12:42 AM

Three times in the history of our salvation the Third Hypostasis of God – the Holy Spirit – visibly, audibly, and palpably manifested Itself “Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,” for the old testament world knew always the Holy Spirit “Who spoke by the prophets”: He was “in every pure soul, without Him no truly good work was ever completed” (Bishop Innocent of Kherson). The Holy Spirit invisibly dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple, but He departed when the Lord “gave up the spirit” on the Cross; as the mark of departure and the harbinger of the destruction of Jerusalem served the great sign: “…the veil of the temple [separating the Holy of Holies – YM] was rent in two, from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 16:37-38). It is essential that the description of this event we find not only in the Gospels, but also in the judean records, where a fairly exact date of what happenned is also given as the forty years before the destruction of the temple, i.e. in the 30th year after the Nativity of Christ, in the year of crucifixion.

The fullness of the Trinity was given to us in Theophany (Baptism of the Lord) at the Jordan; later on the Holy Spirit illumined the apostles with the uncreated light of Tabor in the miracle of Transfiguration; and, finally, “bestowing the tongues of fire, He called all into unity” in the Upper Room on Sion on the day of Pentecost.

Yet the very ability of men to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit possesses as its source the meeting of the Life-creating Trinity in the image of Three Travelers by forefather Abraham, the friend of God.

“And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant” (Genesis 18:1-3).

As it follows from the Scriptures, the Friend of God addressed the Three Men in singular person.

The Mamre oak grove was situated on the slopes of the hollow to the west of Hebron of those days. The Oak of Mamre (in other words Abraham’s), under the shade of which the forefather received the Mystical Guests, survived miraculously to our days, having given life to multiple shoots.

“Old, very old is this Patriarch of the vanished forests of Palestine, – is said in the travelling notes of the famous Russian explorer and ethnographer A.V. Eliseev (With the Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land in the spring of 1884, St. Petersburg, 1885). – Many parts of it have dried, but it still lives, and though not every year, but does bear fruit… The venerable oak, according to my most thorough calculations, is in no way less than 4 to 5 thousand years old, judging by the number of the lairs of its triple and quadruple branches, the cuts of which I was able to observe.”

Christian writers of the XVII century mention the Oak of Abraham in their “travels,” it is notable that the location pointed out by them then matches exactly the current location of the tree.

The famous igumen Daniel, who visited the Holy Land during the time of the Jerusalem’s king Baldwin I, tells: “And from Bethlehem, facing south is Hebron, the cave of Abraham and the oak of Mamre. …The oak is close to the way, there walking on the right hand side; and it stands beautiful on the high mountain. …And here stood the tent of Abraham near the oak, facing east. And the oak is not very tall, spread out and is thick with branches, and there is much fruit on it.”

The piece of land, upon which the Oak of Mamre grew, was – together with the other most important parcels on the Holy Land – purchased for the Russian ownership by the ever-memorable archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin) – the director of the Russian Spiritual Mission.

The parcel “Khirbet-en-zibta,” pointed out by tradition as the biblical grove of Mamre, used to belong to the family of some Ibrahim Shalludi. The history of the purchase of the Oak deserves a more thorough look at it.

Only the subjects of the Ottoman empire were allowed to buy land openly in these regions. It was here that sometime famous mission translator Iakov Yegorovitch Khalebi played his role.

Iakov Yegorovitch adorned my live, – Fr. Antonin Kapustin, not inclined to emotional exclamations, spoke of him.

“In the winter of 1868, he [Khalebi – YM] appeared in Hebron under the guise of a merchant from Aleppo. Iakov Yegorovitch, carefully playing his role, as though buying merchandise, mingling in the midst of Hebron merchants, spent a long time there. Finally, after long and fatigueing negotiations, combinations, precautions, countless bribes, Shalludi sold the parcel with the Oak to Iakov Yegorovitch, a lawful ownership deed being drawn up for the transaction.

I had to hear about his meeting with Fr. Antonin in Jerusalem form eyewitnesses. Fr. archimandrite waited for Khalebi, who arrived, at the entrance into a hall, on the stairway, in the Mission building. As soon as Iakov Yegorovitch, still from below, saw the figure of Fr. Antonin, he joyously ran up the stairs, waving the deed and shouting: ‘the Oak is Russian, the Oak is Russian!’ Fr. Antonin joyously opened his embrace to him and kissed him.” (Archimandrite Cyprian Kern. Fr. Antonin Kapustin. Belgrade, 1934).

On 22 May, 1871, at the Oak of Mamre first Liturgy was served, and to this day, on the third day of the feast of Pentecost, the clergy of the Mission serves Liturgy upon a movable altar table under the tree, from which all of our trinity birches take our beginning.

The buiding of the large church with three altars dedicated to the holy Forefathers was started only in 1907, while archimandrite Leonid (Sentsov) was the director of the Mission. The work was completed only in 1925.

“It is easy to reestablish how the travellers journeyed, – says a guide “Holy Land” (Paris, 1960). – Most likely, they descended into the Hebron Valley from the Northwest, and Abraham, who sat in the shadow of his tent in the midday heat, saw them on the slope of the mountain, where there now stand Russian cathedral and a house for pilgrims.”