Monastery at the Shepherds Field (East Jerusalem, Israel)
The Monastery at the Shepherds Field (East Jerusalem, Israel)
Iη the Shepherd's Field, a site in a small valley with olive trees, some of these Olive trees date back over 2000 years in the village of Beit-Sahour, approximately one kilometer east of Bethlehem, an underground Church is dedicated to the Synaxis of the Mother of God (celebrated December 26th). On the night of Christ' s Nativity, this underground church was the cave of the shepherds, who heard the angelic proclamation "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will to men" [Lk. 2-14] The reference to the Shepherds' Field is found in the Gospel of St. [Luke 2: 18-20]:
"... and there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them; and the glory of the Lord shone round them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel of the Lord said unto them, "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddingly clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherd : said on to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.".
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