Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Martyr Abdallah of Lattakia (d. 1844)

The Arabic original, by Fr. Touma Bitar, can be found here, along with the complete poem.
The Martyr Abdallah of Lattakia
In Lattakia, Syria some people, especially the aged, still recite lines from a poem in the local dialect, among them:
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
I was a priest, performing liturgy in the morning
I bore the body of my Lord and warned the people
When the army of the Tempter entered my head, I transgressed your words, my Lord
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
O my soul, be sorrowful, and weep for your failings
And regret, my soul, my excuses, until I die
O my soul, be sorrowful, and lament as one dejected
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
O my soul, be wicked, the worst of the people
Bury yourself among the unclean
Your home is there, having traded the jewel of faiths for the hell of flames
The passing of time has erased the details of who wrote this poem and what caused him to reach such a state. However,  Archimandrite Arsenios Hanouk has investigated what is left in the memory of many, and has found information that gives us an image of the priest mentioned in the above poem and he gave this information to me, Archimandrite Touma Bitar in July 1990 and here we publish it for the benefit of the faithful.
The names of those who knew something about the story of the priest Abdallah are many, all of them from the Orthodox community of Lattakia and in addition to what remains in the memory of some of the faithful, we have what is recounted in the book “Athar al-Hiqab fi Ladhiqiyya al-arab” by Elias Salih, on the basis of manuscript 438 at the Patriarchate of Antioch, along with a manuscript of the entire poem that the Martyr Abdallah recited. This was taken from a manuscript found at the Patriarchal Monastery of Seidnayya. The poem as it was sung in Lattakia, given above, is taken directly from the manuscript of Seidnayya. This was composed according to the letters of the alphabet and has 58 lines.
After gathering the information available to us and putting the pieces back together, an approximate image emerges of the Martyr Abdallah, as follows:
It happened when Artemios was bishop of Lattakia, in 1844, that the priest Abdallah, one of the Rum Orthodox priests in Lattakia, announced that he had converted to Islam. The reason for this was that in Lattakia there was an agent for the Greek consul named Demitri. He was married in his home country, and came to Lattakia and claimed that his wife had died and sought to marry one of the local girls named Katrine, the daughter of the priest Mikhail al-Nahhal. Metropolitan Artemios did not give his permission for this. He told him to bring a paper from the metropolitan of his city attesting to the fact that his wife had died. It happened that the metropolitan was absent from the city for a time, and so Demitri could only convince the priest Abdallah to perform the ceremony of marriage with Katrine. We do not know how the priest was convinced to take this action without the permission of his metropolitan. Whatever the case may be, the crowning took place and Demitri took Katrine to his home. Only a few days later, Demitri’s son from his first wife came and was surprised that his father had married because his mother was still living. When the metropolitan returned from his journey and learned this, he excommunicated Demitri, Katrine, the priest Abdallah, and anyone among the faithful who associated with them, spoke to them, or received them in their home. The priest went around to everyone, great and small, asking them to intercede for him with the metropolitan. He only found disappointment, because everyone turned their faces away from him and refused to speak to him. He remained like this for days, until it became too much for him and he could no longer bear it. He went to the Muslim authorities and announced to them that he had converted to Islam. They received him with open arms and threw a celebration for him. Then, a few days after his conversion to Islam, they paraded him around the city on a Sunday in a large crowd, on account of his circumcision, paying musical instruments, beating drums, and firing muskets.
Here the information ends about the Priest Abdallah in the book “Athar al-Hiqab….” What remains in the memories of some, after that, is that the priest, after having become a Muslim returned and regretted it and tried to go back to his previous faith, but did not find a way to. Every day he stood in front of the Cathedral of St. George and said, “O Church of the Lord, your love is in my heart.” Because of the intensity of his feelings, he composed a poem and started singing it, as he had a beautiful voice. The Muslims heard him reciting it while the evening call to prayer was being made in the central mosque, and they threw him from the top of the mosque and he died. The Christians took him and buried him in the Church of St. Sabba. There, some relate that a light was seen over his grave. The healing of many sick people is attributed to him, like the ending of fever and seizures. It is to be noted that the Church of St. Sabba no longer exists in Lattakia because an Orthodox high school was built on the site, and the graves were moved to the cemetery of al-Faros.


Apophatically Speaking said...

Is there any idea as to why this poem is recited? As
warning? Such a sad story.

Samn! said...

Well, it's part of the traditional Arab genre called ritha', or mourning-poetry, but with a twist... I would take it to be a kind of celebration of an Orthodox folk-saint.

Anonymous said...

Dear Samn!

I'm a young Melkite from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I come to your site through Byzantine Forum, in a topic about Holy Synod's decision on the American Eparchy.

I would like to congrat you so much for the excellent blog, which brings to us the richness and news of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

It will help me to strengh my tides with our tradition.

At the moment, after the reading of that so interesting story, I would like to ask something about marriage and divorce, so as to understand better the Orthodox pratics. Why didn't the Consul Demetrios said he wanted to divorce his wife looking for the new marriage? Would he have to have a strong motive, which would be investigated by his Metropolitan?

I also invite you to know my blog Sinaxe.

Philippe Gebara

Samn! said...

Hi Philippe,

Thank you for your kind words. Honestly, I don't know that much about how divorce was applied in the 19th century Levant, but I would presume that it would've required the convening of a spiritual court and a very good reason on the part of the party looking to obtain one, which is at least in principle what is required today by the Orthodox Church in Lebanon, where civil divorce does not exist and so all divorces have to go through religious authorities.

Tito Edwards said...


On another different topic, I just wanted to express my gratitude for such a very informational blog!

I am a Catholic and am always wanting to read up on our separated brothers in Christ.

Could you provide a link or a many links on some very popular Orthodox blogs?

Do you see the Ecumenical Patriarch ever being released from his Turkish bonds?

Such as returning the Hagia Sophia?

I hear that more and more Orthodox are emigrating back to Constantinople and repopulating the depleted Orthodox community.

In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,


Apophatically Speaking said...


If I may interject, Fr. Freeman's blog "Glory to God for All Things" can be highly recommended. It is located at

Of course, you are always welcome at my site as well,

It seems in need of visitors :)

Samn! said...

Hi Tito,

As far as Orthodox blogs go, I would recommend also and

I don't see any particular changes in the status of Christians in Turkey happening any time soon... though if you look in the blog archives, there's an article about conversions to Christianity in Turkey.

Tito Edwards said...

Hi Samn!

Thanks for the links (and A.S. too)!

As for the Christians in Istanbul, I see a possibility of the re-opening of the Halki seminary, but nothing else.

Greeks are beginning to return to Istanbul and hopefully the trickle will turn into a flood.

The EU is putting pressure on the government to improve non-Muslim religious minority rights, but nothing concrete has yet happened (in my opinion of significance, outside of celebrating the Dormition at an ancient Christian site).

Know that I pray for the union of our two great apostolic faiths so we can re-Christianize the West, battle back Islam, and finish in Asia!

In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,


Miklagard said...

Really interesting poem. Is there any chance an English translation of the whole thing will become available at some point?