Bethany, the Holy Land, June 6, 2012
Participating in the celebration were His Eminence Archbishop Theodosius of Sebaste; His Grace Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart, Vicar of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Israel Sergey Yakovlev; Representatives of the Representation of the Russian Federation to the Palestinian National Administration; Abbess Elizabeth of Gethsemane Convent with her nuns; Abbess Moissea of the Mt of Olives Convent; Mayor Issam Foroun of Aizaria (Bethany); Sheikh Yacoub of Aizaria; a representative of the Ministry of Education of the PNA, and other dignitaries and guests. Hegumen Feofan, Deputy Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate also participated in the celebration, as did the Protopriest Igor Pchelintsev, Senior Priest of the podvorie of Righteous Tabitha in Jaffa.
The celebrations began with a procession of drummers and pipers. Then, in the schoolyard, the students and graduates gave performances. Bishop Agapit then welcomed the guests, followed by Abbess Elizabeth, Bethany School Principal Saman Mahlouf, Mayor Foroun, a representative of the Palestinian Ministry of Education; Arab School Director Sister Nonna, Archbishop Feodosy and School Dean Nun Martha.
Bethany is located 3 kilometers outside of Jerusalem, opposite the Gethsemane side of the Mount of Olives. In 1907, Archimandrite Leonid (Sentsov), Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, purchased a parcel of land there and erected a pilgrim house. In the 1930’s, a sisterhood was established dedicated to SS Martha and Maria, which gradually became the Bethany Community of the Resurrection of Christ. In 1934, during excavations, fragments of an ancient chapel were found, along with a cube-shaped stone reminiscent of a plinth often placed at the entrance to a church. It bore an inscription in Greek: “Here Martha and Maria first heard the words of the Lord on the resurrection of the dead.” These discoveries bear witness to the fact that this site was connected with the meeting of the Savior with Martha and Maria. A small chapel with a dome roof was built here, dedicated to St Martha.
Bethany and Gethsemane came to manifest the two services of Martha and Maria. In Gethsemane, the nuns performed Maria’s “internal” spiritual work, while in Bethany, they did the “external,” social work of Martha. A medical clinic was set up here for the local Arab population. In the 1930’s, an icon-painting studio was also established here. In 1937, on Lazarus Saturday, a boarding school for Orthodox girls opened here. A year and a half later, the school received the status of a high school. The boarding school offered girls a good education and upbringing under the supervision of the community’s sisters. A church was built on the premises where they sing Liturgy on Fridays. The School is under the authority of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem of the Russian Church Abroad. Several nuns from Gethsemane are appointed administrators of the school, who live here during their terms. Nun Martha (Wall) is currently its director.
Today, Bethany School is considered one of the best schools in the area. From the third grade, girls study the Russian language. The Law of God is taught to Christian girls and the Quran to Muslims. The girls are often taken on field trips to various factories, archeological digs, geographical excursions, visits to sites in Galilee mentioned in the Gospel, trips to town, children’s parks, zoos, the sea and elsewhere.