Bethany: Holy Work of the Russian Church Abroad

From the Greek church in Bethany

I would like to ask you about our school in Bethany and generally my impression from my visit to Holy Land in 1998 was that actually there are front-lines, spiritual front-lines of our church because people there really struggle ascetically. [And I had] very, very, very, strong, serious impression from what I saw there. Bethany school is unique because it is one of the few places, it might be the only place where we look after the young children and try to help them and it’s kind of a social war, generally we are fighting , so can you explain to us what is happening over there please?

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At Christmas play. 2013

In Bethany, which is situated on the other side, the far side of the Mount of Olives is by of traditional, the place where Lazarus was resurrected. It was the house of Lazarus of which Christ would visit, that was his close friend, and it was where he would rest and we the Russian Church, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission at the beginning of the 20th centuries, the 20th century purchased a plot of land of which they found was pretty much the place where Christ was greeted by Martha and Mary on his way to raising Lazarus. It was found on that property a 5th century stone which says this is the place where Christ first talked about the resurrection. In seventy five years ago, the Abbess or the head of the, the skete of the holy resurrection, which now has moved to Gethsemane and is now the sisterhood of Saint Mary Magdalene, opened a school for Arab children, for Arab girls and it wanted to accept about 15 students. This was open by Mother Mary who was the abbess at the time and she was also a convert to Orthodoxy, she was from Scotland, she was an Anglican missionary who was going to India to work with hospitals in India and her friend stopped in Gethsemane and they were allowed by Metropolitan Anastasy to live there in one of the houses and they didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy, the only thing they kind of heard and remembered was about the Great Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, and then they found out that this was where she was buried and they saw this as a sign and soon they became Orthodox and Vladyka Anastasy baptised them and also tonsured them into monastics. But anyways, Mother Martha, no Mother Mary began the school in Bethany and the school opened in leaps and bounds. It was first 15 students and then there were 30 students and more and this was way in which Bethany or al- Eizariya, it’s called there, was a Christian town, was a Christian city but unfortunately with the political situation as it is, now less than 10 percent of the population is Christian. So the school, unfortunately, has changed. We began, it was supposed to be limited, we began to accept Muslim students, we have a school of 425 students, which majority is Muslim. And of course that is difficult and the small group of Christian students live at the convent, at the school and we take care of these children. Most of these children come from very difficult families….

Kind of like boarding school right?

It is a boarding school, yes, but they come from very difficult familial situations. Either their parents are drug addicts of something, not all, but some. We take care of their education…

They need to be sheltered…

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And we take care of them, we have several nuns living at the convent, other people who live with them but it is a very difficult podvig, a  struggle for a monastic to look after children. You really need to be that, like cut out for that. It is very difficult situation but they do it, they look after the children that are from 5-6 years old to 15 year olds. The population around the convent which is walled in, not always friendly with Muslims around but we do survive but Sister Martha who is the head of the school, the headmistress of the school and the overseer of the convent though it is under the guidance of the abbess of the Gethsemane convent, Mother Elizabeth though she lives there and daily runs the school, a large school and also a few nuns who are there and also the boarding school and the children.

Basically, there is no protection kind of, she can’t really rely on police if anything happens.

Well there is no police there. This is a section C area in Palestine where it is a Palestinian city and supposedly under Palestinian control where the police is Israeli and it is not the police, it is the military so if there is any sort of problems, they send in the military and they, it is usually very heavy handed but if the city, the city itself is pretty much like the Wild West. There is really no law there and it is a matter of who you know, who you can pay. A very difficult situation but it is the reality.

And I understand that Sister Martha was able to master Arabic.

She speaks Arabic, she speaks English, she speaks Russian and she speaks German so she is very energetic and again it is a very difficult situation and really a point is that we need funding. Funding for the school, funding for the internat, the boarding school and the convent.

If people would like, and I hope they will, to support the school, what would be the way to contact you? should they send, will they be able to donate a dress?…

Sure you can send things directly to the convent…

Sister Martha at the Christmas play
Sister Martha at the Christmas play. 2013

In any currency? Like American checks, can people send American checks?

There is a problem with American checks, but we will accept them but we have to send them back to America to get cashed but we deal with that.

Yes, that is very important but also previously, I think, you mentioned that people could come and help there, even some that spend a year…

We would be very happy with volunteers. We have very young people coming, college students that want to take a year off and do something. They come for either for a few months, half a year, or even a year where they can help with the children. They can teach at the school, they can teach English, or something, or Russian. So that is also always a great help: volunteers.

It is still kind of more or less modeled after an English school, basically. It is almost classical…

Well, yes, we try to…

Of skills…

Yes.

Thank you very much. I hope people would support you as much as you deserve and Bethany school which is very unique and Mother Martha would be able to continue what she does. Thank you so much.

You may support the Bethany School through the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Church Abroad:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=ZMP65XTMY54BL

Source: Conducted by Deacon Andrei Psarev

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