Walking with the Icon of the Holy Theotokos
It is four in the morning and while everyone else is trying to get a good night sleep, Orthodox Christians from all corners of the Holy Land collected themselves to march in a beautiful procession in honor of the Virgin Mary. Every year, based on the Old Julian Calendar, the faithful gather to walk the icon of the Theotokos, the Holy Mother of God, from the monastery next to the Holy Sepulchre all the way down the via Dolorosa exiting the Old City from the Lion’s Gate to reach the empty tomb of the Virgin Mary at the bottom of the hill below the Russian Orthodox Convent at the Garden of Gethsemane. This traditional march is done three days before the actual feast day. We were not going to miss this solemn celebration since my daughter was lucky to have a permit to enter Jerusalem. Now, I am sure you have no idea of the great need for freedom of movement and free access to our precious holy sites because military occupation is becoming harder than ever for me to explain. A different story by itself.
I saw so many people, mostly women, walking barefoot. This is common when believers want to give glory to God or have had prayers answered. I asked a lovely young lady walking besides my husband the reason why she was walking barefoot. Shareen, a local Jerusalemite said she has been taught this pious tradition from the time she was a little girl. She feels it is a way to ask for the Virgin Mary to protect her and stay by her side all year long. She was grateful to have had a blessed year since she was inside the Holy Sepulchre Church for the Miracle of the Holy Fire this past Easter. Thus, she is walking barefoot to bear witness to Christ. I was humbled by her great faith and by the beautiful chanting done simultaneously in different groups in different languages. People were speaking Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Russian and Muslim ladies were marching with their Christian friends. The Virgin Mary is also mentioned in the Koran and it’s not uncommon for Muslims to visit the Holy Sepulchre Church out of curiosity.
It was an amazing crowded procession with multitudes of bishops, priests, pilgrims and local Palestinian Christians listening to the church bells ring for over a half hour to initiate the procession. Everyone fought to venerate and touch the brilliant icon in the middle of the street but it was a glorious sunrise when the precious icon passed by St. Stephens Church before its final destination.
How do you explain to the Israeli Authorities the ancient unbroken Christian traditions that should be carried out for pure witness and faith. We pray for freedom and peace in the very precious land of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. If you were not part of the faithful who were physically in Jerusalem today for this special procession, try to be in the spiritual march towards eternal life. Christ offers eternal life is our message from Jerusalem.
How many of us today could answer to God as we read the Virgin Mary answered in the gospels: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” I am still trying to understand that God is calling us to serve Him in a unique way. Glory be to God for all things!
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.