Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 17.03.2006:
Al-Khadr is a most popular saint in Palestine, venerated by Moslems, Christians and Jews, though not always under this name. Sometimes Al-Khadr is identified with Mar Elias (Saint Eliyah) and sometimes with Mar Jiryis (Saint George). In the Near East, he is usually known as El Khidr, but in some parts he is identified with St. Theodore and in Kurdistan with St. Sergius. “Just as Syrian Moslems make pilgrimages to churches of St. George, so do Kizzilbash Kurds of the Dersim to Armenian churches of St. Sergius.” In Persia, stranger still, he becomes a water spirit and has a spring festival of his own; in parts of Syria he is the “Old Man of the Sea.” In all these lands his feasts are usually in the spring or at the sowing time and he is regarded as a rainbringer. In Palestine the rolling of thunder is said to be the galloping of his horse in the sky. But he rides on earth too, on a white horse and helps lost travellers, appearing to them by night and moving in front of them to lead them into the right direction.
One legend tells that the architect of Justinian was aided in the building of St. Sophia in Constantinople by Al-Khadr, and another that when the dome of St. Sophia fell down in the year of the Prophet’s Birth, it could not be rebuilt until Elias (El Khidr) had appeared to the Greeks and prescribed the use of mortar compounded of sand from Mecca, water from the well Zemzem and saliva of the Prophet. After this the reader will be almost prepared to learn that in Jerusalem folklore, it was Al-Khadr who assisted Queen Helena to find the True Cross.
A Tale of Al-Khadr
The Feast of Mar Elias (Al-Khadr) came and the young men stood together making their vows. One said: “I will give a goat,” another “I will give a sheep.” Then Jiryis, the son of a widow, desired to offer something. They had but one cow. “Then,” he said, “I will sacrifice a cow,” and he went and killed the cow.
At evening time his mother called him and said, “Where is the cow?” He said, “I gave it to Al-Khadr.” His mother said, “You have cut our lives (i.e., you have killed us). Let me not see your face again.” That night the young man had a vision. A white-haired man appeared to him and said, “Fear not, I am Al-Khadr; thou shalt go to Constantinople and to the king’s palace. Only each day thou shalt call a blessing upon me” (kulle yom bitesalili).
So the young man went far away to Constantinople and he went to the king’s palace. But he was dressed as a fellah and they sent him away from the door of the palace. Again the vision appeared, saying as before, “Fear not; I am with you. Only do not forget to ask a blessing on me every day,” and this he continued to do. After many nights Al-Khadr came and showed him where seven storehouses of gold were hidden. Then the young man went again to the palace, offering to reveal his knowledge, and this time he was allowed to enter in and was made welcome there and he gave all the gold to Queen Helena. Then the saying came true,
“He who gives gold
May marry the Sultan’s daughter,”
for Jiryis was dressed as a prince and married to the king’s daughter.
That night, his wedding night, he forgot to ask a blessing on Al-Khadr. In the morning he woke to find fimself back in Jerusalem, standing at the Bab Al-Khalil, dressed as a fellah and only the ring on his finger to remind him of his bride, the king’s daughter! Months passed and he lived miserably in Jerusalem, ever imploring forgiveness of Al-Khadr.
After a while Queen Helena decided to travel and build churches. At every place where she stopped on her journey she built a pillar and a sign was placed on the pillar – some say a light, some say a bell – so that news could be sent back to Constantinople. At last the queen arrived in Jerusalem and with her came the king’s daughter and her baby. Now the baby was not content, but cried all the time for his father, day and night, and there was his father, a poor fellah out of work, hanging around the Bab Al-Khalil!
One day those who stood near the young man said to him, “Why do you not go and work for the queen who is trying to find the Cross? She needs many workmen to dig for her.” So he went and was accepted and worked with the workmen, and that same night Al-Khadr appeared to him and showed him where the True Cross lay. Next morning he first revealed the secret to the queen and then showed the ring to the king’s daughter, and as soon as ever he came near her, the baby, his son, stopped crying!
After the Cross was found, Queen Helena sent the news to Constantinople by means of her pillars.
So by the wisdom of Al-Khadr the True Cross was found and through the gold of Al-Khadr all the churches of Queen Helena were built.
Source: From Cedar to Hyssop: A Study in Plant Folk Lore.