Monks in Zion
The Benedictines who serve at Abu Ghosh’s Church of the Resurrection set aside hours and sometimes days for meditative silence, but when they do speak, it’s often in colloquial Israeli Hebrew with their Muslim neighbors
Every year on Christmas Eve, hundreds of Christians, Jews, and Muslims stream into Abu Ghosh and fill the Church of the Resurrection to overflowing. Asked by the monks to respect the sanctity of the church (and to turn off their cellular phones), they sit waiting, expectantly, in a hushed and uncharacteristic silence. The images in the church’s brilliant frescoes, painted nearly a thousand years ago, seem to hold their breath in anticipation.
Suddenly, the pungent fragrance of incense permeates the air. Splendid music echoes through the high and ancient ceilings as, dressed all in white, Benedictine monks and nuns proceed solemnly into the sanctuary. Midnight Mass has begun.
For centuries, there were no services in this church. In fact, when the first Benedictines reached the Muslim village of Abu Ghosh they discovered unruly shrubs growing on the roof, the inner walls, and interior, covered with manifold layers of grime and calcium deposits. The whole structure was on the verge of collapse.