Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Gaza

Arabic original here.

In Gaza, an Appointment with Christ

Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby considered Gaza to be one of the ten oldest cities in the world.  He said, "It was inhabited by Caananites from ancient times, and perhaps they were its first builders (Genesis 10:19). Then, around 1800 years before Christ it was settled by Arab tribes. They added to it a particularly Arab character that still lasts until today. It is mentioned in the Tel Amarna letters in the fourteenth century before Christ. Then the tribe of Judah gained control over it after the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, and then the Philistines did not hesitate to regain it (Judges 4:6)...

Christian tradition recounts that as a child, Christ, His mother Mary, and Joseph passed through Gaza shortly before their flight to Egypt from the wrath of the bloodthirsty Herod, or on the way during their return from Egypt to Palestine. Gaza is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles when the deacon Phillip, "along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert" (Acts 8:26) met an Ethiopian man who was an official of the queen Candace, he told him the good news of Christ and baptized him. According to Christian tradition, the first bishop of Gaza, Church tradition states that it was Philemon, after whom is named one of the letters of the holy Apostle Paul.

Christian history testifies to the many martyrs from Gaza who fell defending the faith. Among them are Saint Silouan (d. 310) and the three brothers Saints Eusebius, Zenon, and Zenas. Paganism did not go extinct in Gaza until the time of the martyred bishop Porphyrius, who died in the year 420. The First Ecumenical Council (325) mentions the presence of bishop Asclepas of Gaza.

At the end of the sixth Christian century an Italian pilgrim named Antonius visited Gaza. He described it as being "a marvelous city, with five beautiful churches. Its people are famous for their hospitality to strangers." At that time there was a prestigious theological school there. Among its famous alumni were Porphyrius of Gaza (d. 528), the great historian and collector of the holy fathers' commentaries on scripture. But the most shining image of Christ in Gaza then was the great ascetic Saint Dorotheus.

Over the generations, the number of Christians in Gaza diminished, especially under the shadow of the Ottoman Empire which imposed a heavy jizya upon them, to the point that they could not bear it... Today their number is no more than two thousand. However, some Christian monuments remain standing to this day in Gaza City, the most prominent of which is the Church of Saint Porphyrius.

The Christ-child did not leave Gaza. He remained living there. He did not just pass through there coming and going between Palestine and Egypt. He settled there. He came there as a child, He walked in her streets as a youth, and He taught there as a man. He joked with her children, had mercy on her widows, fed her hungry, healed her sick, and raised her dead.

He bore His cross in her alleys. He was crucified on her walls. He rose there from the dead and has not departed from her for a day. He wakes up with her people at every daybreak. He accompanies them along their paths. He is the carpenter, son of the carpenter. He is the fisherman. He is the poor. He is the generous. How can He not be a citizen of beloved Gaza?

Every day He is whipped and nailed and crucified. Every day He rises from the tomb. Today is His turn to be in Gaza and He does not break the appointment. He is there. Let those who want to see Christ today go to Gaza.

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