The Deacon's Bench

Now for something completely different: with a new internet web site,someone will offer prayers for you, in the Holy Land, via computer.

Dressed in his embroidered robes, the Rev. Andreas Elime steps from the altar of St. Gabriel’s Church and into the view of the Web cams on the church’s marble pillars. His voice fills the empty 250-year-old sanctuary with a Greek Orthodox hymn, while a computer on a nearby pew transmits personal blessings to three Americans thousands of miles away.

Christian pilgrims have long traveled to the boyhood town of Jesus to seek blessings. Now the Internet can save them the trip.

A service recently launched by Modefine Ltd., a Cyprus company, enables worshippers to log on to and watch as a priest utters a prayer for them.

“This takes things to a new level,” said James Martin, a Jesuit priest and associate editor of the Roman Catholic magazine America, who has watched religious trends develop on the Internet. Martin said in a telephone interview that the technology also gives believers a new way to carry out an old practice: asking others to pray for them in sacred places.

“Going to Israel is quite expensive,” said Martin. “So for people who can’t afford it but can afford their monthly (Internet) bill, this is one way to do it.”

Since opening May 1, the site has fielded hundreds of requests, some 70 percent from Americans but also from Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Australia, said Said Salem, Modefine’s Holy Land representative.

“We have something special here,” he said. “Mary lived here. Jesus grew up here. This is a holy town. This is the basis of Christianity.”

St. Gabriel’s Church stands over the spring where Greek Orthodox tradition says the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Catholic tradition holds that this event took place about a mile away, under the modern Basilica of the Annunciation.

Martin’s only concern was the fee: $10 per prayer. Salem said it covers system costs, not the prayer, which is free.

“If you come from Jerusalem to get the priest to pray for you, you don’t expect the priest to pay for the taxi,” Salem said. “We are the taxi.” He said he hoped the service would eventually raise funds for the Nazareth Christian community.

After the opening hymn, Elime prays for mercy, health, peace, forgiveness and salvation. He does services in English, Greek, Arabic and Russian, he said, depending on the request. He reads the first names on that day’s list, lighting a candle for each. A benediction closes the service, which lasts about four minutes.

Sitting in the stone-walled courtyard of his nearby monastery after the service, Elime said four priests do two services a day, seven days a week, praying for five to 10 people daily.

“There are some people who can’t come to the church to take Communion, so we go to them,” he said, citing the sick and elderly. Praying for people through the Internet serves the same purpose, he said.

Curious? Check out the service at this web link.

Remember to pray for deacons and priests!

Photo: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

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