From August 12 to the 15th, with the blessing of the head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the ROCOR, Archimandrite Roman (Krassovsky), a summer family camp was held at the Russian Orthodox School for Girls in Bethany. The camp was attended by families with children from various places in Israel – from Herzliya, Ariel, Ashkelon, Maale Adumim and Jerusalem. This was the first experience of organizing such a camp here in Israel. And, probably, right now, in conditions when most families were disunited due to the closure of parishes, when there is no opportunity to gather or go somewhere with children, we were especially moved by the hospitality, patience and care of the sisters of the monastic Bethany Community of the Resurrection, headed by Abbess Elisabeth (Smelic) and the headmistress, nun Maria (Wall).
The camp program was very busy. I especially remembered the second day, when, after a short story about the history of the Monastery of John of Hoseva, we went on a hike along the bed of the dried stream Qelt. It was a very special experience, because everyone, both adults and children, could feel for themselves how a hermit who went to live in the Judean Desert would feel. It was hot, difficult, sometimes even scary, but everyone was rewarded with the opportunity to experience the amazing silence and peace that can only be experienced in the desert, overcoming the difficulties of a difficult hike!
After the hike, everyone went to the Jordan River. Bathing in the waters of the Jordan on this hot day was simply salvation for everyone!
The day ended with a visit to the monastery of St. Gerasim of Jordan, where the children learned a lot about the ancient art of mosaics.
A logical continuation of the second day was the next day, which began with an excursion to the “Hotel of the Good Samaritan” mosaic museum, where the famous expert on Byzantine mosaics, Svetlana Trakhanova, told children and adults a lot of interesting things about the peculiarities of the mosaic of the Samaritans, Jews and Christians of the Holy Land. And, of course, the final chord was a mosaic master class in a restoration studio at the Russian school in Bethany, led by the famous artist, restorer and mosaicist Nun Magdalena (Proferansova). Afterwards everyone become “experts” in the field of this amazing art. Mother Magdalene prepared materials for all, and everyone: young children, teenagers, and parents were able to try to create their first mosaic. It turns out that working with a real stone is not so easy. It takes a lot of patience! However, in the end, no one wanted to leave the workshop, and many felt a special pleasure from this work and a great desire to study further.
Of course, in our camp children could participate in divine services – in the evening on the eve of the Feast of the Procession of the Holy Cross – the «First feast» of the Savior, Vespers and Matins were served in the cave church of St. Nicholas with the rite of Carrying Out the Cross, and in the morning the Divine Liturgy. The girls sang in the kliros, and the boys helped priest Roman Gultyaev in the altar.
It is very important that under the conditions of the camp, children and adults had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the rhythm of Christian life with obligatory morning and evening prayers, a common meal, mutual assistance, and responsibilities.
Everyone, without exception, was involved by the game of “The Secret Angel”, in which each received by lot, the name one he/she was supposed to look after. It was amazing and touching to feel the care of another for you, to watch how the children showed tenderness and care.
In the camp, the older children independently prepared for the literature lesson, which was conducted by the writer and linguist Natalia Krakhmalnikova. They set to music and sang Stevenson’s ballad “Heather Honey.” It’s great that the girls also attracted younger brothers to participate in the “project”!
The last day was perhaps the most fun and noisy. First the sisters told us about the art of bell ringing, and then everyone could try to ring the bells!