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East Meets West in Ligonier

Two centuries of settlement and immigration, connected by faith

The current exhibit at the Heritage Museum at Antiochian Village, “East Meets West in Ligonier,” was created in honor of Ligonier 250, a regional celebration of 250 years of local history since the battle fought in 1758 at nearby Fort Ligonier during the French & Indian War.

We welcomed the opportunity to participate in an important local anniversary alongside other cultural institutions of the area, and saw it as an
opportunity to draw new visitors to the Museum and to the Antiochian Village Heritage & Learning Center. The challenge was to create an exhibit that would connect to Pennsylvania’s early frontier days while still celebrating the Antiochian heritage. At first this seemed like a far reach, but
as we began to discover fascinating connections between these two seemingly unrelated subjects, we found that – in the words of a visitor to the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition – “the ends of the earth are not so very far apart after all.”

Exploring the history of the Antiochian Village property, and inspired by conversations with people whose families emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, East Meets West reveals fascinating ways in which we Antiochian Orthodox Christians share a connection to the early settlers of this western Pennsylvania land, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who first established a church on this property during the 1700s. The story told through the exhibit spans the centuries, and crosses oceans, continents, cultures, and faiths – taking a few detours on the way – as it explores a series of links between East and West, rich in the heritage and legacies of two emigrant communities that have made the U.S., and Western Pennsylvania, their home.


Engraved portrait of Sarah SmithEngraved portrait of Sarah Smith

The first church building on what is now the Antiochian Village property was a rough log structure built in the early 1800s by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian community that had begun settling in the area during the mid-1700s. By the time the little log church was replaced by a brick structure in 1849, the American Presbyterian church had begun sending missionaries overseas, establishing a mission in Syria/Lebanon – known as the Syrian Mission – with headquarters in Beirut. In a unique way, the American Presbyterian Syrian Mission brought about a historically signifi cant meeting of East (Orthodox Christians of Syria/Lebanon) and West (Protestant Christians from America).


Stone marker in Beirut marking location of first School for Girls in Ottoman EmpireStone marker in Beirut marking location of first School for Girls in Ottoman EmpireAfter teaching for a few years among the Mohegan Indians in Connecticut, a young American by the name of Sarah Huntington became interested in foreign missionary work. She got a firsthand introduction to it when she met Rev. Eli Smith, a Presbyterian missionary to Syria, who was home for a year-long furlough in the U.S. They married, and soon boarded a ship across the Atlantic bound for Beirut. After a grueling four-month journey from Boston, they arrived together in Beirut in January of 1834.

Within a year of her arrival in Beirut, Sarah Smith had established the first school for girls in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Until this time in the Ottoman Empire (which then ruled over Syria/Lebanon), a family’s only option for educating their daughters was a private tutor, making education for girls accessible only to the wealthiest families. When Smith started her School for Girls in Beirut in 1834, it was groundbreaking in its impact on the local community and became part of a legacy of educational institutions established by Protestant missionaries, many of which still exist today.

Sarah Smith struggled with ill health and died within a few years of her arrival in Beirut, at the age of 34. But her legacy lived on, her school evolving into the first Women’s College in the Middle East (in 1924), and eventually becoming one of Lebanon’s foremost universities, the Lebanese American University (LAU). In fact, two of Beirut’s most distinguished universities – LAU and the American University of Beirut – were started by American Presbyterian missionaries.

Beirut Church and Girls’ School, 1871. The American missionaries’ printing press was located next to their School for Girls in Beirut: In the extreme left of the picture a portion of the (American) ‘Press’ building is seen.Beirut Church and Girls’ School, 1871. The American missionaries’ printing press was located next to their School for Girls in Beirut: In the extreme left of the picture a portion of the (American) ‘Press’ building is seen. Current students at the Lebanese American University.Current students at the Lebanese American University.


When the missionaries arrived in Beirut, they found existing Bibles in Arabic to be inadequate. Some were based on a Roman Catholic translation from the 1500s which did not contain the entire New Testament, and used out-of-date or inaccurate Arabic language.

While Sarah Smith used her teaching talents to start her School for Girls, Rev. Eli Smith dedicated himself to the project of translating the Bible into modern Arabic, with the goal of printing the complete Old and New Testaments in Arabic, using a printing press which he had brought to Beirut. Throughout the translation process, Smith was aided by the Syrian scholar Butrus al- Bustani, who used his linguistic gifts in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and perfected his Syriac and Latin, for the task. After Rev. Smith died in 1857, the translation work continued under the leadership of Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck, who had known al-Bustani from the Abeih Seminary, where they had both taught. The Arabic New Testament was fi nished in 1860 and the Old Testament translation, which took another fi ve years, was fi nally printed in 1865. This remains the standard Arabic Bible in use today and is often referred to as “the Bustani-Van Dyck translation.”

“But for the American missionaries, the Word of God had well-nigh perished out of the [Arabic] language; but now, through the labors of Dr. Eli Smith and Dr. Van Dyck, they have given us a translation so pure, so exact, so clear, and so classical, as to be acceptable to all classes and all sects,” said Priest Ghubreen Jebara, a learned Greek ecclesiastic in Beirut in 1865.


During this time, Arabic-speaking Christians, who were a large minority in the predominantly Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire, were experiencing a literary renaissance known as al-nahdah or “the awakening.” (Though Arab Muslims were also affected by this renaissance, its greatest impact was on members of the Christian communities.) It has been noted that two major catalysts for this awakening were foreign Christian missionary activity – bringing new schools and new ideas – and the arrival of the Arabic printing press in Beirut, which not only published the Bible in Arabic, but also printed new editions of classical Arabic texts and inspired the development of a lively journalistic tradition.


Butrus Al-BustaniButrus Al-BustaniThe brilliant and scholarly Butrus al-Bustani (“Butrus” means “Peter” in Arabic) was born into a Maronite Christian family in Syria. He was impressed by the American missionaries’ interest in a revival of Arabic literature and their commitment to educating the local population. Al-Bustani worked with the missionaries as a teacher in their schools, as their private tutor in Arabic, and as translator and collaborator in their publications.

“A group of cultural intermediaries was developing [in Beirut]. They were not only explaining their own language and society to foreigners; as teachers and journalists, they were beginning to explain the new world of Europe and America to the growing number of those who could read Arabic. Of this group of intermediaries, Butrus al-Bustani was both an example and a leader,” observed Albert Habib Hourani.

Known as the “Father of the Arabic Renaissance,” al-Bustani became a leader in the lively intellectual atmosphere among the growing numbers of educated Arabic-speaking people in Beirut. He encouraged receptiveness to the scientific discoveries made in Europe, valued the acquisition of modern knowledge, and created the first modern Arabic encyclopedia, Muhit al-Muhit (Ocean of Oceans).


Portrait of Kalil Salloum in his 90s in PhiladelphiaPortrait of Kalil Salloum in his 90s in PhiladelphiaIn 1876, there arose a unique opportunity for Christians in the villages of Lebanon, an opportunity that was connected to the presence of American missionaries who had first arrived in Beirut fifty years earlier. During 1876, the United States of America would celebrate its centennial – 100 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence – and a huge party was planned, a World’s Fair of sorts. Many nations were invited to participate in the U.S. Centennial Exhibition, including the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

The American ambassador to the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the time was George Henry Boker, a prominent Philadelphian. One of his duties was to see that the Ottoman Empire participated in the 1876 centennial event. Boker was also friendly with American Presbyterian missionary Henry Jessup, who at that time had been in Syria for almost 20 years. (Their fathers were very active in the Republican Party and close to Abraham Lincoln.) When it came time to “man the booths” of the Ottoman Empire at the U.S. Centennial, among those chosen for the job were Arabic-speaking Christians from the Koura region, where Jessup had a missionary post.

So it happened that a number of Syrian/Lebanese people were first introduced to the U.S., arriving on U.S. soil in 1876. For six months they supervised the Turkish exhibits in the Main Hall, worked in the Turkish Pavilion and Café, and sold olive-wood artifacts from the Holy Land at the “Bethlehem and Palestine” booth.


Impressed by their time at the U.S. Centennial, many of these Syrian/Lebanese people returned home with an enthusiasm for the economic possibilities and educational opportunities that the United States offered. One of these was Kalil Salloum, who was among the first to arrive in the U.S. to work at the Centennial Exhibition. Afterwards, Mr. Salloum – an agent with the Londonbased travel agency Thomas Cook & Son – traveled between the U.S. and his homeland, making arrangements for interested people to visit and/or relocate to the United States.

In 1900, Mr. Salloum brought his family to Philadelphia, with the purpose of enrolling his oldest son and daughter in school. His daughter, Mary, enrolled in medical school at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1905. She then transferred to Temple University Medical School, where she and her brother, Abdullah, were both members of the first graduating class in 1909. They both remained in the U.S. as practicing medical doctors. (Salloum’s granddaughter, Aileen Salloum Freeman, was a valuable resource for this section of the East Meets West exhibit. Her recently published book, Jessup, explores the zeal of the 19th-century American foreign missionary – especially that of two brothers, the Rev. Henry Jessup and the Rev. Samuel Jessup, who were leaders in the Syrian Mission – and takes a look at some of the men and women who intermingled business and politics with religion, with some surprising results. Jessup is available through the Antiochian Village Bookstore, with proceeds kindly donated to the Village by the author.)


The U.S. Centennial, and later Chicago’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, opened the eyes of the world to the potential of the young United States of America. Like other immigrants of that era, people from Syria/Lebanon began to settle in communities throughout the U.S., many bringing with them their Orthodox Christian faith and an entrepreneurial spirit. Many chose to settle in New York City and cities westward along the railroad, such as Johnstown and Pittsburgh, where they could successfully start small businesses. As their communities grew, their churches were established. In Pennsylvania, St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church was established in Johnstown in 1904. Pittsburgh’s St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, established in 1908, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.


Thirty years ago, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church found a home in the Ligonier Valley. Before the establishment of Antiochian Village, Metropolitan PHILIP had envisioned a place where members of his Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church could seek spiritual retreat, surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation. His vision became a reality in 1978, with the purchase of Camp Fairfield from the Presbyterian Church. The mountains of Ligonier Valley created an ideal setting for Antiochian Village.

In the words of Metropolitan PHILIP, addressing the Archdiocesan General Assembly in Houston in 1978 (as published in the September 1978 issue of The WORD magazine):

There is something mysterious about a mountain which is difficult to describe. In the Old Testament, Moses received the commandments on a mountain; Elias the Prophet witnessed to the Living God on a mountain. In the New Testament, our Lord preached the most beautiful sermon ever preached on a mountain. And when He wanted to reveal his glory to His disciples, He was transfigured on a mountain. On Ascension Day, He ascended into heaven with our human nature from a mountain. Thus, my friends, when you become weary, depressed, tired of life, empty, laden with heavy burdens, when you lose direction in life and communion with God, go to the mountain, to the Antiochian Village, and you will find rest.