The Patriarchal Visit to Taybeh

By Dr. Maria C. Khoury

June 13, 2002

As I was seriously thinking of joining the Christian exodus from the Holy Land, two patriarchs full of grace showed up in my village to inspire and show their love towards the local faithful. His Beatitude Michel Sabbah arrived in Taybeh for the graduation ceremony at the Latin Patriarchate School and His Beatitude Ireneus I, spent the whole day in Taybeh to congratulate this years graduating class at the Greek Orthodox School following the Divine Liturgy. It was a full day for a little village.

I was deeply moved by the words of the Greek patriarch during his sermon when he said that we must work together to maintain our roots in this land and if we lose even one soul from this little Christian village, the bones of our forefathers will ache and hurt. The Greek to Arabic translation probably had a message only for people like me who think about running away to middle-class America. I could not stop myself from crying because His Beatitude Ireneus I, urged everyone to do their part to preserve and maintain our true faith that dates back two thousand years as a continuation of the work of the apostles.

But it is becoming impossible to live and bear witness only to more and more bloodshed. I don't worry about dying anymore, I worry that I am in fact alive and see the destruction and the atrocities that no one in the world seems to be able to stop.

The Patriarch also said kind and generous words about the village of Taybeh mainly that it uplifts the image of Christianity in the Holy Land since the first bishop of Palestinian descent was from Taybeh, Bishop Symeon, God rest his soul. The patriarch emphasized there was a special relationship between Taybeh and the Greek patriarchate and we must all work together to maintain our Christian roots and faith.

His Beatitude met with the parish members of St. George Greek Orthodox Church following the Divine Liturgy in an open forum to listen to their problems and concerns. The most critical issue was the need to help parents pay school tuition during these very difficult times with many people out of work. The need to raise funds for the housing project to help thirty families build their first homes was expressed as well.

The problems were many but the solutions were few. The patriarch with his entourage of ten clergy and laity including two bishops had a tour of St. George Church ruins where the first church in the village was built by Constantine the Great. Followed by a visit to the Orthodox School were an extension is needed to help the overcrowded rooms. A short stop was made at the small chapel next to the main church that was build in the early 1980's over fourth century mosaics discovered by Fr. David, our parish priest.

Following a pleasant luncheon with Fr. David, and the retired priest Fr. Tawfiq who has served the church for forty-five years, the Mayor Mr. Fuad Taye, members of the municipality, the teachers of the Orthodox School and some of us unworthy servants of God, His Beatitude was generous to answer the following questions:

How is your first year as Patriarch of Jerusalem?

His Beatitude: Difficult, many difficulties. We need much time and many people to work.

What should others know about Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land?

His Beatitude: What deep meaning the holy places have for the world in general and Christianity specifically, we must keep people updated and informed, people living in other countries don't necessarily know what is going on here unless someone tells them. We must tell them about the people, how many churches we have. People should know how meaningful the Holy Land is to Christianity because Christ was born here, lived, taught, was crucified for our sins and resurrected. We are the continuation of the Apostles. We are the Mother Church. Christianity started right here. The Orthodox Church is the Church of 2000 years. We care about the future and to keep our schools and have a presence.

What do you see as our future here?

His Beatitude: I can't foresee it, it is a difficult situation. We must think how to get people with authority and power to do whatever they can to bring peace, love and harmony.

Do you think the political situation will get better here?

His Beatitude: The situation can get better if people are willing to be humble.

What should we do as Orthodox Christians?

His Beatitude: Whatever we can to serve the one whom we love and follow. We are students of the one we serve. Christ taught humility. We must do without announcing our good works, we must listen to the word of Christ and practice His teachings.

Who is your favorite saint?

His Beatitude: The Panagia. Like all my other brothers in Christ that give their life here from the time they are young boys, I feel close to the Mother of God. She is our mother.

What do you see the role of women?

His Beatitude: From the time of Christ there are women that followed Christ and were the first to see the resurrection. We have the myrrh-bearers. The role of women is a very important role. The upbringing of children to become good human beings is an important role. Women are the strength behind their husbands, women make men stand strong. The women play a big role in the family, in the Church, and in the community. In the holy tradition we also have the Panagia. She is the extra honor and blessing.she is the women's voice. The Theotokos gave birth to Christ, lived the passions of Christ and her heart was wounded to see her own son crucified.which heart would not melt or break in front of such tragedy? But she shows us faith. This is an honor and exemplifies strength for females.

Tell me about the Holy Light? What should we tell people who ask if this is a miracle?

His Beatitude: It is the victory of life over death. We have many that witness. We can't teach people about the Holy Light, it takes belief. People should come and see. Let them come.

How did you feel for the first time that you did the service for the Holy Fire this year?

His Beatitude: Fear of God.the thought came to ask God as it is stated in one of the prayers that. please God do not prevent the miracle because of my sins.allow the Holy Light to appear aside from my sins, I prayed that God will not prevent this miraculous gift because of me or something I had done.

How did you feel when the Holy Fire appeared?

His Beatitude: In that moment it is like you are not alive. You are in another world. I can not find the appropriate words to express it. The brain stopped, everything stopped. I can't express it in words.

Did you get tiered?

His Beatitude: No, you don't feel tiered. You receive life.

After receiving the Holy Light what is the first thing that you thought about?

His Beatitude: I thanked God that He gave this gift.

When is the first time you had ever experienced the miracle of the Holy Fire?

His Beatitude: I was fourteen years old and I was standing outside the Holy Tomb and it is not just I that saw it but all that were with me. The flame swirled above us. I was shocked. I was shaking. I remember at that time Patriarch Benedictos coming out holding the candles of the Holy Light and a tall Russian Archimandrite with a full long beard was standing and received the Holy Light right in front of him and it would not burn his beard. He was holding it up to his beard and it would not burn. It was amazing.

Did you see other miracles?

His Beatitude: That we are alive is a miracle, is it not? Don't you think it is a miracle that we are alive?

And truly believing that it is indeed a miracle to be alive in the land of Christ's birth after the Israeli army has destroyed just about anything and everything in site, I stopped asking the patriarch any more questions. He was very pleasant, kind and spoke with deep humility but because of my simple Greek, I begged him to speak in simple Greek words that I could translate. It was a day filled with much spiritual strength and faith because when Christian leaders take time to express their love and concern for the faithful, they never know how many souls they can actually save. Especially in the Holy Land we need to practice what His Beatitude Michel Sabbah urged the new graduates to do which is to see God in each and every human face we meet. Only then, possibly, can Christians, Muslims and Jews live in peace in this sacred land of our holy fathers.

This edifying essay was received on the mailing list "Orthodox Clergy"

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