April 26, 2013
As we approach Lazarus Saturday before the start of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, I would ask that this year, you would also commemorate Saint Lazarus Monastery in the modern city of Al-Azaria (Lazarus) in Bethany, East Jerusalem, which is currently undergoing yet another trial of faith and existence.
This monastery is the heart of the Cypriot Orthodox community in the Holy Land; it was established during the early 20th century by Cypriots who wished to venerate their beloved Lazarus, whose relics are, as we know, in Larnaca. There is a stone associated with the story of the raising of Lazarus that the principal church was built around, and, while somewhat run-down, is still very much an oasis of spirituality in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem that is now very much spoiled by urban development and decay. Once an idyllic neighborhood at the very end of greater Jerusalem before the road to Jericho, the city is now an ugly mess of shabby buildings, auto-repair shops, and junk heaps with abysmal levels of pollution.
In recent months the monastery has been suffering from an encroachment on its limited land by a local Muslim family that claims to have ownership of the land. Al-Azaria has become very much an area in decline since the construction of the Separation Wall between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as the city, even though it is technically considered part of East Jerusalem, was put on the Palestinian side of the wall, and was zoned as an area where the Palestinian Authority has little control, essentially creating a no-man’s land for crime and corruption.
This development has been extremely distressing for the nuns, who live in difficult circumstances and are isolated from the pockets of Christians who live in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As so often happens here in such circumstances, buildings are raised as a precursor to further encroachments on land, and to “prove” ownership of property, the value of which in Jerusalem is now at astronomical levels. This construction will not just impede on the monastic life of the nuns, but also encourage theft of other monastic lands in other parts of the country, The Cypriot government, the Jerusalem patriarchate and some other parties are doing what they can to appeal to the Palestinian and Jordanian officials (as King Hussein has official custodianship of all East Jerusalem Holy Places), but so far little has been done.
This Saturday, your prayers and commemoration will be most appreciated – prayers for the monastery as well as the Cypriots who see this monastery as a place where their struggles in life can be prayed for in the Holy Land, and, of course, the people who are committing this senseless act against an oasis of spiritual light in an increasingly troubled Jerusalem.
Arab Muslims Seize a Part of the Land that Belongs to St Lazarus Convent in Bethany
April 24, 2013
The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has expressed a serious concern regarding the situation that emerged with the Convent of Sts. Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany. On the piece of land belonging to the Convent, local residents—Arab Muslims—have been constructing a large building (already three stories have been built) since March 2013 in spite of protests from Orthodox Christians, reports Sedmitza.ru.
The Convent possesses all documents on this land including a site plan from the year 1912.
Attempts of the lawyer of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem Samiha Shleipi to urge the Palestinian police to stop the construction work brought no results. The mediation of the embassy of Cyprus did not help either—it intervened in the situation after threats to the nuns began to pour in (5 out of 7 sisters are Cypriots).
According to the Romfea agency, the building is being constructed at a feverish pace and work is continuing 24 hours a day to complete the building and no one has been able to stop it yet.