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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 September 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2019 15 TRAVEL Greek Community Centre in the Greek Colony. Frappe and a Greek meal in a Greek Orthodox-owned building. In the Greek Quarter. Entrance to the West Bank. A Greek Orthodox sign in Jerusalem. The Patriarchate building. city for his own Greek empire, and by 198 BC it was taken by the Hellenic Seleucids from Syria, before coming under Judean control for several decades. This Judean state came about as most Jews had become tired of the Hellenisation of Jerusalem and rebelled with significant effect to take control. The Romans took the city around 63 BC under Pompey and we can only speculate if Jesus may have been treated differently if the city and the Levant was ruled by the Hellenes. History will show us that Christ was to be cruelly crucified by the Romans, which ultimately has given the region a significant place in theology and history. I visited Jesus' holding cell in Jerusalem in the Greek Quarter. It was small, underground and dark in what is now a Greek church. To say I was humbled is a mild understatement. This area by the way is littered with Greek speakers, from the church helpers to the Arabic hustlers on the street. I could not use the "I only speak Greek" excuse to avoid the hustlers, as they would reply in my language. Constantinople in the 4th century AD until around 637 AD controlled Jerusalem, arguably the holiest city in the known world. Greek became the main language of administration. Over the years, as is the curse of this great city, many other minorities were forced into exile. The Jews on multiple occasions, Palestinian people, Greeks, Assyrians, Franks (westerners) and the list goes on. In 629 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Heraklius regained the True Cross from the Persians after he defeated them. He was quick to restore the True Cross to Jerusalem. Such is the esteem that the city is held, many major religions view this as their spiritual home. They are of course Judaism, Islam and Christianity including Greek Orthodox. In 1054 AD most Christians in the Levant came under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. Over the next two centuries Crusaders came and went, a few were successful, and others easily repulsed. Jerusalem has enjoyed very little extended stability in its history, and it is destined to remain that way for some time to come as both Israel and Palestine claim it as their capital. In the Greek Colony. This is a city with over 800,000 people, yet today there are less than 2,000 Greeks there, many living in the Old City. Mr Al Zorba from the hotel had also indicated that the Greek community was small in numbers when we had a coffee at the hotel. The Old City was walled by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s and was divided into Armenian, Arabic, Jewish, and Greek (there are other Christian representatives and citizens here). GRECIAN ELEMENTS The famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre was completed in 335 AD by Byzantine Greek speakers and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is there. I attended a Greek sermon with hundreds of others. This is a must do experience either for spiritual purposes or just to feel at peace with other pilgrims. In 1900 outside the Old City, the Patriarch and architect Spyros Houri helped establish the Greek colony, which included a community centre with five buildings that still holds numerous cultural activities including Greek dancing and language lessons. This area was called the Hel- lenic Omilos or the Greek colony in Bakaa, in Katamonas. There are 23 Greek Orthodox monasteries and convents located in and around Jerusalem. In 1922, the Charitable Hellenic Brotherhood was established and two years later the Union of Greek Women. Soon after, the Hellenic Scout Association was formed and there followed the Hellenic Community of Jerusalem and finally Athletic Association of Hercules, and there may be more Hellenic committees. Unfortunately the war of 1948 and then 1967 whereby Jordan lost control of its section of Jerusalem, meant many of the Greeks migrated to Greece and other countries, never to return. The Church owns plenty of property in the city, some that house shops and residents. When I returned from the West Bank visit, I hired a driver to take me to Tel Aviv with the simple instruction to take me first to the Greek Colony and the community centre. The Greek Colony is now a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. As the navigator could not find the Greek Community Centre, which is located at Joshua Bin Nun The sad reality for Jews, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. Street, the Palestinian driver explained that he would not ask directions for obvious reasons. When I stepped out of the car wearing my Greece shirt, I could sense a weird look from passers-by, until I spoke in English and was greeted back in warm tones about the centre and the history of the Greek people of the colony. Few Greeks live there now I was told, though the consulate does. The locals were aware of the centre, which I soon found thanks to their help. My driver took me to Tel Aviv. The drive through the Israeli desert is nice and makes you understand that water will be a huge issue for all people in the Holy Land as it is a dry region. Hopefully, water becomes a common source to work together and not for violence, though I am told Gaza has significant shortages as they remain in a siege after 11 frustrating years - again frustrating for Jews and Muslims as peace seems further away. As we pulled up to the entrance of the airport, a soldier with a machine gun motioned for us to pull over to a security bay. She asked us where we had come from and why I was in Israel. I explained that I had been to Palestine and now Israel. This triggered the soldier to take my driver for questioning in a small office and the car and my bag was searched. About 10 minutes later, my driver returned. "Billy, I know you mean well, but do not say Palestine to a soldier again!" It was deflating to hear that. I generally support a two state solution. I just want to wake up one day knowing that everyone is working toward peace, not stupidity. It is probable that Hellenic history has been there almost unbroken since Alexander the Great. Not a bad achievement when you consider the turbulent history of Jerusalem. With Christmas coming up let's hope and pray there is peace ahead for all who live there. A remarkable region, and may it one day bring peace to all people who are connected with it, irrespective of religion or race. The energetic and nice Mr Al-Zorba was indeed correct, I certainly did have an interesting stay and a journey that I will always remember. * Billy Cotsis is the author of 'From Pyrrhus to Cyprus Forgotten and Remembered Hellenic Kingdoms, Territories, Entities & a Fiefdom'.
21 September 2019
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