This year the sisters of the Gethsemane Convent witnessed yet another joyous event: the blessing of the regilded onion dome cupolas, marking the completion of the exterior restoration of their temple, the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. Over the years, cracks had developed in the roof and water had seeped in, rotting structural beams and damaging frescoes. In 1994 the sisters undertook a massive fund-raising effort, hand-addressing over 12,000 appeals. Donations began coming in from all over the world, and the German firm of Hans Lanz was engaged to repair the historic edifice. It was a challenging undertaking that the workers accomplished with admirable technical proficiency, while respectfully adjusting their hours to the needs of the community's prayer life.
Prominently situated on the slopes of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the church was built by Tsar Alexander III and his brothers as a memorial to their mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. One of these brothers was the Grand Duke Serge, whose wife (and future New Martyr), Grand Duchess Elizabeth, accompanied him to Jerusalem to attend the consecration of the church on the Feast of Protection, October 1/14, 1888. On this same feastday just over a century later, a multitude of faithful and guests, including both religious and civic dignitaries, gathered to celebrate the church's restoration.
Following the hierarchal Divine Liturgy and a short moleben, Archbishop Mark, fully vested, was borne aloft by an electric ladder and blessed the crosses atop the gleaming cupolas - a sight that made the front page of the next day's Jerusalem Post. But, as Vladika Mark reminded the assembled guests, while delighting in the aesthetic glory of the newly gilded domes, it is more important to bear in mind the spiritual significance of the crosses above. The cross is central to the Christian faith, symbolizing not only Christ's triumph over death, but also the martyric witness, the life of self-sacrifice that is the path of true Christianity.
Abbess Elizabeth and the nuns of the Gethsemane Convent extend their heartfelt gratitude to all those who contributed to make possible this remarkable achievement. To God be the glory.
Adapted from a longer article in Orthodox Life, Sept.-Oct. 1999.
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