At the Orthodox Institute this fall Dr. Maria Khoury of Palestine will present the keynote address. Maria is known for her reflections on life in the Holy Land, which circulate to a wide readership by e-mail. Many appreciate her writings as a personal window into the land of our Christian heritage. I received one of her e-mails recently from Ms. Phyllis Onest which describes what is known as the Holy Fire in Jerusalem. I enclose both the introduction by Phyllis, and Maria’s description of the Holy Fire. During her time in the States, Maria will be available to come to parishes and present on life in the Holy Land and her affordable housing project, and to sign her Christina children’s book series. If you are interested in hosting Maria, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Maria Khoury, author of the Christina book series, and her family live in the last Christian village in Palestine—Taybeh, known as Ephraim in the Scriptures (if my memory serves me correctly). She has been our eyes and ears to the truth of what occurs behind the high walls the Israeli government has built around Gaza to keep the Palestinians "entrapped" in their own land. President Carter refers to the what occurs there as "Apartheid."
There are still Christians attempting to witness to the world that this is the place where Jesus lived and preached and where the Apostles taught and the Church grew. But most have left out of fear for their lives and for a future for their children. There was a time that thriving Orthodox monasteries cared for the Holy sites. Now there are a few monks or nuns.
Our Orthodox brothers and sisters have no voice because: (1) Evangelical Christians in particular, and possibly other Western Christians support Israel because they believe the Jews are still God's chosen people, even though they did not accept the Messiah when He came. (2) The Jewish lobby in Washington is strong. (3) Neither Jews nor Muslims forgive their enemies—unless others speak on their behalf.
Maria keeps us informed. I will continue to pass on the information to the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church. If you feel called to share this with others, please do.
Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div.
Director, Office of Religious Education
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh
Miracle of Holy Fire in Jerusalem
By Maria C. Khoury, Ed.D.
April 26, 2008—Pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem today to witness the greatest of all miracles—the Miracle of the Holy Fire. The miracle has turned into a magnificent cultural event but many simply could not get anywhere near the Holy Sepulchre. The soldiers, the police, the large crowds, the noise, the drums of the Boys Scouts and the Girl Scouts anxiously waiting to receive the Holy Fire from the Life Giving Tomb of Christ is a day long adventure. It was a miracle in itself that Sam and Janet from our sister parish, Annunciation Orthodox Church in Little Rock, attended.
It was an exciting celebration with the sound of many languages at the same time where representatives of many churches from all over the Holy Land come to receive the Holy Fire and carry it back in small lanterns to their particular churches for the Midnight Resurrection Service. Special permits were issued for Christians from Gaza to enter Jerusalem but the large crowds meant no entry to the Holy Sepulchre.
It is on this Great and Holy Saturday that the Holy Fire was received by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, His Beatitude Theopilus as it has been done every year, on the same day, in the same manner, at the same time, at the same holy place of Christ's Life Giving Tomb. This is the miracle that allows us to believe that Christ is alive and offers eternal life. This is the miracle that tells us that Christ is truly among us. This powerful miracle is another way that God communicates. As we chant in our Midnight Resurrection Service: "Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who arose from the dead."
A spectacular parade was also held to receive the Holy Fire entering our village of Taybeh by five in the evening. The priests of all three churches, Fr. Daoud, Fr. Raed and Fr. Jack with the mayor of the village, my husband, David, led the faithful with the choir chanting to meet our cousin Ibrahim with his six year old son Philip who traditionally go to the city of Ramallah to receive the Light from a patriarchate representative who brings it from Jerusalem to Ramallah for all the Palestinian Christian communities that cannot reach the Holy City. Philip made his dad put a sign on the white car this year that read “Light of Christ,” and wanted to ride on top but was forced to patiently sit with the flame until he said “Christ is Risen” and gave it to the adults.
After eight years of violence in the Holy Land, back and forth, surely we have been living in the darkness of all evil where children do not even have a childhood. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:5) The strong Christian message on this holy day is that our hope lies in Christ and the streets were simply filled with faithful who came to witness Christ’s love.
Thus today we all received the Light that proceeded from the core of the stone that covers Christ's Life Giving Tomb and once again celebrated the oldest unbroken Christian ceremony that exists in the world.
In Luke 16:15 we read that Jesus said: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." We witness the truth and received the Holy Fire today so that all who are not blessed to live in the land of Christ's Holy Resurrection can believe that Christ is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9)
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:47)
Our Christian community is small and diminishing but with God's help can survive the daily hardships that make life unbearable. Truly the Lord is Risen!