How is the Feast of Mar Elias Celebrated in the Holy Land? | Bethlehem Handicrafts

June 12, 2021

How is the Feast of Mar Elias Celebrated in the Holy Land? | Bethlehem Handicrafts

The church of Mar Elias is situated on a high ridge where, according to Christian belief, the Prophet Elijah went into Heaven in a fiery chariot as depicted in the Old Testament's Second Book of Kings.

On the hillside, a monastery dedicated to the Prophet Elijah was built during the Byzantine Era. History tells that  the Greek Orthodox Church hid the principal fragment of the True Cross at this monastery and delivered it to Crusaders when the Crusades arrived.

Mar Elias' current church was constructed in the late 1800s. While nominally a monastery, it now functions as a destination of pilgrimage and supports the local Orthodox Christian population in Jerusalem's southern suburbs.

The church's interior is recognized for its famed icons and the relics of a monk who was discovered with a near-complete skeleton and a pair of chains that had evidently been worn as a gesture of self-penitence.

In Arab Christian culture, the prophet Elijah is especially revered, especially in Syria, Lebanon, Haifa, and the Galilee. The name "Elias" is still one of the most popular Arab Christian names.

Pilgrims burn candles, present olive oil, and bring children called Elias to church on the feast day, which is commemorated with great passion by Catholic, Greek Catholic, Maronite, and Greek Orthodox communities across the region.

Elijah is also the patron saint of transportation, and on the Feast of Prophet Elijah, priests will bless vehicles, carriages, and other travel implements with Holy Water in several Eastern Christian countries.

Even though the feast falls during the workweek, many Christians whose ancestors came from the north visit the church of Mar Elias for the liturgy, while Bethlehemites take satisfaction in traveling the great distance from their houses to the church in the scorching Autumn summer sun.

 

Due to the prevalence of tiny grey stones, the hill is known as the Field of Grey Peas, or Stony Peas, in local Christian tradition. According to legend, the stones represent the bitter harvest of a farmer who scolded Christ soon before his arrest and crucifixion: Christ had approached a farmer sowing peas while traveling along the hillside and enquired as to what he was growing. The peas were reported to have turned to stone after Christ's burial.

When you pass by a site on the left on your trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem that stands like a fortress on a height that overlooks both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, you'll find the Mar Saba Monastery. It lies 4 kilometers north of Bethlehem and within a few minutes' walk from the Mar Saba Monastery.

This is the Prophet Elijah's stone church, known in Arabic as Mar Elias, which is located near Rachel's Tomb at Bethlehem's northern gate on the old Jerusalem-Hebron route.

The Jerusalem-Hebron Road existed even before the birth of Christ, with Bethlehem serving as the first stop for travelers to fill their waterskins or spend the night before continuing north or south along the road.

It should be noted that Bethlehem did not appear on maps of the Holy Land until the Roman Empire declared Christianity to be the official religion, i.e. until the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.

The Feast of Mar Elias is observed on August 2nd each year, when Christian Jerusalemites and Bethlehemites congregate in the stone church to commemorate the martyrdom of Mar Elias.


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