The most Christmas city
He has a lot of names. In the Bible he is referred to as Euphrates, Efrat, Beit Lehem. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. Here David was anointed to the kingdom. Here Samuel prophesied. Joseph and Mary came here. And it was here that a divine event occurred – the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course, we are talking about Bethlehem. We leave Jerusalem and in just ten minutes we get to Bethlehem, which is located on the territory of the Palestinian Authority. Contrary to the information we have, neither Israelis nor Palestinians check our passports at the checkpoint. They say this does not happen so rarely. And during periods of aggravation of the political situation, the border is closed for several days. We thank heaven for peace and drive into Bethlehem. From the side of Jerusalem, on the old Hebron road, there is a place to which for so many centuries there have been traveling and endless swirls of travelers. This is the tomb of the foremother Rachel (Kubbat Rachel), revered by both Jews and Muslims. The same Rachel, for the sake of beauty and piety, whose future husband Jacob worked tirelessly with her father for fourteen years. The Bible tells us that Rachel did not find happiness in marriage, but she became a symbol of not only the mother, but the Mother of the clan. They say that Rachel today takes care of her children, and therefore they hope with a woman of different faiths take small pebbles from her grave … And she died and Jacob buried Her along the way … And there is no name, no inscriptions, no signs on the tomb. At night, a faint light shines in it, And the dome of the tomb, whitened with chalk, Is dressed in mysterious pallor. I am approaching in the gloom dusk And with trepidation I kiss chalk and dust On this stone convex and white … The sweetest of the words of the earth! Rachel! Ivan Bunin, “Tomb of Rachel”, 1907. Our guide quotes Bunin, who, like us, once traveled around the Holy Land. Its ingenious lines sound, piercing the soul with trembling. So what are you, Bethlehem? With enthusiasm I turn my head around, looking at the city. Grapes, cypresses and olives grow on the hillsides. Narrow streets climb steeply up. Everywhere there are stairs, ladders, steps, which is not surprising, because the city is located at an altitude of 760 meters above sea level. Images of St. George for some reason remind of the house. There are many of them – relief, fresco, and picturesque. Amazingly, it turns out that not only Christians, but also Muslims revere George here: as the Great Warrior, Protector and Patron. There are few Christians in Bethlehem – only 20% of the total number of its inhabitants. But according to the law, the mayor in this city must be a Christian. A striking mixture of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here is a special atmosphere – and I want to pray for peace in the Holy Land. After all, in the end, and Muslims revere Jesus, affectionately calling him Isa. They honor Moses as the Great Prophet, bow before Rachel as the holy righteous, and in honor of the holy Great Martyr Katerina call their daughters … However, there is no time to think long. You need to look and not miss anything: here is the source of King David, and there’s a part of the aqueduct of the Second Temple period, through which water came from Jerusalem to the Solomon ponds. And this is already modern: there are a lot of graffiti on the streets of the city! Moreover, such original ones that Bethlehem is quite capable of competing with Los Angeles, London or Berlin. The goal of our trip is close – and here is the Nativity Church located on Manger Square. It is surrounded on three sides by monasteries: Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox. Nearby there is a Milk Grotto, a cave where Maria fed the Baby, and a drop of milk, falling on a black stone, made it white … The Temple of the Nativity looks like a castle made of rough hewn stones. And yet it is one of the first churches in the world. In antiquity, only the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Ascension Basilica on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem can compete with it. The Nativity Church was erected in 325 by Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena over the cave in which Jesus was born. Nearby is the Basilica of St. Catherine, built by monks of the Order of the Franciscans. It is connected to the Nativity Church by underground caves-passages. Each year, the church hosts a solemn Christmas service, broadcast to the whole world. Bending down, we enter the temple through a narrow low door called the Gate of Humility. The guide explains: this was done so that everyone in reverence bowed their heads in front of the holy place, and Saracen riding into the temple on horseback was problematic. Quiet and cool inside: gloomy naves, rows of columns. There is a very bright, positive atmosphere, and you can feel calm. All disturbing thoughts go away, and joy flashes in the soul with a candlelight. Maybe that’s why the temple of the Nativity was never destroyed. He was spared by all the invaders: the Persians who devastated the Holy Land in 614 (weren’t the images of the Magi in Persian robes on the mosaic of the temple stopped them?), And the Saracens, and the Ottomans … Besides the mosaic and frescoes, the temple is decorated with … Christmas decorations!