Today continuing this story from RIA about the Russian Consulate holding Russia Day celebrations in Jerusalem this year for joint festivities with their Israeli diplomatic colleagues. A fact which has upset some, including those sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the dispute.
Where we left off: We touched on the fascinating history of the Sergiev Courtyard, a symbol of the continuity of Russian diplomacy (from Tsarist through Soviet through modern times) in what used to be called the “Near East”, now known more often as the Middle East. As a component of that diplomacy, the Russian Orthodox Church attempted to strengthen its presence in the Holy Land; sometimes competing with Catholics and Protestants for the Christian vote. The Courtyard is a key symbol of Russian Orthodoxy and Russian influence in general, in the Holy Land. It is named after Saint Sergius, the patron saint of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, who founded ИППО.
In 1886 Colonel M.P. Stepanov, who served as the Secretary of ИППО, purchased 4252 square meters of land in Jerusalem, and the foundation was soon laid. The architect was a certain George Frangia, apparently a native of Jerusalem. By the way, in googling Frangia’s name I found this English-language piece which gives even more historical background. This piece was written about a year ago, after the Courtyard had been fully restored and re-opened to the public. The building had been ceremonially returned to the Russian government in December of 2008, by the Israeli government. Which, apparently, charitably controlled and benevolently used it during all those decades of the Soviet era; apparently worried that the Soviets would sell it off, having so little respect for religion as they did. Fortunately, relations between Russia and Israel have improved greatly under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin. [To the dismay of the Jew-hating faction of the Russophile community, I might add, impertinently.]
Putin first visited Israel in 2005, concluding several state-level agreements and also laying the foundations of better friendship between two peoples who had been somewhat cold to each other in the past. According to the piece I linked, “The Russian government allocated $10 million for the restoration of the podvoriye [Courtyard], which began in 2011 after the last tenants from a number of Israeli government agencies vacated the building.”
Recapping that chronology: In 2005 a deal was reached to return the Courtyard to Russia. In 2008 the Courtyard was returned to Russia. In 2011 the last remaining Israelis left the building. The inevitable conclusion: It took 3 damned years to evict those freeloading squatters!
For a more complete chronology, I return to the Russian wiki page:
As mentioned, the foundation was laid in 1886, and the Courtyard took 3 years to build. The triumphal ribbon-cutting, in October of 1889 was conducted by Russian Orthodox Archimandrite (in Jerusalem) Antonin Kapustin. (Which is kind of a funny name, in Russian, because “kapusta” means cabbage.) Kapustin had previously served as a high-level monk in Athens, Greece and in Constantinople, which, along with Jerusalem, form the main centers of Eastern Orthodoxy. Quoting generously from his wiki, Archimandrite Kapustin was a very talented guy who became politically and diplomatically influential:
In 1860, Fr. Antonin served as the priest of the Russian embassy church in Constantinople where he was introduced into a new circle of acquaintances with influential Russians and Greeks in the Near East.
In 1865, Fr. Antonin joined, as chief, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, a mission that had been officially established and recognized by the Ottoman Sultan in 1857. During Fr. Antonin’s administration of the mission, he worked intently to strengthen the mission and its responsibilities to help Russian pilgrims to Jerusalem. In accomplishing the task, he began a vigorous activity of land acquisitions in Palestine and established hospices. These acquisitions were also inspired as a means of resisting the activities by Protestants and Roman Catholics who were active acquiring land and buildings in Palestine.
In possibly his greatest acquisition, Kapustin purchased the actual Oak of Mamre, this is the location where the Old Testament Patriarch Abraham entertained three angels while on his way to Gomorrah’s Twin City. Abraham served the angels food and wine, and they entered into a lively ethical debate, how many innocent people it was okay to kill in the course of punishing baddies.
According to the Oak’s wiki page, it was prophesied that the Oak would go on living, and living and living for centuries; only to die just before the appearance of the Anti-Christ. Then the Oak keeled over and died in 1996.
Make of that what you will. But I am getting very far afield, and it is necessary to return to the Sergiev Courtyard chronology.
So, now we have the Courtyard built, and it contained everything a Courtyard should have, like a big library, nice hotel rooms, even a Russian sauna bath and a laundry – set up for the convenience of the pilgrims to Jerusalem! Many Russian pilgrims flocked in and stayed at the Courtyard, everybody was comfortable and happy, until…
But now we get to 1917, which began the era of the British mandate in Palestine. English General Edmund Allenby, First Viscount Allenby, moved his troops into Jerusalem, along with his fuzzy-caterpillar moustache. And soon, before you know it, the British were everywhere like locusts, and even slyly taking over the Russian buildings…
[to be continued]