There are several Greek Orthodox places of worship in Palestine, despite the fact that the vast majority of people living in Palestine are Muslims.
Given the predominance of fundamentalist Islamists in Palestinian territory, there is still a number of churches and monasteries for Greek Orthodox Christians to attend and worship.
The vast majority of Christians in Israel are Palestinian Arabs, although they make up a small minority among Palestinians as a whole. Their status as a minority within a minority has been a source of significant difficulty for Arab Christians.
Furthermore, the significant wealth of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has made it a target for both the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority.
Hamas has regularly targeted Palestinian Christians for discrimination, especially when they try to restrain public celebration of Christian holidays.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, also known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, is an autocephalous church, established in the mid-fifth century as one of the oldest patriarchates in Christendom.
Occasionally the Patriarchate has to intervene to resolve issues that arise from Israelis or Islamist Palestinians. The Greek Orthodox Church in Palestine has long been troubled by conflict between its all-Greek hierarchy and its Arab laymen demanding a larger role in church affairs.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
The Church of the Nativity, or Basilica of the Nativity, is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. It is shared between the Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Greek Orthodox Church.
The grotto has great significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. It is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.
The church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother, Helena, visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 325 to 326. This was on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus.
That original basilica, already mentioned in 333, was likely built between 330 and 333 and was dedicated on May 31, 339.
Jacob’s Well Greek Orthodox Church
The most important holy site in Palestine is Jacob’s Well Greek Orthodox Church. It is located in Tel Balata in the city of Nablus in the north West Bank. The 41 meter-deep (135 feet) well inside the church is mentioned in St. John’s Gospel as the place where Jesus Christ revealed for the first time that He is the Messiah.
The well can be accessed by entering the Church and descending the stairs to a crypt containing the well by a small winch and a bucket.
According to Genesis 33: 18-20, when Jacob returned to Shechem, he camped before the city, and bought the land on which he pitched his tent and erected an altar.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus “came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” This is where Jesus met the Samaritan woman.
The woman carried a jar of water, which still exists to our day, preserved in a glass frame on top of one of the pillars inside the Church.
The Church of Jacob’s Well has a long story that goes back to the 4th century, when it was first built to be destroyed and re-built several times.
In 1860, the Bishop of Gaza purchased the site and returned it to the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate. Construction began again, but this time, an earthquake destroyed the Church in 1927.
In 1979, Archimandrite Philomenos, who was serving at the time, was killed by a demented Jewish man who destroyed part of the monastery with a hand grenade.
The martyr for the Lord was canonized a Saint by the Orthodox Church in 2009. His Holy relics, which have been working many wonders, are kept in a reliquary inside the Church.
In 1980, after the martyrdom of St. Philomenos, Father Ioustinos was sent by the Patriarchate to serve the Church of Jacob’s Well, with the goal to complete its building.
After facing many obstacles, he was finally granted permission by the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to continue the building of the Church as an honor for his help to the Palestinians during their uprising.
Father Ioustinos worked “as an architect, a contractor, a beggar, and a painter” in his own words for eleven and a half years to finish the Church inside out.
Despite being exposed to repeated aggression, violent attacks, and the numerous attempts of theft and destruction of the Church, Father Ioustinos is still there, refusing to retreat or bow.
An annual Festal Divine Liturgy is held and celebrated in the Church on the fifth Sunday after Easter of each year among the presence of local Christians and pilgrims. It is officiated by the Patriarch with co-officiating Bishops and Priests.
The Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios in Gaza
Believed to be the third oldest church in the world, the Church of Saint Porphyrios in Palestine is an ancient and sizable place of worship in the region.
Originally, it was built at the location it stands today in 425. However, the current church was built by the Crusaders around the middle of the 12th century.
Historical records from the 15th century also mention its dedication to the Virgin Mary. It has been preserved throughout time and was restored in 1856.
Architectural elements such as cornices and bases can be traced back to the Crusader period. Many other parts of the church were added at later dates.
The church’s walls, constructed from time-worn limestone, offer a refuge with their ability to provide warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.
Legend has it that Saint Porphyrios had a severe leg ailment. Despite his affliction, he embarked on a pilgrimage from his meditative spot in the Jordanian wilderness to Jerusalem, seeking divine healing.
During his time in this ancient city, it is believed he entered into a transcendent state, encountering Jesus Christ, and emerged from it miraculously cured.
After the death of Gaza’s bishop in the year 395, Porphyrios, then a priest, was called upon to assume a critical role in safeguarding the local Christian community from harassment by pagan adherents.
At that time, Gaza had just three Christian churches amidst a multitude of pagan temples and idols. However, Saint Porphyrios’ presence brought about a significant change. It is believed he oversaw the baptism of 237 men, 35 women, and 14 children.
His strong ties with the Roman Emperor and Empress bore fruit in 401 when an imperial edict ordered the destruction of pagan temples in Gaza and the reinstatement of privileges for Christians.
Additionally, Saint Porphyrios received funds from the emperor to construct a new church in Gaza, erected on the very site of the chief pagan temple.
Today, the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios in Palestine stands as a testament to his enduring legacy.
Other Greek Orthodox Churches in Palestine
The Greek Orthodox Church of Transfiguration in Ramallah was inaugurated in 1852. It contains sacred utensils and old icons, some of which date back to 1830 and were transferred to the church after the destruction of small churches in Ramallah as a result of war and persecution.
The Church of Transfiguration is one of the oldest surviving churches in Palestine. It is a notable pilgrimage site for Christian believers and a tourist attraction due to its historical significance and beautiful architecture.
The Church houses the dome of the Transfiguration, which is said to contain the bones of souls who perished in the battle of Bethlehem in 1799. The church also contains works of art, such as the icon of the Transfiguration and several ancient icons from the Byzantine era.
The Saint George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh in Palestine is located in the only all-Christian village left in Palestine renamed “Taybeh” (meaning good) in the 12th century from the old biblical name “Ephraim.”
Local history says that the original Saint George Orthodox Christian Church was built in the fourth century by Saints Constantine and Helen. Today, it is an archeological site where the local Christian residents, less than two thousand, light their candles daily.
The Church looks down at the Jordan Valley, where Saint Mary of Egypt spent more than forty years of her life seeking forgiveness.
The present Saint George Church was completed in 1931 on the same ground where another Byzantine church of Saint George was destroyed twice by old age.
The Saint Demetrius Greek Orthodox Church in Nablus is dedicated to the glorious martyr and myrrh-bearer in the town of Rafidia, built at the heart of the Old City of Nablus, Samaria, a short distance from Jacob’s Well Greek Orthodox Church.
The church is, in all likelihood, built by Patriarchate Kyrillos of Jerusalem circa 1850. Today, it is the second church of this small community. Close to it in Rafidia is the most recent Church of the Annunciation of Theotokos at the center of the New City of Nablus.