The Holy Monastery of Saint George Hozeva
The Holy Monastery Choziba is one of the oldest Monasteries in Palestine, contemporary to the great monastic centres of Saint Savvas and the Lavra of Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch in the 6th century. It is built in the desert of Judea, on the road that connects Jericho to Jerusalem. It is the monastery of the Theotokos of Choziba, built over the ruins of the Choziba Lavra. This has always thought to be a holy place, protected by the Theotokos. Joachim and Anna, Theotokos’ parents, during their sacrificial offering at the Temple of Solomon were forced to leave because they were childless. Then Anna remained secluded at her house beseeching God to grant her a child she could offer to the Temple, while Joachim retreated to the desert and fasted for 40 days and nights in the cave saying: “I will neither eat nor drink until the Lord my God visits me and so be it, that my prayer become food and drink”. During prayer, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and announced the birth of Theotokos. He was at the same cave where Prophet Elijah had found refuge at God’s command, so as to escape Jezebel’s rage, the king of Israel Ahab’s wife.
The monastery is a complex building structure comprised of three floor levels, with a main Church, chapels, the cave of Prophet Elijah, ascetic cells, monks’ cells, guesthouses, complementary areas, yards, basements, etc. The main Church, one-aisled Basilica with a Dome, is dedicated to the Birth of Theotokos, “Theotokos of Choziba”. There are mosaics decorated with the Byzantine two-headed eagle on the north part of the church floor which is dated back on the 12th century.
The monastery reached its peak at the time of the Hegoumen Saint George of Choziba, in the end of the 6th century. It had over 2000 monks then. Saint George Choziba’s tomb is placed in the old 6th century chapel. Prophet Elijah’s cave is found on the third level of the monastery. According to the tradition, Prophet Elijah hid there, being fed by a raven. Also according to the tradition, the monastery was built in an area that was Joachim and Anna’s property. On the roof and walls there are paintings of Christian symbols and hundreds of inscriptions naming homelands and names of the fathers who are buried there. Today’s building was built in 1878 over the ruins of the old Choziba Lavra. The old chapel is dedicated to the five Syrian monks who were the first founders of the monastery. Saint George’s chapel most probably stands today over the place of that first church. The monastery was severely destroyed by the Persian raid and most of the monks were either slaughtered or scattered in the surrounding area. After recurring destructions, the monastery remained active with a few monks until the 12th century when it was refurbished by the Emperor Manuel Komnenos. In the 13th century it was completely deserted until it was once more reconstructed by the Greek monk Kalinikos in 1878.