Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

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The Coptic Touch

I was recently staying at the beautiful historic Riad Ritaj in Meknes in the Medina and, while munching my way through tasty pigeon pie, noticed a young couple with an animated child at the far end of the Riad restaurant. Over the days we spent tourist time together. They were a delightful friendly couple from Montreal. My ears pricked up because my Cuban 'daughter' Ingrid had made an application to emigrate to Montreal. Synchronicity yet again. 

Elana told me she was in fact originally from the Ukraine. I had been recently flown  to Kiev airport to taste Borscht and found two charming national costume head bands to wear over my Turkish turbans. Elana was impressed when I showed her my photo wearing the white and red one with bobbles so it looked like a crown. Even stranger it turned out that in fact her parents had emigrated to Israel and that she was an Israeli citizen. 'Shalom' we said to each other and our friendship began from that moment. 

Elana had grown up in Nazareth. The name of the long forgotten city triggered my memory of 1966 when I spent two eventful months in Israel. Being a young provincial gal from Liverpool, I was ignorant of life and especially in the Promised Land and got into a lot of hot water. I spoke of the Coptic Orthodox Church there and described the bell you had to pull as the church was always locked. I mentioned the ancient Baptistry in a separate room. Yes she knew it too so I told her of my Coptic experience all those decades ago. 

For some unknown reason I wanted to visit this orthodox church. I was with my 'best' friend, Maureen Lyons, but had fallen out with her over an incident on my 21st birthday and no longer wanted her friendship. That was in 1965 but as we had booked our journey to Israel the following year and thus I was committed to go. 

That day I was wearing my lime green mini skirt. I was slim in those days and had good legs. That's all I recall so no idea what blouse I had on. We arrived in Nazareth from Tel Aviv where we were staying with friends from Liverpool who had a house which was our base. I recall pulling on the old fashioned bell. Dingaling.  A very handsome 40ish priest with a big black bushy beard appeared all in black from top to toe wearing a black cassock and a tall Coptic Orthodox black hat.  He looked intriguing. I had never met a priest from this religion before or since!  He was a very attractive Being so I asked if I could photograph him. I still recall the two black and white photos frozen in time on the screen of my mind. The originals long since gone into the Dead Sea. An educated man speaking perfect English like most priests. I had the impression few people visited this church which seemed to be permanently locked. 

He proudly showed me the ancient Baptistry in a separate room leading off the main part of the church.  Maureen had wandered off disinterested who knows where. It was a very hot day in August and so I went outside to sit on a bench in the shade of the ancient church walls. The priest watched me from afar and then came over, towering above me. 

He smiled and moved his hands up my legs up my mini - fortunately not to my poonani as they say in Jamaica! I was speechless! What can you say to such a predator? He saw my startled  reaction and moved back. 'Mint Tea?'  He suggested! I nodded silently. Maureen reappeared but I said nothing. I no longer confided in her.  The priest not only produced mint tea in Turkish glasses for us on a silvery platter but also a bowl of homemade almond sweetmeats, rose petals in syrup and rose flavoured Lokum mixed with pistachios on another decorative dish. Yoffi! That was worth the trip to Nazareth in itself.  

The incident was forgotten until we got to hot hot Eilat.  Never had I been in such heat or since. It was 120 Fahrenheit with no shade when we got off the bus having crossed the desert. There was a dry heat and I could not breathe or even walk. I was gasping for breath and was almost paralysed. Nothing to do there but sit in the cool waters of the Red Sea and gaze across to Aquaba, Jordan. No culture apart from the famous Beersheba camel market on the journey down. A couple of days later I was speaking about our travels to an American Israeli on the beach. When I mentioned the Coptic church at Nazareth she said that a female tourist had been raped in the Baptistry a few days earlier! 

There by the grace of God go I. 

Written on the plane from Athens to London 18/12/15.