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.
Although I am in Boston finishing a very blessed Lenten book tour with Christina books, my eyes are turned to Jerusalem, and my heart is in my husband’s Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh. However, this year I will see the greatest of all miracles, the Miracle of the Holy Fire, the same way the priest monk told me to years ago when I was pushing and shoving my way to be at the very front entrance to the Holy-Life-Giving-Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I insisted on being front and center so I could finally see with my own eyes what I heard about since my early childhood in Tripoli, Greece, at Prophet Elias Church, where my late father used to light my Pascha candle and say, “Christos Anesti.” I wanted to tell the whole world what Orthodox Christians have experienced on Holy Saturday for centuries, since the Light first appeared following Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
As I was abruptly asked to leave the special spot reserved for diplomats only, the skinny monk said in Greek: “My child, it is not only with the eyes that we see.” (Pedimou then eneh mono me ta matia pou Vlepoumeh. ) Since that Holy Saturday (2004), I have been trying to see with my heart and soul that my final destination is God’s Heavenly Kingdom. It was a very violent time between Israelis and Palestinians, so tourists were too scared to come, making way for me and a handful of faithful pilgrims to finally enter the Holy Sepulchre on such a glorious day.
It was not a good feeling not to be recognized as a “diplomat of God,” and I did not like seeing more Israeli soldiers and police than faithful in the most sacred place in Christendom. However, all the previous years, I was completely locked outside the church, waiting in the streets with thousands of people coming from all corners of the world to experience this magnificent miracle. By the way, everyone can freely enter Jerusalem, but Palestinians do not have free access to their places of worship and continue to need permits to enter the Holy City. Thus, each and every single day, I try to see Christ first in my life with the injustices, discrimination, and oppression I experience daily living in one of the most ancient places in the Holy Land for over twenty years. Currently, people in the West Bank are living in a huge prison behind the “Separation Wall,” and the whole region is in deep need of the True Light of Christ.
The Miracle of the Holy Fire is received by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch as it has been every year, on the same day, in the same manner, at the same time, at the same holy place. This is the miracle that allows us to feel that Christ is truly among us. This miracle is another way that God is communicating to humanity that Christ is the Living God and our salvation is with Him. The Holy Fire is a miracle of the Holy Spirit that appears from the core of the stone that covers the Holy Life-Giving Tomb of Christ. It is the most ancient unbroken Christian ceremony that exists in the world today, and we have been celebrating it in public for the last one thousand years.
Once again, this Great and Holy Saturday, the entire Christian community will gather in Jerusalem to receive the Miracle of the Holy Fire with hundreds of boy scouts and girl scouts and official representatives from each church to carry back in small lanterns the Light to be placed on the altar for the Midnight Resurrection service. The flame will be flown by private jet to many surrounding Orthodox countries, and when I was five years old, I did not know that is the way it got to Triopoli. “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who a rose from the dead.”
It is such an amazing legacy to receive the Miracle of the Holy Fire from the very spot of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. The beauty of Christian witness in the Holy Land is that the local Palestinian Christians trace their roots to the time of the Holy Apostles. Parades and ecumenical processions will take place in every city and town, and actually, many people will come to see what the Christian community is doing, believers and non-believers, Christians, Muslims, Jews, secular people, international and local people. It is a magnificent cultural event in addition to a spiritual experience. However, this Holy Saturday 2015, it will also be a historic moment in the midst of terrible Christian persecution, like the times of the first century, to witness and confess Christ as Lord.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5)
For those who see the Light, may we rejoice in having a new life, a new hope, a new chance with Christ’s Holy Resurrection! Wishing everyone a radiant and joyous Holy Pascha! Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
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