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.
“In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
There are some things that are about the same here in the Holy Land as they were two thousand years ago. It is sad that Christians in the Middle East continue to be persecuted pretty much just like it was happening in the early centuries.
Actually, I am just speechless and stunned that such uncivilized and brutal behaviors take place, especially these days in Syria and Egypt. People all around me are losing their humanity. The love and peace of Christ are so desperately needed, more than ever, but Christians are being squeezed out of the region.
In Palestine, besides violence and occupation, our running water is constantly shut off. So if we are part of the lucky ones, we can draw water from our well just like the Samaritan woman in the Gospels. However, to have a well these days is actually very costly, and only a few people can afford this luxury to pump water from cisterns when Israel controls all of the natural resources, borders, and roads.
The Israeli settlements all around my village of Taybeh have running water twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. However, for me, it has been the worst month I have ever experienced with over twenty days of no running water. At least no one can scream and yell about the dirty laundry. At the end, it is also just a monopoly because rich people can always buy water, but it is the poorest of the poor who simply wait for the water to come from the local Ein Samia natural spring. And, obviously, you cannot even wash an apple without water, never mind all the many ways we take water for granted because it is such a basic necessity.
As I was watching my sister-in-law carry large plastic gallons of water to the house, I could not help but be reminded of “the woman at the well,” who eventually was baptized by the apostles and became St. Photini. We remember and celebrate this brave saint on February 26th especially since her name literally means “the enlightened one.” She gave up a sinful life and became enlightened with the truth. She personally encourages me to keep the faith because it is so evident that we are in deep need of the eternal spring, the water that gives eternal life.
In John 4:13, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to everlasting life.”
Jacob’s Well today, lower level of St. Photini’s Church
We desperately need to hear the words of Christ in order to face our daily challenges with faith so there can be hope for the world and in people sharing life under harsh conditions. It is this water that is available to all because of God’s great love for humanity.
We pray for peace and stability so people can still come to Samaria and see Jacob’s Well in the modern city of Nablus. A beautiful church has been built (the original dates 5th century) in honor of St. Photini, and it is amazing that part of the original jug is on display. Fr. Justinian, the current abbot, who has written most of the icons under curfew in the early 2000’s and completed this current church building, will be a saint for many reasons. He lobbied and got the Samaritan woman’s jug back from the Vatican museum a few years ago because the crusaders had taken it to Italy.
In this very spot, we currently venerate the relics (the body) of St. Philoumenos the new martyr for Christ who was brutally killed with an ax by fanatic settlers in 1979 while serving at Jacob’s Well. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem officially glorified the new saint in 2009. The life of St. Philoumenos is another example that martyrdom for Christ is not something that happened only in the first centuries but is the reality in the Middle East today.