Greek Orthodox Diocese Admission: Free
Location: Near Mary’s Well, 650m NE of the Church of St. Joseph, Nazareth, Israel
Open Hours: Monday to Saturday 8:00am – 5:00pm; Sunday 12:00am – 2:00pm
Tel. Number: 04-6574566
Note: Please dress modestly and speak softly. This location applies to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation which is near the Diocese.
The Greek Orthodox Diocese is the residency of the Greek-Orthodox Bishop of Nazareth. It was established in the Old City in the year 1860, and a church was built there three years later.
During the Crusades, the original diocese was located at Scythopolis, also called ‘Bethsan’ by the Crusaders. After the First Crusade the Greek Orthodox diocese was moved to Nazareth. The diocese is surrounded by walls, and the building itself is shaped like a U. Remnants of caves dating from the Roman times were found under the building. The Greek Orthodox court of law, as well as the Bishop’s Square can also be found within the Diocese.
Brief Description of the Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the world’s second largest Christian denomination with numbers estimated to be upwards of 300 million. It is commonly called the Eastern Orthodox Church is English-speaking countries. The Greek Orthodox Church is the body of several churches within the larger Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church believes that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ and the Apostles 2,000 years ago. The Orthodox bishops, who lead the various self-governing ecclesiastic bodies of the Church, trace their lineage by rite of Apostolic Succession. Their rites and liturgy are traditionally conducted in Koine Greek, which is the original language of the New Testament.
The Biblical texts used by the Orthodox Church includes the Greek Septuagint, the New Testament, and the seven Deuterocanonical books that are mostly rejected by other denominations.
The term ‘Orthodox’ comes from two Greek terms: orthos, meaning correct; and doxa meaning belief. Orthodox therefore means ‘correctly believing’. It was adopted by the Church to distinguish itself from other non-orthodox Christian denominations.
The veneration of icons depicting various events in the Bible are often prominent in Orthodox belief, though this veneration is by no means idolatry according to their belief. The Orthodox Church does not have three-dimensional statues of those that they revere, as the Roman Catholics do. This is because it can be compared to the pagan idol worship of Ancient Rome . Instead of statues, they decorate their churches with murals and icons depicting Christ, the Holy Family, and the Saints.
The main goal of an Orthodox Christian after baptism is known as ‘theosis’ which is the spiritual pilgrimage that each person undertakes to become closer to God. A deeper understanding of theosis would be for a person to strive for deification, to become more ‘Christ Like’ and find wholeness within Jesus Christ.
Sites to See Near the Greek Orthodox Diocese
The Greek Orthodox Annunciation Church
‘And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water. And, behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women! …And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all, and thou shalt conceive, according to His word.’ – The Protoevangelium of James; verse 11.
The Greek Orthodox Annunciation Church, also known as St. Gabriel’s Church, was built according to Greek and Orthodox tradition on the well where the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive through the Holy Spirit and be the mother of Jesus Christ. It is also known as Mary’s Well Church.
Brief History of the Church
The church was built over a well, known as ‘Mary’s Well’, where according to tradition the Archangel Gabriel announced Mary’s conception of Christ. The small church is fortress-like in construction, having been established in the 12th century by Crusaders. During the early 13th century, it was destroyed by Sultan Baibers along with other churches in Nazareth. Between 1628-1634, the spring where the old crusader church once stood came into the possession of the Franciscans. They built an arched roof over it, and was in possession of the place until 1749. When the Greek-Orthodox received a charter from Daher El-Omar allowing them the rights to rebuild and gain possession of the church, the Franciscans moved out, and in 1750 the ‘Church of the Annunciation’ was built.
The Structure of the Church
The church is divided into two structures. The central structure dates from the 18th century, which was the re-built area of the church under the Greek-Orthodoxy. The older sections of the church dates from 12th century, and are the remains of the ancient Crusader structure which was taken over by the Ottomans. Evidence of this can be found in the passageway, which is lined with Ottoman tiles.
The upper area of the church shows its Orthodox origins by the fine woodwork, delicate carvings, and painted icons. The altar is hidden by a large and ornate partition, called an iconostasis. It was given as a gift to the church by a rich Greek merchant in 1767. This partition is decorated with trademark Greek icons, depicting various scenes such as the Annunciation, several icons of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, among others.
There are also statues surrounding the altar. According to tradition, it was given by the various pilgrims who have come visit the church over the ages. Some of the statues’ origins remain unknown, while the latest ones were given to the church by the early 19th to late 20th centuries.
Structure of the Church
At the lower level of the church there can be heard a gentle flow of water from a spring. This spring is the one believed by the Orthodox Church to be the site of the Annunciation. The waters that flow from this spring comes directly from Mary’s Well, located in the center of downtown Nazareth.
Although only Orthodox Christians credit St. Gabriel’s Church as the site of the Annunciation, many non-Orthodox Christians also visit the place mainly for the tranquil feeling that Mary’s Spring was said to give off. The presence of beautiful icons as well as the rich history of the small but moving place also adds to its appeal.