Monastery of Saints John and George of Choziba
|Monastery of Saints John and George of Choziba|
دير القديس جورج
|Affiliation||Eastern Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem|
|Location||Jericho Governorate, West Bank, Area C|
The Monastery of Saints John and George of Choziba, best known as Saint George Monastery in Wadi Qelt (Arabic: دير القديس جورج) or simply the Monastery of Choziba, is a monastery located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, in Area C. Its Arabic name is Mar Jaras. The cliff-hanging complex, which emerged from a lavra established in the 420s and reorganised as a monastery around AD 500, with its ancient chapel and irrigated gardens, is active and inhabited by Greek Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23's "valley of the shadow of death". The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37). The monastery is open to pilgrims and visitors.
Established during the Byzantine period, it was destroyed by the Persians in AD 614, rebuilt in the 12th century during the Crusader period, abandoned after their defeat, and rebuilt again by Greek monks starting at the end of the 19th century. The site is associated with the lives of Elijah and that of the parents of the Virgin Mary, and holds the relics of three Eastern Orthodox saints, making it a site of intense pilgrimage.
Reachable from the Highway 1 between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, by turning off to Mitzpe Yericho and following signs for the monastery. There is a 3-hour long hiking path through the wadi and other paths above and along the wadi, or alternatively a parking lot across the wadi from the monastery with an adjacent lookout point. From the parking lot, it's a fairly short hike, about 1km, but very steep going down to the monastery. It gets very hot at times, and hiking back up in the heat could be very challenging for some people. There are young men with donkeys who will give you a ride down to the monastery, or back up to the parking lot, for a negotiable fee.
One can also hike up the wadi from Jericho, via the ruins of the Herodian winter palaces at Tulul Abu el-'Alayiq.
The monastery is open daily except on Sundays and certain holidays, between 9 am and 1 pm.
There is a strict dress code. No shorts for men; no trousers of any sort for women, women must wear a long skirt, and a modest top.
Monastic life at the future site of St. George's Monastery began around 420 CE as a lavra, with a few monks who sought the desert experience of the prophets, and settled around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). Hermits living in caves in nearby cliffs would meet in the monastery for a weekly mass and communal meal.
Between 480 and 520/530 the lavra was reorganised as a monastery by John of Thebes, also known as Saint John of Choziba, who had moved to Syria Palaestina from Egypt. In his time it was dedicated to the Mother of God.
Early Muslim period
After the 614 destruction by the Persians, the monastery was rebuilt during the Crusader period. Manuel I Komnenos made some restoration in 1179, and, according to an inscription, Frederick II made further restorations in 1234. After the Crusaders were defeated and pushed out of the region, the monastery was again abandoned. The Russian pilgrim Agrefeny was the last person to mention visiting it around 1370.
The monastery was reestablished in 1878, and has since then been in the care of following monks or abbots:
- Father Kalinikos (1830–1909)
- Father Amphilochios (1913–1986)
- Father Antonios Iosiphidis (died 1993)
- Father Germanos (Georgios Tsibouktzakis; died 2001)
- Father Constantinos (current abbot, as of 2019).
St John (Iacob) the Romanian
Romanian monk-priest, Father Ioan (John), born Ilie Iacob in 1913, left the Romanian skete on the River Jordan he had been the abbott of since 1947, and moved in 1952 to St George Monastery together with his attendant and disciple, Ioanichie Pârâială. Following summer the two retreated to the nearby Cave of St Anne, which Father John never left again. Affected by illness, he died after seven years, in 1960. In 1992 he was declared a saint by the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate and in 2016 he was officially recognised as such by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. His name was added to the official name of the monastery. His relics are in the chapel of main monastery's church, next to the relics of Saints John of Thebes and George the Chozevite. He is known as Saint John (Iacob) the New, the Romanian, or of Neamț, the Chozevite.
Father Germanos (Tsibouktzakis)
Father Germanos came to St George's in 1993 and lived there until he was killed by Arab terrorists during the Second Intifada in 2001. For many years he was the sole occupant of the monastery, of which he was named abbot in 2000. Emulating the Wadi Qelt monks of late antiquity, Father Germanos offered hospitality to visitors, improved the stone path used by pilgrims to climb up to the monastery, repaired the aqueducts, and improved the gardens of shade and olive trees.
Religious traditions and relics
The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, weeping here when an angel announced to him the news of Mary's conception.
Relics of the three saints closely associated with Choziba—John of Thebes, George the Chozevite and John the Romanian—are kept in the monastery's main church.
The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 are kept today in a chapel outside the monastery walls.
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