STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT THREAT TO THE CHRISTIAN PRESENCE IN THE HOLY LAND BY THE PATRIARCHS AND HEADS OF LOCAL CHURCHES OF JERUSALEM
A delegation from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, led by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, and accompanied by the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, held on Thursday, December 9, a small reception at the Imperial Hotel in Jaffa Gate to celebrate to wide reaching, positive impact of Christians in the Holy Land and to call for protection of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem.
During his speech, the Patriarch of the Holy City, pointed out that holding this ceremony at the Imperial Hotel aims to send a clear message to the world that the Patriarchate will not waive or retreat from practicing God’s given right to defend its properties; to show that the battle to defend the Jaffa Gate properties is an existential issue for the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; and that all the Churches of the Holy Land support the Jerusalem Patriarchate in this battle.
His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III said: “Radicals are the real threat, for at their hands, the Christian community in Jerusalem suffers hate crimes as well as underhanded tactics, intimidation, and systematic attempts to diminish the ability of Christians to remain in their historic homes and neighborhoods.”
“Our enduring efforts on behalf of the well-being of all our peoples without distinction makes the rise of challenges to, and threats against, the Christian community, all the more serious and concerning. Not only is the Christian community threatened by such activity, but so is the stability and health of our whole society.”
Numbers of Christians in the Holy Land have dwindled to historically low levels, driven away from their homes by multiple factors – economic hardship, lack of opportunity, bureaucratic challenges, violence, and vandalism of property. Christians now represent around 1% of the population of the Holy Land, down from 12% a century ago.
Attending the reception were the Consuls Generals of European countries in Jerusalem, including Greece, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. The warm atmosphere of the humble reception also gathered people from the Christian community in the Old City of Jerusalem, who took the opportunity to congratulate the Heads of the Churches for the occasion of Christmas and show support for the Patriarchate in its battle to defend its properties in Jaffa Gate, including the hosting hotel, the Imperial.
The reception began with a small speech from the tenant of the Imperial Hotel, Abu Al-Walid Dajani, who thanked everyone attending, especially His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, for his unwavering support for the hotel in its continuing battle against the Israeli radical groups aiming to evacuate the property.
Soon after the speeches finished, the Heads of the Churches exchanged early Christmas greetings with the Consuls, stressing the importance of celebrating and rejoicing in the birth of Christ, understanding the lessons the birth of Christ teaches us, and comprehending the humanitarian values of our Lord’s story.
News and Photos by: Heba Hrimat.
On Saturday afternoon 7/20 November 2021, the new Patriarchal Representative in Bethlehem, His Eminence Metropolitan Benedictos of Diocesarea was welcomed and settled in Bethlehem.
For this event H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos was represented by His Eminence Metropolitan Isychios of Kapitolias, the Sacristan of Bethlehem Archimandrite Polykarpos, the Elder Dragoman Archimandrite Mattheos, the Arab-speaking Priests of the Shrine, the President of the Palestinian Committee on Christian Affairs Mr Ramzi Chouri, representatives of the Franciscans and the Armenians, of the Municipality, Prefecture, Police and members of the Bethlehem flock.
His Eminence was addressed through Fr Issa Mousleh by His Eminence Isychios with the address that will be posted shortly.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned the activity carried out by a group of Israeli radicals, under the protection of the Israeli army, on lands belonging to Saint Savvas Monastery yesterday. Those radical groups that are lurking to undermine the Patriarchate’s real estate.
Regarding the matter, Father Issa Musleh, spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and all of Palestine and Jordan, is personally following up this issue of the continuous attempts of attacking the lands of Saint Savvas Monastery, and that the Patriarchate is working on all legal and diplomatic levels to stop these attacks and prevent them in all ways.
Father Musleh added that protecting and preserving Orthodox real estate is a top priority for His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, especially with the increase in radicals’ ambitions to seize them.
An article by: Heba Hrimat
Whether it is for getting clarity in times of difficulties, or going in the footsteps of Jesus where the miracles of Christmas and Resurrection occurred, the reasons of pilgrimage may vary, but pilgrims to the Holy Land may not realize that their intentional, or sometimes unintentional trips, form a monumental contribution to the Christian existence in the Holy Land, where Christians are undeniably suffering from all sorts of problems, but mainly an existential one.
In a complex region such as the Middle East, where religion and politics clash all the time, pilgrims are considered a bless to the Holy Land and an element of stability, not only because they allow a population that is mostly Jewish and Muslim to breathe a different air, but they are also significantly different from tourists, because they have a horizon of faith that moves by looking at God and the people they meet.
That unfamiliar sight of watching the streets of the Holy Land and mainly Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which used to hustle and bustle with endless tourists’ movement, empty, for the past two years have shut down life as we knew it for families and brought unimaginable suffering to communities which were 100% dependable on income from pilgrims. Hotel employees, tour guides, restaurants’ workers, souvenir shops’ owners and handicrafts makers lost their chances of making any profit and were pushed to the corner with no way out.
Despite the efforts of the Churches of the Holy Land to financially and spiritually aid the different Christian communities (and in many cases the non-Christians as well), the Churches themselves were suffering from the same issue; No real income was pouring in and expenses kept piling up drying out sources of the Churches.
And while everything in the time of Covid seemed possible to be replaced with a virtual alternative; learning at schools and universities swapped with online classes, shopping in stores with online shopping, etc. one thing remained irreplaceable: pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the after effects of that will unfortunately remain for years to come.
Christians used to account for the largest percentage of annual tourists to the Holy Land. In fact, before the beginning of the pandemic, and specifically at the end of 2019, a whopping 2.5 million Christians visited Israel that year alone, out of the total 4.5 million, according to data from the Israeli Tourism Ministry.
With most pilgrimage aimed at Jerusalem; it comes as no surprise that 85% of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is focused towards the Holy City.
But there’s a silver lining, both Israel and Palestine have been slowly emerging from the pandemic with the prime focus of bringing back tourism ‘hopefully’ to where it once was.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office recently announced that starting the beginning of this month Israel is allowing tourists who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the virus, to enter its territories. Meaning that groups of tourists will be allowed to enter the country without Covid booster shot, to further encourage tourism.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Territories, which had almost two years of zero pilgrimage income; completely paralyzing the local economy in tourism-based cities like Bethlehem, which was affected more than the others, is now given (since November 6) the green light to allow tourists for overnight stays.
A gradual recovery is now expected for the first time since the pandemic, people are finally starting to hope again, to believe again. Churches and communities of the Holy Land have never been so eager to warmly welcome back pilgrims who now have the opportunity to visit from around the globe.
On Thursday afternoon, 15/28 October 2021, there was a school ceremony in honour and remembrance of the national anniversary of October 28, 1940, at the Patriarchal School of Zion.
This ceremony was honoured by the presence of H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos, the Chairman of the School Board, His Eminence Archbishop Isidoros of Hierapolis and other Hagiotaphite Fathers, the Consul General of Greece in Jerusalem Mr Evangelos Vlioras, Monks, Nuns, members of the Greek community in Jerusalem and the first group of Greek pilgrims to have arrived in Jerusalem since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic.
The well-organized ceremony by the good cooperation between the teachers and the students began with prayers to the Mother of God, the introductory speech by the Managing Director of the School Archimandrite Mattheos, and the Sermon of the day by the Greek Literature teacher, Mrs Charikleia Robou.
The program continued with patriotic songs, sung by the students under the guidance of the music teacher Mr Vasilios Gotsopoulos, reciting of poems and video documentaries from the battlefields of northern Greece, the barbaric Nazi military forces of the Germans, with scenes of the Greek army defending themselves, being less in numbers but a lot stronger through their bravery, worthy descendants of their glorious ancestors. The video scenes projected the wholehearted support and unity among all the Greeks, the elderly, the women and the young. Despite the consequences of the German occupation attacks, the destructions of bridges, roads, properties, individual and group executions until the extermination of villages, despite the famine and starvation, the mindset of the Greek people remained steadfast and shook off the yoke of German occupation, thanks to the help of God and the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, for whom, “Let us praise the graces”.
At the end of the comprehensive moving and concise ceremony, His Beatitude praised and thanked the Chairman of the School Board His Eminence Archbishop Isidoros of Hierapolis, the Managing Director Archimandrite Mattheos, the teachers and students for their performance, which transferred our minds to those difficult times of the occupation, from which the Greek people freed themselves, a people “called to liberty”, responding to the call of Jesus, who became Incarnate, was Crucified and Resurrected, and of the Apostle of the Nations Paul.
Concluding, His Beatitude thanked the Consul General of Greece Mr Vlioras for his support to the School, while the latter replied that he feels proud of the work of the Patriarchate and its School and wished progress to the students for the remaining of the school year.
This morning, October 11, a press conference was held in St. George Hotel in Jerusalem to announce the launch of the largest housing development project in East Jerusalem named ‘Lana’ neighbourhood (meaning: ‘ours’ in Arabic) in Beit Hanina, as a result of a partnership between the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Massar International Company, headquartered in Rawabi.
The speakers at the press conference were His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Eminence Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Honorable Sheikh Azzam Khateeb, Head of the Islamic Waqf, His Excellency Evangelos Vlioras, the Greek Consul General in Jerusalem, Mr Hanna Ameireh and Mr Issa Qassiessieh, representatives of the Presidential Committee on Churches’ Affairs, Palestinian Businessman Jalal Nassr-Eddin, along with a number of Bishops and Jerusalem’s community leaders.
Engineer Enas Musa Al-Waari, the project manager, welcomed the press and followed with a description of the “Lana” neighbourhood, its 400 residential apartments, its commercial centre that includes stores of world-famous brands, cinemas, restaurants, cafes, and offices, in addition to a modern school, a kindergarten, and green spaces for entertainment. Al-Waari also shed light on the aspect of developing the infrastructure of the project and its surroundings, so that there will be 3 to 4 floors of parking under the buildings, and a comprehensive expansion of the road network surrounding the project, which is located 15 minutes from the Old City of Jerusalem.
The first speaker was His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who blessed the meeting and the project launch, adding that “the journey that took a decade, which brought us here today,” referring to the journey of obtaining the necessary licenses to start the project “has been both challenging and exhilarating.” Stressing the need to focus on what is positive in order to obtain the desired results and that’s how “our community will be blessed and grow in strength.” His Beatitude also expressed his deep gratitude to everyone who participated in this project.
His Beatitude, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, clarified that the “Lana” housing development project is a symbol of cooperation between the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the wider local community to improve people’s living standards, provide housing, and job opportunities for thousands of citizens in the city, especially in light of the immense challenges that our Holy City and its community are witnessing. He added, “The vision of our esteemed friend and partner, Mr Bashar Masri, to create a comprehensive communal living experience makes the “Lana” neighbourhood housing development a model of progressive thinking in the field of community living.”
His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III also commended the local Orthodox community in Jerusalem, which has always aspired to realize this dream and to move forward with such a huge project, declaring that the Orthodox Church members will continue to participate in this project through a nine-member committee responsible for independent screening and selection of grant candidates for the purchase of housing units. This committee is chaired by Mr Hanna Ameireh.
His Beatitude also spoke about the merit of coexistence between the Christian and Muslim communities, which culminated in the Omari Covenant since the era of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, all the way to the Hashemite guardianship under His Majesty King Abdullah bin Al Hussein, the guardian of Islamic and Christian holy places.
His Eminence Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Mufti of Palestine, praised “Lana” development project, and praised God for “making us the guardians of Christian and Islamic sanctities.” His Eminence added that “we have life and aspirations in Jerusalem” and housing is an important part of our continuous presence and future. His Eminence thanked His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III for his contribution to strengthening the steadfastness of Jerusalemites. He also thanked the developer of the project, Mr Bashar Masri, for bringing this project to light, calling on Palestinian and Arab businessmen to follow suit and invest in Jerusalem.
His Eminence the Grand Mufti of Palestine concluded his speech by saying, “Blessed are these efforts, and we ask God more of them so that we attain our political, religious and social rights towards a secure life as it was during the days of Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, and the days of the journey of the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, from Mecca to Jerusalem, and the days of the Omari covenant that is considered the basis of the common life between Muslims and Christians in this land.
As for the developer of the project, Mr Bashar Masri, the head of the board of directors of Massar International, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s partner in this huge project, said that the “Lana” project is a one billion shekel development. He said that he went on to seek the necessary licenses for ten years, which was crowned with success thanks to the effort, commitment and full cooperation of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Masri added that the “Lana” neighborhood is an integrated modern neighborhood, and its success paves the way for more housing projects that serve the various economic classes in the city of Jerusalem, stressing that the decision to invest in Jerusalem is a strategic decision for Massar International to deepen economic empowerment in Jerusalem and strengthen the steadfastness of Jerusalemites. Masri explained that the “Lana” development project, which was designed by more than 40 engineers, will provide thousands of job opportunities for Jerusalemites, and will contribute to strengthening the local economy.
As for the financial arrangements for the purchase of apartments, Masri said that the management of “Lana” development has completed negotiations stage with a number of Palestinian banks to provide mortgages for the apartments, so that the citizen would pay 20% – 25% of the value of the apartment and the rest is to be paid in installments for 15 years, adding that The Palestinian Monetary Authority has provided incentives to Palestinian banks to encourage them to provide the necessary mortgages at acceptable rates. Masri confirmed that this project is a purely Palestinian, with 100% Palestinian capital, and that the project did not receive any assistance or grants.
News and Photos by: Heba Hrimat.
At dawn on Friday 25 September/8 October 2021, the Patriarchal Representative in Bethlehem, blessed Hagiotaphite Archbishop Theophylaktos of the Jordan slept in the Lord. His Eminence was admitted at the Loewenstein Rehabilitation Centre in RA’anana for the last two days, after a two-month treatment at Hadassa hospital in Ein Karem.
The Hagiotaphite Brotherhood mourns in the Lord and prays for the repose of the soul of its distinguished member. We mourn along with the Rum Orthodox Arab-speaking flock of Bethlehem, where the departed ministered in self-sacrifice for the last fifteen years.
The funeral service will be observed at the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday 26 September / 9 October 2021, and the burial will be at the cemetery of the Basilica in Bethlehem.
May his memory be ever-lasting!
At noon on Tuesday, 7th of September 2021, H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, accompanied by the Director of the Patriarchate’s Finance Department, His Eminence Metropolitan Isychios of Kapitolias, and Geronda Chief Secretary, His Eminence Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, visited the Holy Monastery of Prophet Elijah, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem near the place of the “Seat of the Virgin Mary”. The visit aimed to launch the much needed renovation project of the Monastery; where the gratitude of the Patriarchate was also highlighted by His Beatitude for the generous donation extended by the Russian non-profit organization: “Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage”.
The project is, God willing, scheduled for completion before Christmas this year, when the official departure of the Patriarchal Entourage to Bethlehem will take place on the Eve of Christmas celebrations.
His Beatitude and the Patriarchal delegation were welcomed, today, by the good keeper of the Monastery, Monk Achillios.
On Thursday, 6/19 August 2021, the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ was celebrated by the Patriarchate at the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the place where this event happened.
On this Feast, the Church follows the Gospel narrative by which before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ took Peter, James and John, His Disciples, and revealed to them the Glory of His Divinity, as much as it was possible for them to comprehend. His face shone and his clothes were brighter than the sun, while a bright cloud overshadowed them and Moses and Elijah appeared next to Him, talking about His Passion, which was about to happen in Jerusalem. At the same time, the voice of the Father was heard from the heavens saying: “This is my beloved Son,” in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him”. After this vision, Jesus again took His disciples and went down the mountain and told them not to tell anyone about what they had witnessed before His Resurrection.
For the commemoration of this event, by which the Lord revealed to His Disciples and to us the first beauty of man before Adam’s fall, and the possibility to regain it through the Transfigured Christ, the Divine Liturgy was officiated in an All-night Vigil by H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos. Co-celebrants to His Beatitude were their Eminences; Metropolitan Kyriakos of Nazareth, Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, Archbishop Makarios of Qatar, Archimandrite Parthenios, and Priests from the Galilee district. The chanting was delivered by Archimandrite Philotheos and his choir in Greek and Arabic, as the Vigil was attended by the Consul General of Greece in Jerusalem Mr Evangelos Vlioras, and not many faithful Christians due to the covid restrictions.
Before the Holy Communion His Beatitude delivered the following Sermon:
“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matt. 17:1-2).
Beloved Brethren in Christ,
The grace of our Saviour Christ has gathered us all in this high mountain of Tabor to celebrate the great and wondrous event of the utmost philanthropy of God the Father, namely the Transfiguration of Jesus before His Disciples, Peter, James and John, and also the prophets Moses and Elijah. This event happened forty days before Christ’s Passion.
Apostle Peter refers to the irrefutable witness of his presence on Mount Tabor when he wants to prove that the teaching of Christ, which the Disciples preached, was not based on human imagination and mind, and says about his personal experience: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16-18).
During His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Lord revealed to His Disciples, firstly His power, which was shown to them [the disciples] by God the Father, through the glory of His Only-Begotten Son. And this glory is no other than the energy of the inaccessible Divine Light. “God is light” (1 John 1:5), the Evangelist John preaches. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12), the Lord says. This truth is clearly phrased by the hymnographer who says: “O changeless Light of the Light of Thine unbegotten Begetter, today, O Word, have we now seen in Thy Light’s manifestation the Father and Holy Spirit as Light on Tabor, guiding with light all creation” (Exapostilarion, Matins).
Secondly, [the Lord revealed to His Disciples] His presence. This means that the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on the high mountain is a visible and tangible foretaste of the future glorious Kingdom of God, as the hymnographer also says precisely: “Clearly showing the exchange that Adam’s mortal race shall make with Thy glory at Thy dread and second coming on the earth, Thou wast transfigured, O Saviour, upon mount Tabor” (Matins, Kathisma 1). And in more detail, our Saviour Christ, You were transfigured on Mount Tabor to prove and guarantee the expected glorious and dreadful Second Coming of Yours, and also the change that will happen then to the faithful and reverend Christians, which is their eternal glory.
Both the power and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in His Transfiguration, which was made known to us by the Holy Apostles the Evangelists, refer mainly and primarily to the strengthening of the Disciples’ faith, that Jesus Christ “is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, as per the voice inside the cloud (Matt. 17:5). This very truth we hear from the hymnographer with the words: “On the mount Thou was transfigured, and Thy disciples, as much as they could bear, beheld Thy glory, O Christ our God; that when they should see Thee crucified, they would know Thy Passion to be willing, and would preach to the world that Thou, in truth, art the Effulgence of the Father” (Kontakion).
Christ’s glory, which the Disciples saw, is also enjoyed by all the saints who have registered as citizens of the heavenly city, “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23).
This glory of Christ is also enjoyed by the pious and righteous Christians in the Kingdom of God. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43), the Lord says.
The Holy Deacon Stephen beheld this glory of Christ, as he was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He looked up in heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus sitting at the right of God (Acts 7:55). And Saint Paul preaches that all men who live in Christ reflect the Lord’s glory: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Interpreting these words, Saint Chrysostom says: “Just like the pure silver before the sun rays reflects the rays itself…in the same manner, the man’s soul that is purified and has become brighter than silver receives a ray from the glory of the Holy Spirit and reflects that ray”.
In other words, my dear Brethren, we are called to live a life in Christ, which means to actively participate in the holy sacramental life of the Church as faithful and genuine children of its Body, namely Christ. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23) the psalmist proclaims. This means that the path to salvation lies only on sincere reverence, namely to our transfiguration in Christ.
Let us pray to our Saviour Christ who was Transfigured on this mount, that by the prayers of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, He may “shine upon us sinners His light ever-unending” and lead us to our transfiguration. Amen.”
After the Divine Liturgy, there was a reception by the renovator of the Monastery Archimandrite Hilarion and a meal at lunchtime.
For this feast the was also a festive Divine Liturgy in Gethsemane and Ramallah, under the hospitality of the Hegoumens, Archbishop Dorotheos of Avela, and Archimandrite Galaktion respectively.