The Long Memory of Living in the Holy Land

A view of the damaged Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church, where civilians took shelter, after Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Gaza on October 20, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The people huddling for safety in the compound of St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church in Gaza City may seem radically different from the rest of Gaza’s population. These 500 people represent just under half of all Christians in the Gaza Strip. Since October 7, more than 1,200 in Israel and thousands in Gaza have been killed. Many more are suffering too—including one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

So in that way this small minority sheltering at St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church—a place that has meant everything to them and to their people for centuries—is but a part of the whole: a group whose ancestral ties to this place compels them to stay even as bombs fall from overhead (the church was hit by was hit by an Israeli airstrike last month) and battles rage on the ground. 

The roots that tie these people here seem especially important at this time of year, as Christmas approaches. The story of the gospel began in Palestine, after all: the birth of the Christ child, away in a manger—in Palestine—while shepherds watched their flocks—in Palestine. The roots of the Christians in Gaza run so deep that even at the outbreak of this war, as they have the last three wars, many said they would not leave the place where they were born and baptized, the place they now have come for shelter.

For many North Americans, this is an incomprehensible stance. We move about our country freely, as climate, economics, or whim dictate. According to data compiled in September, Americans live in their homes an average of eight years before selling and moving on. Our homes are built with a life expectancy of less than 100 years, our household goods temporary things with built-in obsolescence. Most of us have no relation to the people who built our homes, offices, or places of worship. 

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