The Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky

Monday 30th June 2014

On our way back to Ecce Homo we passed along the Via Dolorosa near the Holy Sepulchre. The door to the Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky was open. We had been told that it was an interesting site dating back to the first century Jerusalem so we paid the 5 shekel entrance fee and went in to explore.

The Church is Russian Orthodox. After they acquired the property to cater for Russian pilgrims in the 19th century they did archaeological excavations and found some ancient buildings preserved under the rubble. It is claimed that this is the site of the 1st century city wall of Jerusalem, that it is by these ancient walls that Jesus would have passed on his way to Calvary/Golgotha – the scriptures are clear that he was crucified “outside” the city, though the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is within the boundaries of the modern walled city – and that outside the Gate of Judgement which was in the wall in this vicinity and through which Jesus would have passed, his sentence would have been read out before it was carried out.

One of the items on display in the excavations under the Russian complex is a Roman archway. It has been dated as belonging to the 2nd century, not the first – so it is not the Gate of Judgement under which Jesus would have passed – but is part of the Emperor Hadrian’s wall that was built over the site of the Holy Sepulchre.

Arch in the archaeological excavations under St Alexander Nevsky Church

Arch in the archaeological excavations under St Alexander Nevsky Church

Another interesting feature is what is called “The Eye of the Needle”. The name comes from the account of the rich man in the Gospel. Here is the version according to Matthew, Chapter 19:16-30.

The Rich Young Man
16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

It is certainly a very dramatic story! Attaining heaven is impossible for a rich person!! What then of us who belong among the rich nations of the earth?!?

I have always heard the interpretation that “the eye of a needle” referred to a small gate beside the main city gate which was just large enough so that a person could enter, but it was much too small for a camel to get through. Another interpretation is that Jesus was using hyperbole. Our lecturer proposed that Jesus’ words are literally true.

Whatever the proper biblical interpretation, St Alexander Nevsky Church clearly favoured the “small gate” theory. In the excavations there is an ancient wall with a hole in it. The edges of the hole have been worn smooth by centuries of people putting their hands on the stonework. The hole in the wall is referred to as “the Eye of the Needle”.

The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

Here is a man trying to get through. I don’t think he is rich, so I hope he is able to make it through!
The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

He’s made it into the hole, but is he stuck there? Is he encumbered with possessions? Is he encumbered by height and girth?
The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

The Eye of the Needle in St Alexander Nevsky Church

No, he’s made it through! Although a poor man, he is rich in blessings!!! And blessings enable passing through the eye of the needle, they don’t encumber or hinder!!

For more information on St Alexander Nevsky Church see:

Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!


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