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This year, Orthodox Christians in Bethany, near Jerusalem, suffered serious tribulations: Palestinian Muslim organizations began to build illegally right on the property of the church. At first they began on the property of a Greek monastery, now on a Russian parcel containing a branch of Gethsemane Convent with a monastic community, girls’ school and orphanage.
The intercession of Patriarch Theophilus of Jerusalem did not meet with success: the first floor of a commercial building on the Greek plot is already operational. The Palestinian authorities could not prevent its construction, though they issued an order prohibiting it. The builders warned: anyone who tried to destroy the building would not live to see it happen. Such threats in the Muslim world are not idle. The Palestinian Authority has a very definite attitude towards Christianity: conversion to Islam is welcomed and rewarded, conversion to Christianity earns death.
Since the Palestinian Authority is not yet an independent Muslim sovereignty, Christians are not massacred by the family, as they are in Syria and Egypt, but illegal seizure of Christian property, be it Greek or Russian, is an ominous phenomenon. Only this year, this began in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Islamists who began to build on the property of a Greek Church were emulated by some who began to build around a Russian parcel by three of its neighbors, one of them building right on Russian-owned land. Not only are they arrogant, but they have financial backing as well.
Without a doubt, the roof of one of these new four-story buildings will soon be crowned with a minaret, most likely on the land of the Russian Bethany Community. The system of to building mosques next to churches is an age-old tradition. We even see this at the tomb of Righteous Lazarus in Bethany: a mosque stands closer to it than either an Orthodox or Catholic church. The mosque was erected in the middle ages, but is constantly renovated. Pilgrims see the same thing in the city of Lydda, near the Church of St George the Victory-Bearer, and in Abu-Goshe near the Benedictine Monastery containing Byzantine frescoes from the 12th century. They saw the need to build mosques everywhere in order to entice local Christians: maybe it is better to worship there?
As part of the response to the seizure of Orthodox land in Bethany, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem of the Church Abroad, and Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, Overseer of the REM on behalf of its Synod, decided to build a new school building right next to the illegal Muslim structure, to prevent yet further illicit building, which would in fact mean the loss of this property to the Bethany Community for good. Funds are gradually being collected for this construction.
The following is an interview with Archimandrite Roman (Krassovsky), Chief of the REM in Jerusalem of the Russian Church Abroad, taken by Deacon Alexander Zanemonets, teacher of Byzantine and Church history at various universities of the Holy Land, and Coordinator of the Russian Institute of Jerusalem ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
– Fr Roman, why is Bethany important to Christians?