Sunday, 29 September 2013
St Nicolas still at large
We worshipped this morning at St Nicolas', Beit Jala, the Orthodox Parish Church for a large mainly Christian village which is almost a suburb of Bethlehem. The 1930s building is on an ancient site with a cave in which St Nicolas stayed and close to recently uncovered Christian mosaic which, because they include crosses which were soon banned from floors, date very early.
They spell 'Nicolas' correctly (just as we do at St Nicolas', Great Coates) and have all ages attending, praying, coming in and out, moving across to kiss icons or light candles, joining in chants and so on, so much so that children moving about or making a noise isn't a problem to anyone; 'children can rush about as much as they like in my Father's house,' we were told, 'it is only in a stranger's house that they must sit quietly and respectfully'.
I was particularly taken with this modern icon of St Nicolas'. He is said to have punched a heretic at one of the early great Councils as a result of which he had his Gospel book and his Bishop's stole taken away so that he could not operate, but Jesus provided a fresh Gospel book during the night (see top left) and Jesus' mother provided a new stole (see top right) so he was restored to his position.
But the main feature of the icon is miracles attributed to his continued presence and protection, including this detail (bottom left in the previous picture) of Israeli shelling being diverted away from the church; notice the three priests with an icon of St Nicolas in the centre with worshipping women on the left and men on the right.
And this detail (bottom right in the original picture) of olive trees stoning the Persian invaders in the Seventh Century; notice the people sheltering near St Nicolas' cave with his icon in it. The previous post mentioned the long continuity of use at the Church of the Nativity which is the result of the rareness of it having being spared Persian destruction (the Persians recognising people like themselves in the representation of the Three Wise Men there).
Finally, I wanted to include this picture from the church wall, with the Palestinian ship sailing the rough waters of Israel's independence in 1948 which took most of their land; the white shape is the same as the map of the whole land with Beit Jala at its heart and Moslem and Christian cooperation at its head.