December 12, 2021

Women's Community in Bethany - a symbol of faith and grace

At the beginning of the 20th century, under the last pre-revolutionary head of the Russian ecclesiastical mission, Archimandrite Leonid Sentsov, a lot was done. Temples, monasteries, communities and houses for pilgrims were erected in the Holy Land. In Bethany, one of the Russian houses was built to stop pilgrims who were heading from Galilee to Jerusalem and stopped in the same place where the Savior stopped, at the tomb of Righteous Lazarus. A huge Russian building for pilgrims was erected, which, due to the First World War, did not work for so long.



After the war, everything was destroyed here and remained in this form until the early 30s, when a new Orthodox monastic community was founded, known to us as the monastery of Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane. The beginning of this monastic community was laid in Bethany by the sisters Martha and Mary.


The fate of Martha and Mary



The fate of these nuns is very interesting. These two English women were on their way to India to engage in missionary work. They were going to establish a house of mercy there. The sisters heard a lot about Elizabeth Feodorovna, the granddaughter of the English Queen Victoria, who died in the Russian revolution. Once in Jerusalem near the Church of Mary Magdalene, where Elizabeth Feodorovna was buried, they understood the sign of the Almighty and decided that they did not need to go anywhere else.


Mary and Martha started a monastic community whose mission was exactly the same as that of the charity house they were planning to open in India.


The first sisterhood consisted of two Anglican nuns, who later became Orthodox, one Lutheran Danish sister and an Armenian Catholic. In addition, the watchman Ibrahim was also here.


Two English nuns had a medical degree. Therefore, in addition to a hostel, they organized a hospital here, which later became a municipal institution, and a school for local Orthodox girls with a shelter for children from problem families. Today it is the only Orthodox Russian school in the Palestinian Autonomy.


How the school was built


When there were more sisters, they went down to Gethsemane. A school and a hospital exist here to this day. The level of education that a Christian school provides is much higher than in traditional educational institutions. As the headmaster, nun Maria Waal, says: “We introduce children to Christianity and encourage them to think. Subsequently, these girls will grow up and raise their own children correctly and with faith.”


The sisters set up two temples. The first is a cave church. This is a natural cave and when you find yourself in it, you feel like one of the ancient ascetics. In ancient times, monks built churches here because it is not so hot in summer and not so cold in winter. The cave keeps the temperature well. Initially, the sisters prayed in the cave church. Subsequently, it was consecrated as a temple in honor of St. Nicholas and Righteous Lazarus. Then the sisters arranged a second house church inside a Russian building of the early 20th century. Nowadays, it has been restored and rebuilt. It is he who is the new Russian church in the Holy Land, arranged by local artists, economists, restorers.



Usually several sisters live in the monastery, the eldest of them, Martha, whom we mentioned above, is the director of the school and teaches mathematics. The school is a separate building with several floors, built in the 30s and expanded in the 70s. Today it is a large Russian school in the Palestinian Authority, and the elder sister of the Bethany Community, nun Maria Vaal, is also the head manager of the orphanage, in which about 500 pupils study.


The way Bethany looks in our times with nuns, school, orphans and visiting pilgrims is very reminiscent of the Russian spiritual mission before the revolution.


Lazarus Saturday in Bethany


Lazarus Saturday is always a joyful event in the Bethany Community, where the Righteous Lazarus lived with his sisters Martha and Mary. We know from Holy Scripture that the Son of God came to his friends, who loved him very much and were always glad to see him. Today the Holy Church glorifies the resurrection of Lazarus.


Traditionally, after the service in the evening, everyone comes to the grave of St. Lazarus, from where he was resurrected. Pilgrims come there with lit candles and go home at dawn.


After the service, a prayer service dedicated to the Righteous Lazarus, Martha and Mary is performed, and the traditional procession around the earth. 


Martha and Mary - Sisters of Lazarus


Once the Son of God appeared to his friend Lazarus. He had two sisters named Martha and Mary. The whole family considered God to be their Teacher, and therefore coming to His house involved special efforts and preparations.


When the Savior appeared to them, Martha immediately began to worry about the treats and fuss in every possible way on this issue. Mary was close to Him, listening to His divine speeches.


Martha, who was completely absorbed in business and bustle, began to reproach her sister for not helping her. She decided that Maria was just messing around while she was knocked down, not having time to prepare everything.


In the human worldly understanding, everything looks exactly like this. But in reality, Mary chose the earthly part, as the Lord later emphasized. Concerned about the salvation of her soul, she greedily absorbs information, listening to every word that Christ says. After all, the Savior did not come into this world to be served, but to serve people and give his soul.


Using the example of two sisters, we see how the meeting of the Savior takes place in our lives. Someone fusses, being distracted by secondary tasks, while others drop everything and begin to listen to Him, so as not to miss the secret meaning.


Jesus does not reproach Martha for anything and does not condemn her, but only says that she worries too much, while Mary chooses something more important for herself, preferring the spiritual to the worldly.


The Lord said that we should be able to properly prioritize. In fact, all of us are Marthas and Marys, and using the example of this parable, we must learn to always and in everything find hidden meanings, the main idea. In any relationship, it is important to see the foundation without being distracted by something insignificant. The main support for us should always be the Lord. When choosing between the worldly and the spiritual, we must always choose the latter.


Our earthly affairs and material concerns are naturally important, but only until such time as they obscure the Lord. Sometimes, worrying about the little things, we lose the main thing in our lives, we lose people dear to our hearts, cursing with them, not wanting to pay attention to the soul.


In vanity we cannot see the truth and we pass by the Savior. A restless mind cannot pray and contemplate. He constantly fumbles and rummages through our thoughts, constantly sorting through them and jumping from one to another. In such a fussy mind there is no place for Christ.


The restless heart abides all the time in its own feelings and experiences, drowning in them and losing the opportunity to emerge to the light and feel the Savior.


A fussy person is regularly in turmoil. It is difficult for him to pause and look around, he makes many movements in a minute, filling his own life with disorder. Such a person is not up to God, because he is busy with worldly things. He has no time to save his soul.


Learn to prioritize correctly. The Son of God called Martha and Mary to this. We should not completely dissolve in spirituality, completely forgetting about pressing matters and concerns. In everything, balance is important. Be responsible in your life and don't forget your soul.


Let's be conscious in order to learn to see the main thing in life, not to lose its meaning. Also, do not forget about those who need help, because the Lord called on everyone to give part of their income to the Almighty.


Friends, we urge you to be merciful and help the school for orphans in Bethany. At the moment, it is planned to build a parking lot located on the school grounds, two additional floors, a sports ground.


Our charitable foundation raises funds for financial assistance to orphans from a school in Bethany. By choosing to do good, you will find the path that will lead you to the Lord.


God bless you! 

Help restore shrines

The site temporarily does not accept payments. We are working on it. But you can help the holy places now. Submit a donation request by filling out the form below. And we will contact you to offer convenient ways of helping you. Also in this form you can submit a request for books about Father Illarion in English. Thank you for your help and understanding.

Select book
Convenient communication method
Donation amount
Thank you! We will contact you shortly.
Something went wrong. Try again.

Subscribe to newsletter

Dear brothers and sisters! Join us and find solace with like-minded people, with those who care about the welfare of monasteries, churches and other shrines. After all, a church is not only golden domes and beautifully painted icons. This is all of us when we live in Christ!