In less than twelve months they were completely out of stock—20,000 special edition New Testaments for Palestinian Orthodox believers. For many families, this Bible is the first one they have personally owned. A key church leader said about this project: “We should have done this 2,000 years ago.”
It must have felt the same at the beginning of the Reformation, centuries ago in Europe. People had been attending church and they knew about the Good News of Christ, but they didn’t read the Bible themselves. And all of a sudden the Word of God was available to them; for the first time they were actually reading the Gospel. It was the beginning of a huge spiritual revival.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, the denomination to which most Palestinian Christians belong, spiritual life has much to do with sacraments, symbols and traditions which are embedded in daily worship meetings in the church. Up until last year, many churches didn’t have enough printed bibles available to take home; therefore, Bible reading took place mostly in churches. Moreover, it wasn’t a common practice to read the Bible in private. “One priest I know had just ten Bibles in his church,” shares Nashat Filmon, Executive Director of the Palestinian Bible Society. “Orthodox families didn’t have the opportunity to read the Bible at home at all.”
That changed recently. In early 2015 the positive relations between the Palestinian Bible Society and the leadership of the Orthodox Church resulted in the publication of an Orthodox New Testament. Nashat: “This is an easy to understand Arabic translation and contains photos of icons, and most importantly, a recommendation letter from the Patriarch, the head of the Church.”
For an outsider this may seem trivial, for many Orthodox Christians this priestly recommendation is vital. “They need the letter from the Patriarch; they need to know it’s all right,” Nashat explains.
And all right it was. There was a huge demand for the New Testaments. Within a year all 20,000 copies had been given out to Palestinian Christian families, most of them on the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
The response was overwhelming. “People are calling me daily. ‘I never dreamt that I would have my own bible,’ one man said.” Other Christians are reaching out to Nashat from Jordan, Qatar, and even the United States to thank his organization for printing the Bible.
Nashat shares how the Jerusalem-based church leaders are also excited about the impact of the bible on their flock. “It was a great honor that the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church himself lead the celebration of the launching of this version together with other church leaders. At the celebration one of the leaders said, ‘We should have done this 2,000 years ago’.”
The Bible Society expects a strong spiritual impact from the Bible printing project aimed at Palestinian Christians. “This is a stream of Living Water flowing through the Orthodox Church. Revival is about to happen because the Word of God is available in a whole new way,” Nashat says.
One particular encounter with a Christian who received one of these 20,000 bibles had a great impact on Nashat Filmon. “One morning we were visiting the Jenin area and I saw an old lady reading her new Bible in the first sunlight, sitting in the entrance of her house. An hour later, when we returned, she still was there; she seemed not to have moved at all. And she was still reading in the Word, in broad daylight. She had been reading for a full hour.”
In his office in Jerusalem Nashat tells about the Holy Land being the cradle of Christianity. Palestinian Christians are proud of this heritage, he explains. “The Church was established in this very city at Pentecost and there have been Christians in the Holy Land ever since.”
Many Palestinian Christians have migrated the last few decades. The percentage of Christians has dropped from ten percent of the Palestinian population in 1920 to little over one percent today. Nevertheless, Nashat remains hopeful. “Christianity is declining, yes. But Praise God, a little bit of salt is still enough to bring taste. It’s better to have a little bit of salt that works, than a lot that is tasteless. Pray for a reformation among Palestinian Christians and a fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit to go through the Church.”
Nashat is witnessing that the Bible unites Palestinian Christians. “The Word brings us together—Catholics, Evangelicals, Copts, and Orthodox; together we are the bride of Christ. My prayer is that we as Christians will be united and will be able to lead the way in a process of reconciliation in the Holy Land, in showing that there is hope and forgiveness. Our calling is to spread just a little bit of light. That is enough to cast out the darkness.”
*Representative names and photo to protect persecuted Christians