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Photo Array: Practicing the traditions of the Christian religion in the birthplace of Christianity, Palestine, with some of the remaining Christians who survive the pressures of the Middle East conflict. Children taught to honor their religious history at celebration in Taybeh, Palestine.
By Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
Today was a glorious celebration for the Sunday of Orthodoxy commemorated in my church annually this first Sunday of the Holy Great Lent. After a beautiful Divine Liturgy, Fr. Daoud P. Khoury and the entire congregation of St. George Greek Orthodox Church with the children holding icons made a wonderful procession outside going around the church three times to remember the triumph in the ninth century in able to use icons in the church.
Church history is difficult to explain to children but as bad as my Arabic might be, I simply tried to gather all of them to participate in the procession as living icons in marching the same way that St. Theodora and her son the Great Emperor Michael made a procession in Constantinople with all of the clergy and people making a public statement to restore the holy icons and allow them to adorn churches and homes. Emperor Michael was totally opposite his father, the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (reign 829-842) who supported the iconoclasts that wanted the icons removed from churches. And sometimes they used very violent forms of persecution to punish the faithful who wanted to keep icons.
Emperor Michael knew that his mother, the Empress Theodora secretly owned many icons. When his father died, Empress Theodora together with Patriarch Methodius made it possible for people to venerate icons out of love as images of the archetypes. The icons are not worshiped as if they are gods. The General Synod held in 843 A.D. finally brought an end to the one hundred years of persecution and fighting about icons. Empress Theodora is credited for asking for this historic meeting to take place. Oral history says she prayed and fasted to seek forgiveness for her husband.
It seems extra special these days during this unique time in history to be in an ancient little Christian village practicing church traditions that people have dedicated their lives to protect and pass on to the new generations. As I enjoyed watching our children march around the church I could not help but remember the on-going killing of Christian children right now in Iraq and Syria. It seems that the new “Islamic State” (Daesh, ISIS, ISIL) is the devil himself.
May our Lord have mercy with the hundreds of Assyrian Christians who have been recently abducted by these fanatic barbaric beings. May the Light of Christ shining from the hearts of our living icons in one of the highest points in Biblical Ephraim reach all corners of the world with the simple message of love and peace. May all of the extraordinary spiritual and religious traditions practiced in this very land of Christ’s Holy Resurrection continue for the glory of God. Come and see with your own eyes the beauty of Christian presence in this sacred Holy Land.
It is amazing that we have the brand new Taybeh Golden Hotel (www.taybehgoldenhotel.com) to inspire you to overnight in the same area that gave refuge to our Lord Jesus more than two thousand years ago when he wanted to escape from Jerusalem.
“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).
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Palestine Christian Writer, Blogger at St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury is the author of Orthodox Christian children's books including Christina Goes to the Holy Land, walking the footsteps of Christ. She is a graduate of Hellenic College (1982), Harvard University (1985) and Boston University (1992) with a doctor of education degree. Born in Tripoli, Greece, she was raised in Denver, Colorado. On Dec 31, 2009 she was included on the top 4 Human Rights Champions list by DC Human Rights Examiner including the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Hilary Clinton.
Maria is the author of Witness in the Holy Land (distributed by www.HolyCrossBookstore.com), a publication reflecting personal experiences living under military occupation with her husband the former Mayor of Taybeh, David Canaan Khoury and three children Elena, Canaan, and Constantine. Her articles have been published world-wide in numerous newspapers and magazines and have been translated to various languages bringing awareness of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Maria Khoury has been the Taybeh Oktoberfest organizer since 2005.She divides her time between her homes in Boston and Taybeh, travels throughout the world promoting the Christina Books and making presentations about the dwindling Christian community in Palestine.She encourages people to stay at the new Taybeh Golden Hotel and experience rural life in Palestine.