By Maria C. Khoury, Ed.D.
“O Gladsome Light, of the Holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly Holy, blessed Jesus Christ!” (Holy Saturday Morning Prayers)
Everyone should have a favorite day in the Church calendar and as an Orthodox Christian living in the land of Christ’s Holy Resurrection (in the only all-Christian village still left in Palestine), mine happens to be Holy Saturday. We usually celebrate receiving the Miracle of the Holy Fire at the outskirts of our village approximately after 5 pm in the late afternoon on Great and Holy Saturday while waiting usually from 1pm local time when this great miracle occurs annually in Jerusalem. Palestinian Christians and Muslims cannot freely enter the Holy City of Jerusalem unless they have special permission granted by Israel. Thus, on this very sacred day, for those who do not have the freedom to get into Jerusalem we celebrate in the location which God has granted us good health to witness.
The local priests, Fr. Daoud (Orthodox), Fr. Jack (Melkite) and Fr. Johnny (Roman Catholic), of all three churches with the choir chanting, and the Taybeh Scouts beating the drums march in a solemn procession to meet our cousin Ibrahim with his sixteen-year-old son Philip, who go to the city of Ramallah, where the faithful bring the flame from Jerusalem for the Palestinian Christian communities that cannot reach the Holy City. Ibrahim use to go to Jerusalem from the time he was a child to receive the Miracle of the Holy Fire on behalf of our Saint George community. It has been a beautiful family tradition of participating in the greatest miracle of the Christian world that he is trying to pass to his son despite the Israeli occupation and permit restrictions.
All of the residents of Taybeh, although we are less than 2,000 people, usually are in the streets for this ecumenical procession which is simply glorious and exciting. I find this is the most beautiful day in the countryside and an amazing legacy to pass to a child. Don’t be afraid to come and visit Taybeh for an experience of a life time. We have a four-star eighty room Taybeh Golden Hotel in one of the most ancient places in Palestine. Jesus came to our village with His disciples after the decision was taken by the Sanhedrin to prosecute him. “Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim…” (John 11:54) Biblical Ephraim is modern Taybeh since its name change in the 12th century.
The solemn and beautiful procession in our village always ends up at St. George Church, where Fr. Daoud places the flame on the altar to await the faithful for the Resurrection service of Holy Pascha: “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who arose from the dead.”
In the last few years during Great and Holy Saturday, I have delivered the same message from the Holy Land. But it has been a great spiritual joy to keep reminding friends about the miracle that appeared for the first time during the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:4; Matthew 28:1-4) I am blessed to speak again about this magnificent miracle that is at the core of our Christian presence in the Holy Land: The Miracle of the Holy Fire received by His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem in the last few years has been broadcasted live on Palestine TV.
The brilliant ceremony is considered a miracle because there is no explanation for the way the Holy Fire appears from the Holy-Life-Giving-Tomb-of-Christ coming down from Heaven. Many personal accounts have called the miracle “incredible” and similar to lighting. The Holy Fire also gets in flight to many surrounding countries that have less than three hour flights by private transportation including Cyprus, Greece, Russia, Romania.
The Christian community witnesses the True Light of Christ by receiving the Holy Fire annually so that all who are not living 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).
Our Christian community is small and diminishing but with God’s help and your prayers can survive the terrible occupation, dreadful checkpoints, the collapsed economy, the segregation wall and the daily hardships that make life unbearable. It is only in the land of Christ’s Holy Resurrection that we can say every day: Truly the Lord is Risen!