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.
Returning one more time to the only all-Christian village that exists in Palestine has been a challenge. But the most amazing thing of all is the great blessing to light candles on my first day at the fourth century ruins of Saint George Byzantine Church, which was built when Saint Helen asked for the churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to be built. It’s simply the local treasure.
I have had the great blessing to walk on the same land on which our Lord Jesus walked before His crucifixion. This space happens to be one of the most ancient places in Palestine.
“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).
Building a Home in a Foreign Land
As a Greek-American, I have been in my husband’s village since the early 90’s. We returned to the Holy Land during promising times when Israel and Palestine wanted to make peace and when leaders signed the Oslo Peace accords in front of the White House in 1993.
Currently, this is a frozen peace, but our new boutique wines from Taybeh made it to the United States. If you happen to be in Boston you can also purchase a Taybeh Beer, the First micro-brewed beer in the Middle East, and you might notice the “sun” in the logo, which is the symbol of hope and a promising future for Palestine, according to my husband David Khoury. I am simply hanging out by his side and nagging him not to do what he is doing; totally opposite that famous quote, “behind every great man there is a great woman.” Good thing, this guy did not switch me over, since he lives in a land where Muslims take on five wives.
In May, I had the great blessing to participate in the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Alumni activities and see classmates. We hope they will become friends of Taybeh, especially now that my husband built the beautiful 80 rooms at the Taybeh Golden Hotel.
I reflected upon how, in 1979, a Greek-American from Denver born in Tripoli, Greece, met the only non-Greek boy on campus. It was a total shock for my traditional, old-fashioned parents who wished and hoped that I would meet a nice boy who was planning to be a priest.
The same was true for my husband. His family wanted him to marry a nice girl from his village. His grandfather was the parish priest at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in the village, where the indigenous Palestinian Orthodox Christians trace their roots to the Holy Apostles.
Keeping the Faith in the Midst of Unrest
This year, President Trump visited Jerusalem, but I would have loved to also invite him to spend more time in Palestine.
This is the only country in this part of the world in which Christians and Muslims have a good relationship.
My husband’s village existed here for 5,000 years before the time of Christ, and it sits on the highest mountain region of Biblical Judea and Samaria near Mount Asur. On a clear day from the highest hill in Taybeh you can see the magnificent Dead Sea, the Jordan valley, the mountains of Samaria, the mountainous desert of Judea and also Jerusalem. It is really amazing and spiritually rewarding to stare down at the valley where Saint Mary of Egypt is said to have spent more than 40 years of her life in solitude.
The village has several places of worship, including the original St. George Greek Orthodox Church in ruins, which was built in the 4th century; the new Saint George Greek Orthodox Church, which was built between 1929 and 1932; the Melkite Church, which was built in 1932; the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to “The Last Retreat of Jesus”, which was inaugurated in 1971; a small monastery built by a monk; and the Nasr Priestly House, which includes a beautiful chapel reflecting 14 generations of Father Constantine Nasr’s family serving the Orthodox Christian Church.
The Taybeh village has always been under the protection of our patron Saint George, who is also the patron saint of Palestine. We have been blessed not to have seen the destruction and bombings that have happened in nearby Ramallah and Gaza. For 2,000 years this tiny little village has had the blessing to maintain a Christian presence in the Holy Land.
When the village is placed under curfew, rarely, for only one day, most people wait with faith in God to see hope only in Christ. Does it sound strange to have seen so much bloodshed and terror that you can actually transcend beyond fear and anxiety and wait with faith in God? At the end, our final destiny is the Kingdom of God. So we pray for God’s mercy as we live without basic human rights.
In the meantime we must walk with the Cross that God offered us and preserve our Christian roots in the land of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. It is the only place in the world where you can say “Christ is Risen” every day!
And as for us, five Hellenic College graduates in Taybeh, we continue with our unique way of fostering understanding by inviting everyone out for a glass of Taybeh beer. We are also promoting our historical and archaeological sites of ancient Ephraim under the umbrella of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, which will be celebrated on September 16 and 17.
Please come visit, and do not be afraid.
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