guess who the killer was. Was he still moving among us, hovering around the scene of his crime? But he must be still living here, keeping up his calm and his prayers and his silence, because no one had run away. The killer had remained here, hidden beneath a monk’s cowl, but no one could point to him.
Everybody turned their attention to the eternal question that usually grips people in such circumstances: What was it Father Charbel had done to be murdered? The question started hovering over people heads and mixing with other questions, for he had never harmed an ant, nor spoken ill of anyone.
Evening was the appointed time for Father Joseph to give orders for Father Charbel’s funeral according to the Assyrian rite and for his burial in the monastery’s graveyard. He insisted that the body not be washed, for according to the Assyrians the murdered body has been washed in its own blood: the gore taking the place of water. It was as though a drop of blood had signalled the collapse of the whole monastery.
Father Joseph stood at the altar and in a loud voice, proclaimed: “Taska Deshiga . . .”
The words rang in their ears and they opened their eyes wide, as though seeking to recover forgotten words from their lost vocabulary: Paradise lost begins with the loss of words and the inhabitants of the monastery sensed this. His words signalled the first day of the funeral rites, when the body of “the conveyed” was washed with water sanctified by the blessings of the priest. The washing would be performed by anyone with experience, whether a simple monk, a bishop, an archbishop or a patriarch and the Assyrians referred to the dead man as the “the conveyed”, because it was in this state that he was moved from one place to another. Then they would say prayers over him and bid him farewell, in hope of meeting him on the Day of Resurrection in Christ’s presence.
Then Father Joseph spoke again: “Qalla Dawerkha . . .” The prayers for the dead. They carried him in a coffin with Father Joseph leading the way, making for the monastery graveyard where they would perform the Qalla Dawerkha prayers. These were solemn rites: taking the coffin to be covered by soil. The body was laid out on its back, head to the West to ensure that when he rose again his face would point East, following the Assyrian belief that when Christ returned he would
BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015 37