Christians traveled to the oldest monastery in existence, Mar Mattai, or St. Matthews' monastery, to celebrate Orthodox Easter with a midnight mass on Saturday night followed by a feast with the resident monks.
Mar Mattai, part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, is located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mosul and 97 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the Kurdish capital of Erbil atop Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq. It is claimed to be the oldest Christian monastery in existence, established in the year 363.
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The monastery offers 35 guestrooms to visitors and provides daily services at 4 p.m. in the Syriac language native to all Christians in Iraq. Syriac is a modern form of the Aramaic tongue which Jesus spoke.
While the Catholic Church has connections with the Chaldeans, the Syriac Orthodox Church is connected to the Egyptian Coptic, Ethiopian church and Armenian churches.
Not only is it claimed that Mar Mattai is the oldest Christian monastery in existence -- it is also famous for its library and considerable collection of precious Syriac manuscripts.