The Monastery of the Holy and Righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna in Old Jerusalem belongs to the Jerusalem Patriarchate. According to Tradition, it’s located on the site of the house of the Most Holy Virgin. On March 24, 2016, an image of the Theotokos miraculously appeared in the church, which became the prototype for the Queen of Queens Icon that was later painted. A novice of the monastery, Olga, spoke with us about its history, about miracles that have occurred with the newly-revealed icon, and of the main holy treasures of Jerusalem.
—Hello, Olga! You’ve been laboring at the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Old Jerusalem for sixteen years already. Tell us, please, by whom and when it was built.
—Hello, Tamara. The church has been known since 326. It was built by Queen Helen with the blessing of her son, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It’s also known that Queen Helen chose for the construction of the church the place where the house of the holy and righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Most Holy Theotokos, used to be. It was in this house that the conception of the glorious Nativity of the Virgin Mary took place. I would like to note that the house of the Most Holy Theotokos was built next to the old Old-Testament Temple, which, according to the prophecy of our Lord, was destroyed by the Romans. The altar and a mosaic remain from the ancient Church of the Most Holy Theotokos. The church itself sank underground and is now under a cultural layer. In 1907, the first floor of a house built over the sunken church was developed into a house church. The lower level of the church, located deep underground, was built in the fourth century. The church has a unique iconostasis consisting of miraculously-painted icons brought from Mt. Athos from the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery. Today, the church has the status of a monastery and belongs to the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It was built in honor of the parents of the Theotokos—the holy and righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna.
—What sacred items does the church have?
—The church is in Old Jerusalem by the Lion’s Gate, and is itself a sacred site. The church has the relics of Holy and Righteous Anna, the mother of the Most Holy Theotokos, and the iconostasis, brought from the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt. Athos. These are great sacred objects, as well as the Queen of Queens Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, which miraculously appeared in 2016 in the lower church over the ancient fourth-century altar.
The church and its treasures are a World Heritage site protected by UNESCO.
—And have there been any signs and wonders associated with the newly-appeared Queen of Queens Icon?
—It appeared as a fresco on the wall in the lower church. People started coming. Many have left records about the miracles that occurred with them by prayers to the Mother of God before this icon. After a new icon was ordered and painted (on a board), a guardian angel appeared on the prototype on the wall next to the Theotokos, and the icon itself became less visible. There’s a short film about this miraculous icon:
—Please describe some of the miracles people wrote about.
—There have been many healings, as well as everyday miracles, such as the resolution of housing problems and getting a desired job. There have also been a lot of reports about the birth of children after long years of childlessness. Many personal destinies and happy marriages have been arranged. There’ve been no cases where what people asked the Lord and the Most Holy Theotokos for wasn’t fulfilled. I have letters from the people who have experienced miracles—there are many of them, an entire folio… The people write with great emotion! This is briefly about all the miracles, in general.
—Have any ancient traditions or stories related to your church been preserved? What do the parishioners and old-timers remember?
—Yes, there’s a book on the Mount of Olives, in the library of the Ascension Monastery, describing the events I mentioned above. It’s called The House of the Theotokos. Of recent events, there’s one deserving of attention. The family that lives on the first floor right across from the church has been living there for sixty years now. On the territory of its monasteries, the Church has sheltered many people who were left homeless. The rooms for these tenants and the church are in the same building. These people remember that the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos was captured by Muslims in the war years, who turned it into a warehouse. But when pilgrimages to Jerusalem resumed for people from all over the world, the Patriarchate sued the Muslim mosque whose authorities were occupying the territory of the Greek monastery, and won back its canonical territory.
—Your church isn’t far from the Tomb of the Most Holy Theotokos. Please tell us about it and its sacred items.
—The Tomb of the Most Holy Theotokos is, first of all, the very place from whence the Lord took her to Heaven after her Dormition, resurrecting her bodily on the third day. The holy parents of the Mother of God, Joachim and Anna, are also buried there, as well as the holy Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, called the father of our Lord. In the cave church there is the miraculous Jerusalem Icon of the Theotokos. It was painted by our Russian nuns and gifted to the Greek monastery.
One day there was a big flood. The Tomb of the Most Holy Theotokos was inundated. Everyone thought the wonderworking icon would be underwater. They lowered a boat into the cave and drifted to the place where the icon should have been, and they saw that it was being lifted up to the ceiling by some invisible force. When the monks approached the icon to remove it, they heard a voice: “Don’t touch me! When necessary, I myself will go back to my previous spot.” And that’s what happened. When the water dissipated, the monks saw the Jerusalem Icon peacefully standing in its previous spot. Guides often talk about this miraculous event when they bring pilgrims to the Tomb.
—And where are the tombs of the parents of the Most Holy Theotokos and the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed?
—The tombs of the holy and Righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna are in the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos. According to an ancient tradition, the relatives of the deceased were buried nearby, as many people still do now. There used to be caves here where the dead were buried, and now it’s the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, the site of her burial. The precious Dormition of the Mother of God itself took place in the house of the holy Apostle John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of the Lord and the youngest of the Apostles. This house is located near the Zion Gate of the Old City. There’s a Catholic church on this site now. Our Most Holy Virgin Mary slept there. Even before her holy Dormition, all the Apostles were miraculously gathered from their places of ministry. By Divine power, they were brought to her bier and were able to bid farewell to the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—Tell us, please, about other revered objects in Jerusalem.
—Not long ago, in the Monastery of St. Spyridon of Tremithus, the abbot saw St. Spyridon leave the altar and pass through a window. An image of the saint not made by hands appeared on this window. This image is still to be found in the Monastery of St. Spyridon and is considered miraculous.
But the most important sacred site of the Holy Land is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City. There are about forty Greek monasteries in Old Jerusalem. The entirety of our Savior’s path to Golgotha (Via Dolorosa)—the road along which the Lord walked, bearing His Cross—is holy. The place of His glorious Resurrection, also found in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, called the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Orthodox Tradition, is holy. In this church, in the Greek section, is a place considered to be the center of the earth. The people call it the “navel of the earth.”
—Thank you very much, dear Olga! We would be glad to hear more stories from you about the sacred sites of the Holy Land. God bless you.