The Cave of the Ten Lepers
Secrets in the Cave of the Ten Lepers
This is a rare treat for our live Octagon Tour travelers, since most Holy Land tourists never get the chance to see this historic site.
Location - Borqen Road, Saint George Church, Burqin
Map Coordinates - 32.457435, 35.259951
Merged Gospels story - 199
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, we learn that Jesus once traveled through an area called Samaria. This church is in the village of Burqin, at a place called the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, and it’s one of the oldest churches in the world. Today Burqin is a Muslim town, and there are only about 20 Greek Orthodox families living here, who worship at this church once a month. Very few tourists ever come here, which makes this holy place a hidden gem in the land of Israel. It is here where Jesus healed ten leprous men.
The History of the Church.
There is a tradition that says that three centuries after this miracle occurred, Empress Helena, the mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine, created this church as she traveled either to or from Jerusalem.
Today it’s called the Church of Saint George. Perhaps it was Helena herself who dedicated it to this saint, but very few people actually know who Saint George was.
In a nutshell, before Christianity was legalized within the Roman empire, George was an elite soldier who was commissioned as a bodyguard for the pagan and merciless Roman Emperor Diocletian. However, during his service as a soldier George became a Christian, and for the crime of believing in Jesus George was beheaded.
The memory of Saint George was probably fresh on the mind of Helena when she passed through here, since he was martyred about twenty-two years earlier.
The death of Saint George.
What is leprosy?
2000 years ago ten men lived here. All of them had a skin disease called leprosy, and they lived in something called a cistern, which was an underground tank that was used to gather rainwater for human consumption. This particular cistern had already broken up, and was no longer used for its original purpose, so these ten men decided that it would make a suitable shelter in which they could live.
Leprosy is a dreadful skin disease, where people often lose their hands and their feet. Also, their faces are usually disfigured, and during the time of Jesus there was no cure for leprosy. Back then, lepers were considered very contagious, and they had to be separated from their families and friends.
Jesus was known by these men to be a great healer, so when these lepers heard that He was passing through their town they all begged Him to heal them of their illness, and that’s exactly what Jesus did. He cleansed all ten of them.
Like most Orthodox churches, this one is loosely patterned after the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. You see, the Jewish Temple had a special room called the Holy of Holies, where only the high priests could enter. That’s what this church has as well. This special room that only priests are allowed to enter, is called the sanctuary.
The center of this church is called the nave, and it represents the earth and all living believers. The sanctuary behind this wall represents heaven, and like the sanctuary in the Temple, only the priests can enter.
This is the nave of the Church. The sanctuary is behind the iconostasis, and the stone bishop’s throne is on the right with the carpet leading up to it.
Just as heaven and earth are separated from each other, so the nave and the sanctuary are separated by a wall called an iconostasis. On it you can see icons, which are beautiful renditions of departed saints. According to Orthodox doctrine, because these saints are now in heaven they are available to intercede between both the Christians who are on earth, and the Lord Who is in Heaven.
Here I am with my friend Dr. Bob Ross filming the discovery of the 400-year-old remains of four Orthodox priests who were buried under the floor of this cistern.
The Bishop’s Throne
There is a throne in the nave that is cut from one solid piece of stone. This is called the bishop’s seat. This particular throne dates back to the fourth century, and it is one of only two stone thrones in the world, the other one being in a church in the country of Syria.
This chapel in the back of the church is what remains of the water cistern that was built by the Romans. In the roof you can see a little hole where rainwater poured down and would have been stored in this tank. The reason that there are little holes at the top of cisterns is to minimize the amount of sunlight that enters the cistern. You see, sunlight accelerates the growth of algae and bacteria that pollutes drinkable water.
Like I said, this cistern was already ruined by the time that Jesus traveled here in around 30 AD. The side of the chapel that you enter is the part of the cistern that was broken away, creating a little cave where the lepers were said to have lived. Today, in the center of the cistern is a baptismal basin, and this chapel even has its own little sanctuary behind a wall.
Luke 17:15 makes a point of telling us that after all ten of these men were healed of their leprosy only one of them was grateful for being cleansed. He came back and praised God loudly, falling on his face, and thanking Jesus for his healing.
Who was this grateful man? Well, one thing that we do know is that he was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a group of people that were despised by the Jews as being unclean, unholy, and not pure-blooded Hebrews.
Not only was this man from a hated race of people, but being a leper, he was also an outcast from the society in which he lived. In other words, he was the lowest of the low, and yet he was the only grateful man in the entire group - the only one in whom Jesus saw true faith. The other nine men – they received an outward cure, but this one man truly pleased the heart of God.
What does this story mean?
Could it be that all of this is symbolic of the Church today? In Matthew 9:6 Jesus clearly implies that being healed by Him is the sign that someone’s sins have been forgiven.
Think about this. If someone’s sins are forgiven, they have been healed from the eternal consequence of their sins. But it seems like only a small fraction (say, one-tenth) of all the people who call themselves Christians ever maintain their relationship to Jesus, or give praise to God for the grace that He applied to their lives.
It seems to me that this story is a metaphor for what has become a spiritual reality in the church today. Only one out of ten comes back to give thanks and praise to God.
For about 1800 hundred years, this church has been silently asking the same question to its visitors – are you one of the nine, are you the one?