Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
A tremendous miracle continues to happen every year at the same place and at the same time in Jerusalem no matter how many of us Christians are disappearing from the Holy Land. The terrible conditions of the Israeli military occupation and the fanaticism of extreme groups has contributed to our Christian population dropping even way below 2% of the total Palestinian population of four million people in Gaza and the West Bank. Even inside Israel proper, the Christian population is also less than 2%. Some days, I feel I am living in a museum by answering the same questions over and over to the few visitors that show support and solidarity by visiting not just the holy shrines but the living stones of the Holy Land, the Christian people in the communities like Taybeh where I have lived for over sixteen years.
I am so very sad that after our terrible experiences the last few years with the army and the police, my husband refuses to use his permit to enter Jerusalem on Holy Saturday and join the entire Christian community in witnessing the greatest of all miracles-the Miracle of the Holy Fire. You need deep faith not to be bothered by 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 in the Holy Sepulchre. We live so close, just twenty-five minutes away from Jerusalem but even though my husband had a permit to enter the Holy City, there were so many other checkpoints inside the Old City that we got stuck outside the church of the Holy Sepulchre too many times begging our way to pass without the basic freedom to worship. One year, I especially felt sorry for this lovely elderly Australian-Greek lady that probably had paid more than $3,000 to get to Jerusalem for this once in a life time pilgrimage and I was begging the soldiers in English, Arabic, and any little Hebrew that I know to let her pass since she only spoke Greek and got lost from her group and stuck at one of the many pointless checkpoints.
Before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, Holy Saturday was an exciting day where representatives of many churches from all over the Holy Land came to receive the Holy Fire and carry it back in small lanterns to their particular churches for the Midnight Resurrection Service. Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a special permit thus this year again many Palestinian Christians will go the extra trouble of getting permits in order to partake in this centuries old celebration that reflects our Christian heritage and deep roots in Palestine. Unfortunately, in recent years, Israel has encouraged more police in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than faithful. Can you imagine in one of the most holiest days of the year to see over one thousand unfriendly police officers in the very area where Christ was resurrected? Pray for Israel to see the Light and end the occupation. For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light…” (Eph 5:8)