Monastery at the Shepherds Field (East Jerusalem, Israel)
The Monastery at the Shepherds Field, (East Jerusalem, Israel) is located in a small valley in the village of Beit-Sahour, approximately one kilometer east of Bethlehem, where tradition indicates the spot where the "Shepherds kept watch" [Luke 2: 18-20], on the night that Christ was born (December 25), and heard the angelic proclamation "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will toward men" [Lk. 2: 14]. The site is also well known for its ancient Olive trees that date over 2000 years; tradition holds that two of these trees mark the location where Kind David wrote many of his Psalms.
The underground church is dedicated to the Synaxis of the Mother of God (celebrated December 26). An account by Eusebius (265-340) says that the "Tower Ader" marked the location where the shepherds received the message. St Jerome was of the same opinion and Arculf (670) notes that he saw a church in this place. In the calendar of Jerusalem (7th - 8th century) a monastery called "Poemenium" (of the flock) was east of Bethlehem. The abbot Daniel (1106) calls this place the "Agia Pimina" (Holy Pasture) and Peter the deacon (1137) calls the church "Ad Pastores", which had a grotto and an altar, while Phocas (1177) mentions a monastery as well.
In the life of the Saints (Synaxaristes), it is mentioned that the angel who spoke to the shepherds was the Archangel Gabriel. Local Christians call the site by the name 'Kaniseter' Rawat', which means 'Place of the Shepherds' Shelter', while in Greek the site is known simply as Toemenion' meaning 'the pasture', But through the centuries the holy shrine has been known variously as the Synaxis of the Theolokos, "Glory to God in the Highest," Peace, the Holy Angels, and the Shepherds' Field. This cave was one of many churches built by Saint Helena in the year 325 A.D., when she came to the Holy Land to find the True Cross of our Lord. As a historical note, of all the churches built by Saint Helena, only this cave church is the original one ; all others have been destroyed and rebuilt through the centuries. This cave functioned first as a shelter, then as a tomb of the shepherds, and has been treated as such by Christians since the 4tn century. Therefore, directly connected with Jesus, it has been venerated as a holy place from earliest Christian times. It is mentioned, and precisely located in the itineraries of Christian pilgrims, the earliest being Aetheria, dating the second half of the 4tn century. All Christian, documents including those of the pilgrim itineraries, fix the site of the Shepherds' Field as being east of Bethlehem and at a distance of about one kilometer from the Basilica of the Nativity. On the basis of archaeological evidence, it has been proved that the church dates to the early Byzantine period, and that it is the earliest Christian structure built on this site. Therefore the evidence of the excavations are in full agreement with the early Christian written sources, and the site of Kaniset er' Rawat' is in fact the ruin of the Christian holy site of the Shepherds' Field.
By the end of the 4th century, pious traditions also associated the Shepherds' Field with the place where Jacob pastured his flock and built the Mignal Eder (i.e. Tower of the Flocks) referred to in Genesis 35:16. The remains of the base of this tower are still visible today. The following story is found in Genesis 35, verses 9-16 (in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint). God spoke to Jacob after his return from Mesopotamia, blessing him and naming him 'Israel'. He told him that the land He gave to Abraham and Isaac would also be given to him. On the spot where God spoke to him, Jacob erected a stone monument and named the place 'Bethel1. After erecting the tower, Jacob moved his tent near the Tower of Mignal Eder. When he finally reached Bethlehem, Rachel gave birth with great pain.
Archimandrite Fr. Ignatios Kazakos Superior