ship and returned by way of Saydnaya. After spending four days in the convent, he was again possessed by an irresistible desire to make the icon of the Mother of God his own. He apologized to the abbess, pretending that he had been unable to buy the required icon, and then he decided to leave the convent secretly. The next morning, as he was about to set out on the journey back to his own country and approached the convent gate, he was amazed to find that an invisible power barred his way, and it was as though a stone wall stood where the gate should have been. After many futile attempts, he was forced to hand the icon over to the abbess, confessing his intention. With tears of gratitude she glorified the Lord and His All-pure Mother. Since that day, the holy Icon has remained in the convent and has been the object of great veneration.
Many other churches have been built in the village from donations of Orthodox rulers, wealthy persons, and by others in the fulfillment of vows, but in the course of centuries, few remain.