Christianity in Nablus
6/27/2004 10:17:00 AM

 

 

Nablus has gone through many phases of religious and spiritual beliefs. At first it witnessed paganism and worshipped many gods, until Ibrahim Al-Klialil arrived who was the first man in history to walk in the path of God, and left his country between the two rivers or (the Chaldeans) to answer the call and come to live in Nablus.

 

Nablus then went through different phases of spiritual belief. After the entrance of the Israelites into the land of Palestine at the time of Joshua bin Noon Nablus started to worship the one God and remained so in conflict between believing in God and between the other beliefs widespread at the time until the Babylonian captivity in 722 BC and the captivity of the Israelites to Persia thus the prevalent worship returned to paganism in spite of the few who kept their faith in secret until the effects of the captivity were removed and those who managed to return returned to their homeland. The situation remained thus until Jesus Christ came and passed through Nablus, and many of its residents started to believe in him as a result of this visit and its impact on the people. Worship became strife between Samarians, Jews, Christians, and pagans. The greatest evidence to the existence of paganism and the fact that it remained even after Jesus Christ is Simon the magician who was scolded by Peter in this city     (the prophets 7).

 

Around the 7 century AD, and after Islam was introduced to the city at the time of the Caliph Omar bin al Khattab and Patriarch Sephronius, Nablus was introduced to a new worship of God, and new traditions and rituals completely different from what was familiar at the time. Discord started to increase and become more and more evident. Islam took control over Nablus and increased in its influence in the 12 century and afterwards when the whole region came under the control of the Ottoman Empire which took a clear path and identity, namely, Islam, and many Samarians, Jewish, and even Christian families converted to Islam.

 

Christianity in Nablus lived under difficult social and political pressures. The first such pressure and genocide was what is known in history as the Samarian revolt against the Christians in the century AD when the Samarians destroyed the Christians’ homes and places of worship in addition to killing many in 335 AD. During the Ottoman rule Christians were subjected to great religious, political, and social pressures, some emigrated in fear of murder and genocide and forced marriage, while the few who remained lived in Nablus keeping their faith and religious belief.

 

The emigration of Christians from Nablus and the region

 

As a result of religious strife after paganism was overcome between the Samarians, Jews, and Moslems, and as a result of the psychological and social reality and the various political pressures and the difficult economic and social conditions and widespread unemployment, and the small number of Christians in general in comparison to the total population over the years, there was emigration first from the neighboring villages to Nablus and then to other internal Palestinian cities where Christian families moved in search of psychological and social stability in a more Christian setting than Nablus and its neighboring villages. Emigration was mainly to the north (Nazareth and Haifa), and the south (Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem). Some of these families are to this day living in these cities.

 

After Palestine was subjected to the British mandate, and with the increase in cultural and scientific awareness and education, particularly amongst Christians, emigration increased in pace from Nablus and its neighboring villages in search for stability and

 work and improved social conditions, to Nazareth and Haifa and Ramallah and Jerusalem. One example is the villages of Burqa and Nisf Jbeil where families from these villages are living to this day in Nazareth and Haifa, particularly the Dhaher family from Burqa and the Musallam family from Nisf Jbeil who live in Ramallah and Jerusalem.

 

As a result of the Arab-Israeli war and the partition of Palestine in 1948 and the ensuing social pressures, unemployment, and lack of resources, a second wave of emigration from Nablus and the neighboring villages started, this time to the Gulf countries, Lebanon, the US, and Europe, also in search of work and improved income and education.

Christians in Nablus and the surrounding villages depend in their living on manual work, agriculture, and labor, with another part (the majority) as employees and public officials in the various governmental agencies and national institutions, with a small number being doctors and Engineers, the latter being the best paid.

A historic comparison between the number of Christians in Nablus and the neighboring villages since 1920, 1950, and 1993

Location           1920    1950    1993. 

 

If we look at the year 1950 we find that in Burqa there was a Latin monastery, a priest, and the rosary sisters between 1925 and 1955. They also had a school. In 1960 the monastery and school were sold and the mission was closed down. The Protestants also had a mobile clinic that went to Burqa every week from St. Luke’s hospital in Nab (every Wednesday) between 1925 and 1961. The Christians of Nisf Jbeil had a Church and a permanent priest from the town. The priest died in 1960 (he was Greek Orthodox) as is the church. The Christians of Nisf Jbeil and Sebastia are Greek Orthodox, Latin, or Protestant.

 

 

After this presentation of Christianity and Christians in Nablus and the neighboring villages, we find that there are two reasons for the emigration of the citizens, both Muslim and Christian, namely, the economic conditions, and the lack of political stability and security. However, and due to the small number of Christians in comparison to the total population, the Christian emigration was more tangible as is the case in Sebastia and Beit Imrin as well as Nablus. If we take into consideration that the predominant religion in Nablus and its neighboring villages is Islam, we find

That Christians are like the yeast in this dough as the residents admitting, selling Nablus apart from other Palestinian cities such as Hebron in the south for example.

 

Therefore, I can say that Christians in Nablus and its neighboring villages are highly respected and granted a special independence. However, the Christian emigration, as is the case with Muslims, was due to the need for more economic, financial, social, and psychological stability.

 

The history of Christians in Rafidia, a suburb of western Nablus, as the story is told from the time of our ancestors, are originally from Karak, a city south of Jordan. A family emigrated from that city around the 17 century AD. The story goes as follows:

There was a family with a father, three boys and a girl. The boys were called Fode, Hreim, and Dheib, and the girl was called Rafeed. One of the princes of the times from the family of Udwan asked for the girl’s hand in marriage. The prince was Muslim and she was Christian. After asking for time to think, the father and his sons decided to flee to Palestine through the Dead Sea and then to Taybeh near Ramallah and El Bireh, and from there to Nablus where they asked the Tuqan family for protection. The Tuqan family gave them this western part of the city which was later called Rafidia (from the girl’s name - Rafid). There was one Muslim family in the area, the Hassouneh family, and they split the land and the water between them equally. The Christian families of Nablus are descendants of this family which originated from the Arabian peninsula and Yemen (from the Ghasasina tribe) and emigrated in the 10 century AD with the Crusader forces to south Jordan where they settled.

 

 

The families in Rafidia are three Christian and one Muslim:

 

Hreim family (Hreimat) Fodeh family

Dheib family

Hassouneh family (Muslim)

Note: the number of Christians from Nablus living in Jordan and Europe is 4 times the number living currently in the city (712 persons).

 

 Prayer houses in Nablus

 Nablus is unique in the fact that prayer and praise to God for his generosity can be heard in every corner of the city in the form of church bells and mosque calls for prayer. Each praises God in his own way without conflict or strife, on the contrary, a loving relationship governs everyone.

 

In Nablus there are the following prayer houses:

 

Christian churches: Joseph’s well church, where Christ is said to have set foot in Nablus and drank its water and was refreshed by its breeze after a long travel, as well as Father Ibrahim who settled there and nearby drilled the well that is known today as Jacob, Ibrahim’s son’s, well.

St. Dimitriuis’ Church St. Fe Church

Visitation Church of Jacob’s Well St. Joseph’s Church

St. John the Baptist’s Church St. Justinus the Nabulsi Church St. Moses Church

St. Mathew’s Church

There are Fifty Five Moslem mosques according to the Religious affairs department in Nablus.

 

There is also a synagogue for the Samarians on Jerzim Mount and a synagogue on the bottom of the Jerzim Mountain.

 

 

History of Christianity in Nablus

 

Christianity in Nablus dates back to the historic visit of Jesus Christ in one of his tours between Judaea and the Galilee, and it was the first time that he ever passed by Nablus because of the traditional and religious hostility between the two Religious sects: the Samarians and the Jews. In this visit he went against tradition in his trips and passed through and around Nablus, and there occurred the miracle that St. John in his Holy Scriptures describes (chapter 4) concerning the Samarians and the many followers who believed in him near Jacob’s Well. Since then, Christianity has persevered in Nablus from until this day.

 

St. Dimitriuis’ Greek Orthodox Church in Nablus

 

It was built in 1861 and was considered the headquarters for the custodian of the monastery since that date. It lies within the walls of the Old City of Nablus, in the Jasmine quarter where the early Christians used to, and nearby them the Samarians. Today there are no Christians or Samarians living inside the Old City.

The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Moses in Rafidia

It is one of the oldest churches in the area and is built on the remains of an old Byzantine church which dates back to the 18 century.

 

The Church of Jacob’s Well near Balata

 

A holy site from which the Samarian woman drank water and where Father Ibrahim, may God bless his soul, settled. He lived there with his brother Lot and his sons. Here also Ibrahim asked Lot to divide the land between them making this place a residence for Ibrahim and his sons while Lot took the area of Jericho. It was here also that the son of Shakeem the Hammouri asked for Jacob’s daughter’s hand in marriage. It is also the site of circumcision for the males of Shechem and where Jacob and his son overcame the residents of Nablus. The church dates back to three historic periods. The current building is constructed over old Byzantine and crusader churches, and dates back to 1907 when a large church donated by Russia was started and stopped in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution. Finally, at the time of the current custodian of the monastery, father Justinus, the building was completed in 1998 and is a Greek Orthodox Church

.

The Latin Church of Visitation in Nablus

 

The Latin Church of visitation in Nablus was built towards the end of the Ottoman rule in 1890 to mark the visit of Jesus Christ. In 1907 the Rosary Sisterhood came to Nablus and Rafidia and built a school at the time. The Church remained until the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 after which it housed Palestinian refugees and the Rosary sisterhood closed in Nablus. Two years later, in 1951, a part of the monastery became the headquarters for the International Red Cross and remained so until 1975. During this period, Father Dominique and the Latin Patriarchate decided to transform this place to an old people’s home and they brought in nuns from India for the first time. However, the project did not succeed and it was closed until 1991 when the mother Teresa sisterhood came back and took over this activity.

 

 

 

St. Felps Protestant Church in Nablus

 

St. Felps Protestant Church in Nablus was built in 1921 by a British missionary society called CMS. They came to Nablus to preach Christianity in 1881 and were very active in visiting the Christian families in Nablus and praying with them and establishing a school for Christian teachings, and a mobile clinic in Nablus which later became St.Luke’s hospital. This hospital was built at the beginning of the British Mandate in 1918. A priest from the above mentioned CMS society called Fisher arrived in the city. He was a very active priest and brought British volunteers for the purpose of visiting the families, praying, teaching, and nursing. This priest bought a land and built St. Felps church, a home, and a school and in 1927 this priest gave away part of this land for the Muslims to build a mosque nearby and the Al Khader mosque was built near the church and on church land. This church is to this day and the monastery is known as Fisher’s monastery particularly amongst the Muslim residents of Nablus.

 

St. Joseph’s Rosary Sisters convent - Nablus

 

The St. Joseph’s convent in Nablus is the first nunnery in Nablus arriving in 1904. They rented a small house to live in and established an ENT clinic, followed by a girls’ school. There were 15 nuns at the time taking care of the nursing and healing eye and ear problems. This was the first ophthalmology clinic of its kind in Nablus and it developed an excellent reputation in the northern and central cities and villages of Palestine from where people started to come for healing. It played a vital role in protecting eyes from blindness at a time when doctors were scarce, let alone ophthalmologists. In addition to the school from which graduated many of Nablus’ sons and daughters and leaders. They bought a land in the mountain which to this day is referred to as the nuns mountain and in 1998 the convent was handed over to the Latin Patriarchate after the nuns withdrew claiming that there were no more missions and they have been reduced to 3 nuns and therefore there was no more reason for them to remain in Nablus

 

St. Justinus the Nabulsi Church in Rafidia

 

The Latin St. Justinus the Nabulsi Church in Rafidia was built in 1887. In 1907 the Rosary sisterhood arrived in Nablus and Rafidia to serve the Latin Patriarchate and assist the priest in the service of the church and visiting the families and teaching the children. They also set up the Rosary Sisters School in Nablus and Rafidia. As a result of the earthquake that hit Nablus in 1927 the Church was cracked. The Patriarchate renovated the church and it was reopened in 1931, with the first wedding to be held there after the renovation for the late Nimr Kou’. The church also underwent further renovation and maintenance and expansion works during various periods. In 1956 the new bell tower was built and the church was expanded, and in 1980 the church was again renovated and expanded and painted with frescos and adorned with stained glass windows with church-related drawings.

 

 

 

The beheaded St. John the Baptist Church in Nablus

 

The beheaded St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church goes back to the late metropolitan Gabriel Abu Saada who bought the land and built a house for a priest called Al Antoush. The late metropolitan was the first constructor of the Patriarchate and used the guest room in the house as a church for three years. Before buying the

/ land a house was rented and the guest room was used as a church with the two other

rooms one for the priest and the other for teaching, with one room remaining for the

use of the owner of the house, the late Freih Shatara, for over ten years. The Antoush was built in 1958 and in 1961 the church was built. In 1963 his excellency Patriarch Maximus IV inaugurated the new church with his excellency the late Metropolitan Gabriel Abu Saada, the first builder of the Greek Catholic Melkite Church in the Holy Land and Jerusalem and its annexed churches. The church was named after the Beheaded St. John the Baptist since there used to be a church in Sebastia that was later transformed into a mosque in 1261. It is said that this mosque houses the prison of St. John the Baptist and is the place where he was beheaded. The church was built in the same style as the Sebastia church, and the residents of Sebastia and its neighboring villages who are all Muslims admit that this is the place where Yehya was held prisoner and later on beheaded and served on a plate to the Roman Emperor Herodus.

 

In 1986 the church’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated and it was renovated and painted. In Sebastia village the Tomb of St. John the Baptist can also be found.

 

The Protestant Church of St. Mathew the Anglican in Rafidia

 

The Protestant Church of St. Mathew the Anglican in Rafidia is a house that was rented in 1932 for the parish where the guest room was used as a church and the other rooms used as a school for the church from that date on. It was never built as a church but a house rented out to become a church and a Protestant school.

 

 

 

The Christian Population in Nablus and the Region

 

The Greek Orthodox- Father Justinus - head of the Jacob’s Well monastery

-Father George Awad - Custodian of the church in Nablus and Rafidia

Total # of families         81 families

Total members  277 persons

 

The Latin - Father Jalil Awad - Custodian of the church

* Father Dominique Falioux

* Rosary Sisterhood

* Rosary sisterhood - Mother Teresa

Total # of families         57 families

Total members  241 persons

 

The Arab Episcopal Anglican Church

Reverent Hanna Mansour - Custodian of the church in Nablus and Rafidia

Sub-deacon Hussam Naoum

Total # of families         43 families

Total members  150 persons

 

The Greek Catholic Melkite Church

Father Youssef Jubran Saadeh - Custodian of the Church

Total # of families         12 families

Total members  44 members

 

Total Christians in Nablus and Rafidia and the area 193 families with a total number of 712 Christians 

 

 

A summary about AL-Mahaba Charitable Clinic

 

AL-Mahaba Charitable Clinic was founded with its two branches (The General Health Clinic and The Dental Clinic) in 1989 as a result of the difficult conditions and the bad economical and healthy situations which the area was passing in that time as well as to the increasing mumber of unemployed workers.

 

These bad conditions urged Fr. Yousef Jubran Sa’adeh (The priest of the

Greek Catholic Malik. Convent in Nablus) to build a clinic with the help and bless of

Rev, Bishop Lutfi Lahham (The general patriarchate representative for the Greek

Catholic) and also with the participation of the native committees in Nablus.

 

The motto of this clinic is HEALTH FOR ALL, so from this point the clinic always interests in improving the level of health and offering medical services for people to reduce some of their financial suffering and to help them in their bad econmical situation.

 

Since the clinic has been founded, it was in touch with the other establishments such as hospitals and specialized clinics. These establishments help us by taking some of the sick cases and treat them freely or with a reduction in price between 20%-60%.

The clinic participated in many scientific lectures and medical conferences which were held in different places which aimed to increase the healthy knowledge for both the individual and society.

 

The clinic offered the necessary medicines for the sick with the price of cost from the pharmacy of the clinic, free medicines for the poor and with reduced prices for the others.

 

The clinic and with the cooperation of the Social Affairs Department adopted the programme of looking after the old and handicapped by regular medical visits to the infirmary which is followed to AL-Mahaba mission in Nablus.

 

We are proud of the work of AL-Mahaba clinic and also we appreciate its help and good deeds which offered to the Palestinian people who suffered for a long time of bad conditions whether they were healthily or materially.

 

 

No doubt that its work in this area help the people in reducing some of their financial difficulties.

So, we hope for this clinic continuous progress and success in order to give more and better medical services. We hope also to extend the clinic by building a medical dispensary including different medical services to support the way of benevolence, giving and love.

 

 

Father Youssef Jubran Saadeh

Parish of the Greek Catholic Melkite Church