Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury is the author of Orthodox Christian children's books, including Christina Goes to the Holy Land, which walks readers through the footsteps of Christ. Maria and her husband, David Canaan Khoury, the former mayor of Taybeh and founder of Taybeh Beer, returned to Palestine following the Oslo Accords. The Khoury's current business ventures include the Taybeh Winery and Taybeh Golden Hotel, which welcomes pilgrims to stay overnight in Taybeh, the heart of Palestine.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
It is under unimaginable conditions of Apartheid that Christians in Bethlehem continue to share the Good News. Christ is Born! Glorify Him! The Orthodox Holy Nativity Liturgy is always celebrated on the Old Julian calendar, but culturally and socially, since after the Oslo Peace Agreement (1993), all Christians have united to celebrate Christmas day on December 25th. It is always expected that the president of Palestine will show up at the midnight service both times, or at least that is what the late Yasser Arafat used to do to embrace the Christian community during the most sacred day of Christ’s birth. Specifically, in the Holy Land, Christmas is celebrated three times: Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian (Dec 25th, Jan 7th, Jan 19th ).
All efforts are being made with the new mayor of Bethlehem being a woman, Ms. Vera Baboun, to have diverse and distinctive activities for this holy city to attract pilgrims. This December 23rd, across the globe, Activists for Peace will light a candle, say a prayer, or send healing energy in solidarity with the Palestinians in Bethlehem and in the Holy Land. From Bethlehem Nativity Square, a prayer vigil will be held for Peace in the Holy Land and including all people suffering from conflict, particularly in Syria.
This is the 46th year that Christians in Bethlehem will be celebrating Christmas under Israeli military occupation. It is important, more than ever, to understand the Good News and to pray for the peace that the “Prince of Peace” offers in a place that has turned into a big prison. As the local people are literally locked up behind a 26-foot concrete wall, the Christian community will continue to reflect the true Light of Christ no matter how small their numbers dwindle. Palestinian Christians will continue to announce the Good News from Bethlehem with their genuine witness, although more than twenty-two illegal Israeli settlements are closing in on the little town of Christ’s birth, not to mention hundreds of checkpoints everywhere.
I am completely overwhelmed with the ongoing tragic news from Syria and Egypt and the great suffering that violence brings to humanity. I don’t understand why churches are being burned down and Christians are burned alive. I cannot understand why the oldest monasteries in the world have to be attacked. I can only think that we have gone back to the time before Constantine the Great, and martyrdom for Christ is no longer something that happened only in the first centuries. It is a harsh reality of being Christian in the Middle East today.
It is within this darkness of all times and with the evil that has surrounded us that we need to be guided by the true Light of Christ. Since there is absolutely no peace in my world, I can only pray for inner peace that the newborn Christ brings to all. Each one of us can be empowered to believe we can make a difference in the world because of the love God has for us. It is that great spiritual joy that the birth of Christ brings to our heart to help us overcome any struggle. It is how we face the struggle that will help us gain our salvation. May these holy days during the Birth of our Savior inspire us to cultivate more patience which leads to life with Christ.
In unison with the City of Peace, please keep the Holy Land in your prayers. Let us keep our hope that peace between all faiths and all people is still possible, although at a deadlock for twenty years. The most important message on Christmas Day is that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem so that we may “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)