In the middle of bloodshed and violence, the Lord, Christ our Savior is in our midst to give us inner peace since obviously peace is not in our world and specifically not in the Holy Land. For all Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, it has been almost two years of total destruction and devastation in the land of Christ’s birth.
In the middle of bloodshed and violence, the Lord, Christ our Savior is in our midst to give us inner peace since obviously peace is not in our world and specifically not in the Holy Land. For all Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, it has been almost two years of total destruction and devastation in the land of Christ’s birth. The war on terror and getting the terrorists with American tax dollars has brought tremendous collective punishment and made most of us living in the Holy Land virtual prisoners in our homes. The current curfews since June deprive millions of people from their basic human rights. The school year began with two regular school days under Israeli guns and four days of total curfew with half of the schoolbooks missing due to the roadblocks.
Having seen the Greek Culture Center “Macedonia” in Ramallah and educational institutions such the ministry of education bombed, it seems that each and every one of us are terrorists because the international community is doing nothing to stop Israel from its brutal and cruel occupation of the Palestinian territories. Both on the Palestinian and Israeli side, innocent people continue to die in a catastrophic cycle of violence with the military occupation as the root cause. Living here, I feel Israel is trying to wipe out an entire culture and an entire nation from the face of the earth. I escaped for the summer to promote my new Orthodox children’s book “Christina’s Favorite Saints,” featuring the lives of holy people to help young readers grow closer to God and grow spiritually as they learn more about their Orthodox faith. Fr. George Alexson and the parish board were generous to allow me to introduce the new saints’ book at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta and to listen to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land during early August. I am truly appreciative and grateful for the solidarity and financial support they have shown to our struggle.
Publishing books in Jerusalem has never been easy for me but since September 28, 2000 it has become almost impossible. I always looked at printing Orthodox literature as my service to Christ. I firmly believed that it was my responsibility to educate my own children and help preserve the Orthodox values, traditions and symbolism since I was born in a Greek Orthodox Christian family in Tripoli, Greece and immigrated to the United States at a very young age. I can almost say that I spent many years of my childhood trying to be “American” so that I can become more assimilated and acculturated into the American mainstream. Then, I sort of had a cultural awakening and made every effort to be “Greek” and maintain my ethnic values and traditions so I can truly be unique in the world and specifically in the American melting pot. Marrying an Orthodox Palestinian Christian while attending Hellenic College added another culture and challenge to my life.
I had to convince my relatives that my husband David was not Jewish and not Muslim. For some reason it was hard to believe that some Arabs are Christians. My husband was indeed an Orthodox Christian from birth. This was very shocking news to my family because they could not believe his Christian roots dated back to the time of Christ in the land even of Christ’s birth. His particular family tree specifically dates back at least five hundred years and is a beautiful piece of art although females are not included on the chart. Living in the Holy Land the last seven years, I entered a new spiritual phase of making every effort to just be Christian. I could have never guessed the struggle; pain and suffering that would follow this identity. Many people believe that we spend our whole lifetime trying to get to know who we are when all the time our identity is giving to us at birth as being created in the image and likeness of God. Something must go terribly wrong as we live in the world because we could not possibly kill each other like we do if we see God in the other.
My new children’s Orthodox book printed in the Holy Land this year entitled Christina’s Favorite Saints presents stories about holy people in children’s language with colorful illustrations featuring a saint per month including St. Anthony, St. George, St. Sophia, and St. Katherine. This book helps teach children that we can learn how to live our life better by reading how the saints lived and loved God. Many saints help us to have stronger faith in God because of the hard work they did to preserve the Christian faith not to mention that many of them died for Christ as martyrs because they lived in the early centuries when Christianity was not legal. I made a great effort to select a variety of saints in terms of their contributions to the Church and balance among male, female, martyrs, some from the monastic tradition, etc. I have been thinking about doing a book about saints for over five years but could never find the right artist for the illustrations until I met Ms. Fotini Dedousi one of the thirty Greek women in the West Bank who is married to a Palestinian.
Twelve illustrations were completed by Fotini, a Greek artist living in the Holy Land and having the desire to draw saints from kindergarten. She is the mother of two boys and works at the Greek Cultural Center in Ramallah. She received a two-year certificate in design from the Veloudakis Workshop of Free Studies in Athens, Greece. Her family comes from Sparta, Greece. Ms. Vasiliki Zarbala, an iconographer from my hometown Tripoli, Greece illustrated the cover of Christina’s Favorite Saints depicting St. George.
In the early 80’s with the help of Antonia Marshal, we created “Christina,” an ideal Orthodox character that children could identify to help validate their Orthodox identity. In this first book, Christina Goes to Church, Orthodox young children get all of their questions answered about icons, candles, etc., and try to have a deeper understanding of their church experience. It was truly a success and I have continued to publish books on my own ever since because I just can’t seem to get an Orthodox publisher to invest in the artistic fees up front.
I have made efforts in the last decade to produce children’s Orthodox literature that preserves and documents precious traditions, values and the rich symbolism of the Orthodox faith. All books promote spiritual development at a young age. Light and Life Publishing, St. Vladimir’s Bookstore, Conciliar Press, Holy Cross Bookstore and the Department of Religious Education make it possible for me to distribute the books I print in the Holy Land which in a small way contribute to the local economy. Christina’s Favorite Saints is an ideal Orthodox gift for elementary children and I would hope that every godparent would purchase one to help children with their Orthodox identification and spiritual growth. If your godchild is thirty years old, never feel too shy to buy a child’s Orthodox book because there is a child in each and everyone of us. You never know at their age they might appreciate Christina’s Favorite Saints the most and keep it in their collection of Orthodox literature as a treasure. May all of God’s blessings be yours from this precious land of Christ’s birth. Thank you for the prayers.
Editor’s Note: As a Greek-American, Maria moved to the Holy Land following the Oslo Peace agreement when her husband David C. Khoury, also a Hellenic College graduate invested in his home village of Taybeh to help boost the Palestinian economy by producing the first and only micro-brewed beer in the Middle East. Taybeh Beer is the first Palestinian product to receive franchise and be produced in Germany. Due to the constant closures and roadblocks, the brewery currently operates less than 10% of its capacity. The Khourys live with their three children Elena (l7), Canaan (15) and Constantine (13) in the only Christian village left in Palestine. The village is 20 minutes outside Jerusalem on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Dr. Khoury frequently writes about the importance of a Christian presence in the Holy Land and is making efforts to raise funds for a housing project to help needy families of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh. She holds a Doctor of Education degree, Boston University (l993); Master of Liberal Arts, Harvard University (l985) and a Bachelor of Arts, Hellenic College (l982).