Friday, August 29, 2008

Meanwhile, on the Other Side of the World

Afterfeast of the Dormition
Translation of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople (944)
August 16 Old Style

Sometimes I dream about pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I love traditions and pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jordan and other sights is one of the oldest Christian customs. Christians who did not have the privilege of living in the Middle East would save for a life time to make a pilgrimage before their deaths. I have cherished a longing to do the same for many years.

However, accounts like the one below make me wary of any tendency to romanticize the Holy Land. Our brothers and sisters in the Faith are suffering daily as they try to maintain their centuries old way of life. Traditions are made almost impossible to keep with the current situation in Palestine. As we continue to celebrate the feast of the Dormition, let us keep these members of the Church in our prayers.

(names have been purposely removed for reasons of privacy)

Greetings from Taybeh where today St. George Greek Orthodox Community celebrated The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Old Julian Calendar, thirteen days later than the New Calendar.

… thousands of Christians who had permits for only one day were crowding the Qalandia checkpoint to get into Jerusalem either to pray or shop. Many Palestinian Christians have a tradition to venerate the empty Tomb of the Mother of God and light candles on the left and the right of the staircase leading to the crypt. The lit candles down a hundred steps is a magnificent site itself as people pass the tombs of Sts. Joachim and Anna on the right and the tomb of St. Joseph the Betrothed on the left.

…three days prior to the feast day for the Mother of God, as is also a tradition here in the Holy Land, I had the great blessing to be in the procession where the Greek Patriarch with all the faithful walked the icon of the Holy Mother of God from the convent next to the Holy Supulchre down the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, through all the stations of Christ's passion to prepare for the celebration that took place today in the Church dedicated to the Ever Virgin Mary. It's an extraordinary and beautiful procession to attend before sunrise and listen to the chanting dedicated to the Holy Mother of God.

Not only do people come from all over the world to walk in this solemn procession in remembering the falling asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos but also bus loads use to come from all over Palestine. With the restrictions of only having a one day permit on the feast day, Palestinian Christians are missing out on these centuries old values and traditions that have maintained our deep Christian roots in the Holy Land.

…[With] the permits, the American passports and using an Israeli registered car, I tried to help [my son] reach Jerusalem faster via another checkpoint (Hizma). The soldiers, of course refused to let him or my husband…enter Jerusalem. I tried to plea with the soldiers that the day was ending and the permits were expiring at 10 pm so I really wanted to take my family briefly into Jerusalem. I said please, "they have American passports." "Please they have a permit" “Please conduct a random act of kindness" we identified ourselves and we are unarmed civilians.

Other than pure misery and harassment, I cannot understand why Palestinians who are also holders of a valid American passport and go to the trouble to follow the crazy Israeli regulations of getting a valid permit cannot use it at the Hizma checkpoint and must be confined to only one checkpoint that always has hundreds of people waiting and hours backed up. Why can illegal Israeli settlers enter the West Bank from any checkpoint they wish and Israeli products flood the Palestinian supermarkets from any checkpoint they wish? But it's pure discrimination and an outright violation of human rights for Palestinians.

I am thinking that on each and every holy day we constantly seek God's divine grace and love just to have the strength to survive in a land sanctified by Christ Himself but made violent and miserable by the occupation forces. Thus, as the Ever Virgin Mary was a source of consolation and edification to the Apostles two thousand years ago, may she continue to be so for the Christian community in the Holy Land so that we may keep our true hope in Christ our God.

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