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.
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 when the Orthodox were once more 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, 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 (reigned 829-842 A.D.), who supported the iconoclasts who 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 with 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 is the devil himself. May our Lord have mercy on 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 the Christian presence in this sacred Holy Land.
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