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November 27, 2010

The Monastery of Saint James the Persian in Deddeh, Lebanon

The ancient Greek Orthodox women's monastery dedicated to Saint James (or Jacob) the Persian (Deir Mar Yacoub) is situated at the village of Deddeh in the district of El koura in Lebanon. The monastery is built high up on a plateau at the northern edge of the village and overlooks the coast of the city of Tripoli which is located about seven kilometers away. There are currently 29 nuns residing at the monastery and its Abbess is Gerontissa (Eldress) Fevronia. The Monastery of Saint James is estimated to be over 800 years old although historical investigations confirm that its construction expanded over different historical periods, as evidenced by the walls of the buildings, dam construction, roof construction, the thickness of the walls and more.

The Monastery of Saint James the Persian was originally a men's monastery, however there are no documents or manuscripts surviving in the monastery that can be dated from the time of its precise emergence because the monastery caught fire several times in its history, which destroyed many icons, books and manuscripts that could have been dated to the time of its foundation. Adding to the ambiguity of this history is the complete burning down of the Archdiocese in Tripoli during the Lebanese civil war. According to the Russian monk traveler Vasily Barsky, who visited the monastery around the year 1600, the monastery buildings were clustered around the church which included a dozen cells and a dining room added for travelers as well as other buildings.

In 1620, a Cypriot by the name Zacharias was living in the monastery and was its Abbot. He was appointed by Patriarch Ignatius III (1619-1634) along with five or six monks. The official historian of the Apostolic Church of Antioch, Dr. Asad Rustum in his book "The Church of the Great City of God Antioch" (part III, page 50), mentions that during a tour in the year 1648, Patriarch Makarios visited the monastery and he stated as follows: "In the twentieth of the same month (November?) he arrived to the Monastery of Saint James from Jerusalem and entered the church (of the monastery) on the feast day of the Virgin Mary". In a letter sent by the Bishop of Tripoli Sophronius to the Patriarch of Antioch, on April 29 in 1864, it is stated that the monastery was inhabited by monks in those days too, and that the military had come to the monastery and attacked the monks in order to obtain what is of value, and when the Abbot refused to deliver what was entrusted to him by God, he was beaten severely, and as a result he lost his sight and one of his hands.

Shortly after the events mentioned above, and possibly because of them, the Monastery of Saint James the Persian was abandoned. As a result, the monastery and its premises were exposed to looting and theft with the consequence of losing most of its ancient icons. With time, the buildings themselves fell into ruins and destruction. In 1956 the monastery was once again inhabited, this time by nuns, who under the guidance of their first Eldress, Irene, spent many years repairing and restoring it. In 2008, and after an illness crippled Eldress Irene, the nuns chose nun Fevronia as their new Eldress.