Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
On Lazarus Saturday, Orthodox faithful will gather to celebrate the raising of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, from his tomb in the ancient city of Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in the vicinity of Jerusalem. In the Holy Land, Orthodox faithful from across the world will come together to pray at one of three Orthodox churches in the vicinity of the tomb, then join in a long procession to the Holy Sepulchre, invoking the entrance of Christ to the eastern gate of the city on Palm Sunday. All who enter will hope to take part in the service of the Holy Fire the following Saturday; an event which is like no other in the world; a miracle that can be seen, felt and experienced once a year. Yet most pilgrims will leave Bethany without knowing that they have come in close proximity to an ever-present miracle; the miracle of an enduring mission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia of the keepers of the Holy Fire: the young Christian girls of the Holy Land.
Since 1936, the Orthodox Girls School of Bethany has been in existence for the benefit of the poorest and most disadvantaged Arab Orthodox Christian girls of the Holy Land. Built on property purchased by the Russian mission in the time of the Romanovs, the property includes a small chapel built over the Byzantine stone inscription that marks the place held to be where Mary and Martha met Christ, and told him that Lazarus had died, and were told by Christ that Lazarus would be raised (John: 11). Thousands of girls from Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel have been brought to live, learn and prepare for womanhood at this school, run by Orthodox nuns attached to the convent of Mary Magdalene at Gethsemane, where the relics of Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr of Russia and her cell attendant and co-martyr, Saint Barbara, are kept and venerated by pilgrims from across the world. In recent years, due to changing demographics and rising needs of the local population, the boarding school has become a private girls’ school for the overwhelmingly Muslim population of modern-day Bethany, but retains its Orthodox Christian mandate and continues to both educate and board 15 Orthodox Christian girls, and look after 3 brothers of their boarders at an adjacent location. The school and boarding section is overseen by Sister Martha Wall. a German convert to Orthodoxy who has lived and worked in the Holy Land for the past 13 years.
The girls and their brothers age from 5 to 17 years of age. They come from across the Holy Land; Arab, Ukrainian and Russian in origin, joined by a common fate of family hardship but a common faith of Orthodoxy. As with all children, their needs are constant and ever-present: food, clothing, shelter, medical and dental care, educational and vocational skills. Just as important, they are in need of social activities and opportunities to enjoy life and their adolescence.
As a member of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, and their newly-appointed Delegate of Christian Affairs, I have asked, and received, support from both the head of this Christian charitable society and the spiritual and administrative leadership of the ROCOR MIssion to the Holy Land to help provide support for this school and its boarding section. The needs are great, but so is the joy of seeing the future of the Orthodox faith in the Holy Land have a fuller, happier life.
How can you help?
- Prayer. Believe in the power of prayer! Pray, and ask for your priest, spiritual father, monastic communities and church hierarchs to pray for the Bethany Girls School community. Our challenges are great in the Holy Land, but so are the prayers of Orthodox faithful throughout the world for the land where Christ was born to the ever-blessed Theotokos. Time and time again, the Sisters and boarders of the school has seen first-hand the intercessions of the Theotokos and the saints. Asking for the intercessions of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-worker, Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr of Holy Russia, the Passion-Bearing Romanovs, and Saint John Maximovitch is especially asked for. A list of names for commemoration is attached below.
- Start a Lazarus Saturday collection in your parish. Ask that either a special collection occurs on Lazarus Saturday or Palm Sunday services.
- Spread the word to your diocesan Bishop, your charitable societies and your social network.
- Consider how you can donate your time and resources towards the school beyond the start of Holy Week. If your church and community is looking for a mission project, the Bethany school may be what your community is called to support
Donations are at present being collected by the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. We are at present working out the details for 501c3 (tax-deductible) donations to be collected with our American network, so that we can bundle donations into one transaction, and also provide donors a more effective way to track their donations. Contact details for where and how to send the funds will be sent as soon as possible to those that respond to this email.
The girls of the boarding school know the importance of taking ownership of their boarding school, which they consider their home. Time and time again, they have shown how they are willing to help with fundraising for the school as they can; through thanking donors, through prayer, even through selling their old toys to help raise funds. This month, they did it again by painting olive wood Pascha eggs to be given to pilgrims who donate towards the school. They have nothing but profound thanks to those that help us in keeping their school and home running and improving. They may be poor in worldly possessions, but they are rich in their love of one another and the love of those who pray, labor and give support for them.
May the Lord bless you and keep all those who remember us in the Holy Land this Lazarus Saturday. Through your prayers, donations and the intercessions of the Theotokos, the “little miracle of Bethany” will continue in our lifetime and beyond.
Direct correspondence to: email@example.com
An Orthodox faithful of the Holy Land
Delegate for Christian Affairs of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem
Prayer List for the Orthodox Girls School of Bethany: Archbishop Mark, Archimandrite Roman Abbess Elizabeth Sister MarthaSister AnnaSister NataliaSister Fotina
Boarders: Daniila, Eugenia, Magdalina (with her brothers Theodulos and Thomas)Mariam and NataliaNatalia, Vera and their brother IoannMariamna and LiyaKsenia and ChristinaMaria, Salomea, Sarah and Ioanna