Day 19 – Palestinian Christians: "The Living Stones"

“Today here in the Holy Land, descendants of those first Christian witnesses are still to be found.  The Christians of the Holy Land, the “living stones”, continue to bear testimony to the power, truth, and love of the Gospel, as they have done faithfully and continuously throughout the last two millennia in this place.”  Michel Sabbah, retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

As we returned from the “Holy Land,” members of our seminar commented that though most had traveled to see the historic sites, they came away most inspired by the people they met—especially the Palestinian Christians.  Today, Palestinian Christians represent only about two percent of the population, within Israel and the Palestinian territories totaling approximately 150,000 Christians.  Along the way, we met Lutherans, Episcopalians, “Latin” Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholics, and Armenian Orthodox .  We were especially impressed with educational and humanitarian work that we witnessed that is being carried out by Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Melkite Catholics and by ecumenical bodies including the World Council of Churches.  Though Christians are a tiny minority, they continue vital witness and services that extend beyond their size in population.

One of the most memorable persons we met was the Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and founder of the DIYAR  Consortium that includes several institutions that focus their services on education, the needs of women, youth, and the elderly in the Bethlehem area.   

Below are two video clips of our conversation with Pastor Raheb.   In the first, he shares something of the identity and self-understanding of Palestinian Christians. 

In the second, he talks about understanding scripture from the context and experience of Palestinian culture, making the point that Palestinians have lived under many powers and are the contemporary embodiment of those first Christian communities seeking to carry out faithful witness. 

Palestinian Christians were quick to tell us that the spirit of Christianity is not in the historic relics, rather in the living stones…the contemporary churches and people facing the challenges of the present-day Holy Land.