A Greek Orthodox priest who was shot dead in a West Bank ambush was laid to rest on June 14 at the remote and ancient desert monastery where he had meditated alone for the past 11 years.

Father Germanos's death has shocked the Holy Land's Greek Orthodox community, troubled by the violent, eight-month conflict here.

Thirty-five-year-old Germanos was shot dead on June 12 as he was driving from Jerusalem to his monastery at Wadi Qelt near the West Bank town of Jericho. His car had Israeli plates, which suggests that his attackers were Palestinian gunmen who had mistaken Germanos for a Jew.

One of the mourners at his funeral, Father Christopher, said he had wept an entire night for his fellow priest and was now scared to travel on West Bank roads. He pointed to his full beard, a distinctive sign not only of Greek Orthodox monks but also of religious Jews and Muslims.

"We monks look like religious Jews to the Arabs and like [members of the militant Islamic group] Hamas to the Jews. It's a big problem," he said.

At the funeral, Christopher was one of a line of black-robed monks and nuns escorting Germanos's body down a winding trail to the monastery. A single church bell tolled in the stark, sun-baked landscape.

Germanos, originally Georgios Tsibouktsakis, came to the Holy Land in 1990 from Thessanloniki, Greece.

Metropolitan Christodolos, in charge of the funeral, said that this was the second time a priest of the Greek Orthodox faith had been murdered here. The first was the superior at the Jacob's Well Monastery in Nablus who was murdered 30 years ago.

But the metropolitan stressed that members of his denomination would not stop their ministry because of the violence, and would continue as the guardians of holy places.

"A monk looks for a lonely place where it will be between him and God, and suddenly a tragedy happens," he said. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict caught him the middle. There are always innocents who find themselves between warring sides.

"We are not afraid because we have come to guard the holy places and to pray for peace. We pray that the two peoples will live together in peace and harmony."

He added that the Greek Orthodox Church was not placing suspicion on anyone, and would await the outcome of an investigation by the Israeli authorities.

The Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem has sent church members to guard the site until a replacement can be found for Germanos, who was the acting superior and the sole monk at the monastery.

The Byzantine Monastery of St. George and St. John clings dramatically to a rock face high above the Wadi Qelt valley. It was built in the fifth century around a cave where tradition has it that the biblical prophet Elijah lived for several years, kept alive by spring water and a bird that brought pieces of meat and bread.

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The monastery houses several relics, including one said to be a piece St John the Baptist's skull.

Greek Orthodox Christians make up the biggest Christian community in the Holy Land. Nissim Dana, acting director of the Religious Affairs Ministry department of Christian communities, estimates their numbers at between 45,000 and 50,000.

Related Elsewhere

Germanos would have forgiven the men who shot him, a monk friend of Germanos tells Reuters. The story includes photos of the funeral.

The Jerusalem Post News focused on the Greek Orthodox community—caught in the middle of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The monk faced formidable difficulties in keeping alive the 1,500-year-old traditions, according to the Daily Telegraph. The paper also has an extensive timeline and factfile on the Middle East conflict.

According to Ha'aretz, Tsibukakis was well known to residents of the district and often aided police.

For more articles on the Mideast peace process, see Yahoo's full coverage area.

Previous Christianity Today articles on the peace process includes:

Pilgrimages Drop and Workers Lose Jobs as Middle East Violence Continues | Silence fills places normally crowded with pilgrims, reports British group. (Apr. 11, 2001)

Holy Land Roadblocks | Christian pilgrims learn about Palestinians' everyday indignities. (Apr. 9, 2001)

Christian Zionists Rally for Jewish State | More than 600 Christians from around the world flock to Jerusalem to show solidarity with Israel as peace process collapses. (Apr. 9, 2001)

Between a Rock and a Holy Site | Muslims have stepped up their efforts to take control of places revered by Jews and Christians. (Feb. 13, 2001)

The Peace Regress | What's behind the current outbreak of hostilities in the Holy Land? (Jan. 11, 2001)

Conflict in the Holy Land | A timeline of trials for the most contested piece of real estate in the world.

Christmas in Palestine: Hunger and War | Starvation threatens Palestinian villages if U.N. aid continues to be delayed, Vatican official warns. (Dec. 13, 2000)

Between the Temple Mount and a Hard Place | Palestinian Christians want both peace in their villages and justice for their Muslim brothers. (Dec. 5, 2000)

Messianic Ethiopians Face Discrimination | Sisters appealing decision to revoke Israeli citizenship. (Dec. 4, 2000)

Christmas Plans for Bethlehem Scrapped | Escalating violence cancels millennial celebration in town of Christ's birth. (Dec. 1, 2000)

Lutheran Bishop's Appeal from Jerusalem | Religious leader's letter requests prayer for Christians, Jews, and Palestinians in troubled region. (Nov. 10, 2000)

Latin Patriarch tells Israel to Surrender Lands to Palestinians | Catholic leader says Israel will never have peace unless it "converts all of its neighbors to friends." (Nov. 1, 2000)

Fighting Engulfs a Christian Hospital in Jerusalem | Lutherans call conflict on their hospital grounds "an affront" to humanitarian purposes. (Oct. 16, 2000)

Preparing for Pilgrims | Religious rivalry complicates millennial planning. (June 14, 1999)

How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend | The amazing story of Christian efforts to create and sustain the modern nation of Israel. (October 5, 1998)
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