Saturday, August 18, 2018

Somehow dates are out of order. Should be numerical order!

#7 - Israel 2018 (Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, Christ's Tomb)

We began our day with breakfast, followed by Morning Prayer in the Chapel of St. George’s. Our scripture reading today was from the Crucifixion of Jesus, as we prepare to visit the Holy Sepulcher (Church of the Resurrection); the place where Jesus was both crucified and laid in a tomb. Iyad gave us about an hour lecture about the Holy Sepulcher before we began our walk from St. George’s to the Old City. 

Iyad provided maps and explanations about why the Holy Sepulcher is the more likely place of both, as opposed to the Garden Tomb located a few blocks away. The location of the 1st century walls would place the Holy Sepulcher outside the walls (just as scripture states), but is the excuse some use for the Garden Tomb location outside the modern day walls. He also identified how the locations were determined over the thousands of years of destruction and rebuilding, using the significant monuments of other religions who had conquered the areas and marked those places with their own significant buildings, statues, monuments, etc. 

On our walk to Damascus Gate, we were treated to a cup of Carob tea from a vendor outside the gate. It was delicious and tasted like chocolate. I think we made the gentleman’s day with the purchase of 40 glasses. You have to see the the picture/video on Marcia’s Facebook page of the ornate dispenser he was using as he bowed in order to pour the drink. The market was bustling, and the smells were a diversity of trash, herbs and spices, food and incense. The winding paths, with both stone ramps next to stone steps, means extra vigilance as you dodge people, garbage 
collectors and other types of transportation on these small pathways. You’ve gotta see it to believe it. :)

First, we stopped in an area with a dome in the center of a courtyard, around which are cells where the Armenian Monks reside, and is the location of Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre below. We have to remember that things from the 1st century require excavation and are below. Helena, the mother of Constantine, mandated and was responsible for the excavation and reestablishment of these locations back in the 4th century.

From the front entrance, the large blue dome and topped with a large gold cross is the only thing ornate. Several stone columns on either side of 2 massive doors is all there is to see before entering the Holy Sepulchre from the courtyard. In the door is a small square that opens and closes, used by the monks to lock and unlock the doors. The keys to the Holy Sepulcher are held by a Muslim family, who pass a ladder through the hole to allow the monks to reach the locks to make this process happen at the beginning and ending of the day. 

Inside are some of the most ornate icons, hanging lights and thuribles, and mosaics; almost too much so. Hundreds of people are all trying to make their way up the steps to an altar over the place of Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion. Once we made our way up, we kneel beneath the altar, and stick our hand through the hole to reach down and touch the rock formation that part of Calvary. 

We visited the Chapel of Adam, below Calvary, which shows the split in the rocks behind the altar which occurred at the time of the Crucifixion. This location is also believed to be the burial place of Adam. There is also the Stone of Unction, the place where Jesus’ body was laid and prepared for burial with oils and spices. People of all Christian beliefs come and kneel to rub scarfs, bless gifts/icons, place their hands and even kiss the stone for prayers of healing.  The materials retain the fragrance of the stone so that upon smelling them in the future, it can bring back the memory.  

Christ’s Tomb sits opposite Calvary, and has long lines wrapped around it so that people can get in to even get a glimpse inside. You guessed it, He's not there! There are 6 denominations who share this one space, and I’m sure you’d be shocked to know that at times there are “scuffles”, and it has to be shut down.

We ended our day with a lecture on Islam by Farask Hamad, an Arab Palestinian Muslim, who also spoke of the struggles he faces living in the occupied territory, and how his life is impacted by walls and checkpoints. He spoke about the similarities to Christianity, and the challenge of extremism’s negative influence in allowing for peace and tolerance with other faiths and governments.  

#10 - Israel 2018 (FreeDay: King David's Tower/Citadel & Holy Sepulchre)

Today was our free day, but trust me people, there is nothing free here. :) You might be wondering why I use the term “people”, and maybe not, but this is how our guide addresses us every time he starts to say something. Usually the conversation ends with the term, Yalla, which in Arabic means “come on”, or in our case “hurry up”!

After breakfast, we ventured off to King David’s Tower and Citadel, outside of the Jaffa Gate. We walked along the ramparts and saw amazing views of Jerusalem. There was a museum and designated rooms covering each of the major eras from the Canaanite Period (3150 BC) through the establishment of the State of Israel (1948 AD). 

We ate lunch outside at the Christ Church Cafe, and then made our way back to the Holy Sepulchre to bless some of the items we bought. While we were there Marcia sat next to a gentleman who turned out to be the 
“Custodian and Door-Keeper of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher”, Wajeeh Y. Nuseibeh (You can see the photos on her Facebook page). She had a great conversation with him, so don’t forget to ask her about it. David Wallace and I were escorted by one of his family members, and we each took a wrapped stack of bees wax candles for the Holy Fire and lit them at the Tomb of Jesus, and then we were escorted to the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea. He took the stack of candles, relit them from flame in that chapel, dipped the other end, not burning, in the oil the original flame was burning, and rubbed it on our hands and wrists. He then used the flame to sense the tombs in that area, and then snuffed the candles and places them on the altar. Hevthan had us say the Lord’s Prayer over them; in English and then following his lead in Arabic. What an experience.   

David and I went back out and met the others, and then we made our way back to St. George’s College. Of course, on the way back, we had to stop by Abraham’s, which is the souvenir/gift shop next door. I was looking for special things to give out to those whom I counsel or who find themselves having a hard time. (At this point I’ve realized I now have to take these things back to the Holy Sepulchre to be blessed as well). I spent some time catching up on the blog and then we had dinner. It was a great dinner in the garden and we reflected and shared stories of the 10 days we have spent here. After dinner, David Wallace and I decided to make a trip back to the Holy Sepulchre to bless the newly bought gifts; those they had bought, and mine as well. 

With just the two of us walking, w made it to the Holy Sepulcher in about 15-20 mins. Hardly anyone was there. We went in and placed our items on the Stone of Unction, and I blessed and prayed over them. I also said special prayers for my family, for guidance and strength to be a good and faithful priest, for my family of St. James, and gave praise and thanks to God for the many blessings he has given me. We also walked up to Calvary, and I prayed those same prayers there as well. 

On the way out, we were allowed to enter the Tomb of Christ. I was so overwhelmed, because on my last trip here I never had the chance to go in. I reverenced the altar in the preparation area, and the bent over to enter the small entry way into the Tomb area, where a stone, much like the Stone of Unction, is located. I knelt and prayed,  and it was such a moving experience. Speechless. 

David and I made it back to the college and shared our experience. It was so special. Marcia and I are so blessed,  and have had so many special and memorable moments. This trip is right up there.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings; it’s our last day before flying home tomorrow night. Shalom/Salam. 

#9 - Israel 2018 (Via Delarosa, Emmaus & Dead Sea)

Today we woke up early and departed at 5:30am for the Via Delarosa (Way of Sorrows). The streets were empty, aside from a few cars, because Fridays are Holy Days; the Muslim Day of worship. Plus, it’s early people! LOL We walked in silence to the Old City, and walked the Stations of the Cross marked off at different locations throughout the Muslim and Christian Quarters. We took turns carrying the cross down the streets, and also took turns reading at each station from John Peterson’s book,
“A Walk in Jerusalem: Stations of the Cross”.  It was an emotional experience for many, and also one I’m sure we will never forget.  The final 5 stations are located within the Holy Sepulcher, which are only walked during Holy Week, so we finished them at the dome that sits overtop Calvary. 

We returned to St. George’s College for breakfast, and then went by bus to Emmaus. This is a significant location, found in Luke 24:13, as it reveals the journey on which 2 people walking to Emmaus, after the Crucifixion, encountered the risen Jesus on the road! Were we at the exact location, no one knows, but the point is that Jesus meets us on our journey; not always at a particular physical location, but most certainly on our spiritual journey.  

We had Eucharist, walked the grounds that were being excavated, and then went for a nice lunch at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. After lunch we made our journey to the Dead Sea. Swim suits and towels in hand, we made our way to the lowest place in the world; about 420 meters below sea level (approx. 1400 feet below sea level). It was hot. Very hot.  “Good Morning Vietnam” hot! 😓😎

Warning signs throughout the area warned of the danger of getting the water in your eyes, and possible life threatening conditions if one were to swallow too much of the water. You “float” in the Dead Sea.  You do not splash or try to swim. So buoyant, it’s hard not to stay on your back, and if you’re in too deep, you can’t use your arms to turn yourself back over. Hence, some panic and end up in trouble, resulting in a trip to the showers (literally) and the lifeguard station. We were all good ... but there’s always one who gives you a scare. Those who went in the water now have silky smooth skin. 

We left the Dead Sea for a dinner party and reception at our guide, Iyad Qumri’s, home in Jericho. We exchanged gifts with our prayer partners, ate a delicious meal, had great conversations and watched a YouTube clip called, “The West Bank Story.” 

What a great time we have had on this  pilgrimage, and everyone now has their 
luggage from United ... just in time to go home. Can’t make this stuff up. Tomorrow is a free day, so we will see what happens. Hope you're following Marcia's Facebook photos, because we haven't been able to load them from here on this blog.  Good night. 

#8 - Israel 2018 (Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Princess Basma, Gethsemane, etc.)

We began this morning at 6:15 with a walk to the Western Wall (no longer referred to the Wailing Wall since the Jews can now access it). When we arrived, there were already many Jewish people worshiping at the Wall; singing, chanting and praying silently while always in motion. I placed prayers in the Wall that were given to me, and my own personal prayers. After this, we exited the Jewish Quarter and immediately went through another check point to enter The Temple Mount where The Dome of the Rock (Elharam Esh Sharif) and the  Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. This was formerly the location of the Jewish Temple. 

The Dome of the Rock is the most obvious and identifiable structure, with its large golden roof seen in almost every photo of the Old City. This structure was built approx. 50 years after the death of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and is the site from where Muhammad is said to have had his Night Journey (Mirraj) into heaven and back to Mecca. We had another group photo, and as we were having our walking lecture and group of heavily armed Israeli military personnel walked past us escorting a group of Jewish people to worship on the mount. There is a sign, written by the Chief Rabbi posted at the security check point to the Temple Mount that clearly states Jews are “forbidden” to enter, but we found out there is a Zionist group that is radicle and has demanded and received the right to worship there, and have protection and escort doing so. Talk about tension in the air!

From there we made our way to the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic in John 5:2-9, and is located at the Church of St. Anne. The church has amazing acoustics, and is also beloved to the the birthplace of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. 

The highlight of the day, for me anyway, was a visit to the Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children on the Mount of Olives. A truly amazing place serving all religions. We were given a walking tour, and part of the cost of our trip was a donation to this center. The most moving part was watching a mother work with her toddler in the sensory room. The child had hearing aids in both ears and a trach tube connected to oxygen. The mother. as is the culture here, stays up to 2-3 weeks with her child in the intensive therapy and often needs more than one cycle; this is the standard for all children so that they can go home and still be able to do the necessary therapies.  

After lunch, we drove up to Bethphage, the place from which Jesus sent his disciples to go and retrieve a donkey for his Palm Sunday processions. We did this walk down to the Dominus Flevit (“the Lord has wept”) church that is shaped like a tear drop.  In Luke 19, Jesus, overlooking the city of Jerusalem, wept as he visualized her future fate and ultimate destruction. 

We walked down from the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane (“olive press”). This is the place where the disciples slept when Jesus asked them to stay wake as he prayed on night the night he was arrested before his Crucifixion.  This is also the location of the great agony, where Jesus did sweat blood, and prayed to God the Father that, “not my will, but thy will be done”.

It was a long way down, with the visual of the Old City ahead of us, and the Jewish Cemetery all the way down to our left and as far as you could see (over 70,000). The above ground graves began being placed on the Mt. of Olives some 3000 years ago in the 1st Temple period. 

Our day ended with a lecture on the Israeli Perspective. A visiting Hebrew University professor gave his personal observations and basically it seemed to be the opposite of what we have heard from Christians and Muslims, aside from agreeing that building in the “occupied
area” is not right for Israel to do, and only serves to deepen the tensions and further prevent resolution. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#6 - Israel 2018 (Burqin, Nablus & Taybeh)

This morning our travels took us to Burqin, which is the place Jesus passed through on his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  We read in scripture that as Jesus passed through the city, he was approached by 10 lepers who were crying out from a quarantined cave for him to heal them.  Guess what, we visited the church located on the site; the 4th oldest church in the world, named St. George's.  The church has a cistern and a drop in hole where food would have been lowered down to those in quarantine.

Our next stop was Nablus (Sychar) where we visited St. Photini Greek Orthodox Church.  This is the place where Jesus meet the woman at the well in John 4:4.  The church is located over the place of Jacob's Well, and Denise Wallace, one of our friends on the trip, was chosen to draw water from the well for us to drink. Scripture was read, and a reflection and personal testimony was given by Fr. Richard Earl.  Like most Christian churches, there are many icons throughout the church, which means Marcia has been in heaven these last few days. One of the icons, St. John the Baptist, was very special, as it appeared to be streaming myrrh; you can ask Marcia about it. 😎

Along our journey we also stopped for a speacial treat called a Kenafeh, which is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup.  It's most popular in that region, unless you have a dairy allergy, and the shop owners invited us in to watch the process of how they'remade.  The Palestinian people have been most welcoming to us, not only in this region, but everywhere we have gone. I'm not sure how many "cousins" Iyad Qumri has, but they all own some type of shop and we're almost out of shekels. LOL

We had lunch in Taybeh, which is the only city in the Palestine Authority that is 100% Christian.  It was an amazing meal, and we were invited to a local brewery, Taybeh Beer, which is owned. and operated by a husbancd and wife from Boston.  The wife explained that even though they have an American passport, they must still get permits to travel within Israel, as they are considered Palestinian in the eyes of Israel.  Some of the stories of hardship and discrimination towards Palestinian Muslims and Christians are hard to hear, and it is also easy to see the other side as well.  The politic of religion and state is prominate, tense, and even sparks anger to those living here, and solutions and resolutions seem very long in coming; if ever.

We returned to the St. George's Guest House for dinner, and then found the rooftop balcony overlooking Jerusalem. Sadly, 3 people in our group have still not receive their lost luggage from United Airlines. Tomorrow we visit the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulchre located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Shalom / Salaam!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

#5 - Israel 2018 (Sea of Galailee, Jordan River, Capernaum & Mt. of Beatitudes)

Today was one of the most spiritual and holy days thus far.  We left at 7am for the Jordan River.  We walked down to the river, on a dusty and already hot path, where we read scripture, renewed our Baptismal Covenant, and were sprinkled by Bp. Barry Howe with water from the Jordan River using an olive branch. Many were amazed at how small the width of the river is, compared to its enormity thousands of years ago.  The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are retreating and shrinking at alarming rates.  We were all shocked at the amount of debris and garbage dumped at a place where we as Christians consider Holy, where some of the homeless may have left moments before, having left behind a fresh watermelon sitting open in plain view.
Ur, we
From here we left and visited Capurnaum, the home of Peter.  This is the place where 4 men carried the paralytic man, and lowered him through the roof for Jesus to heal him.  We saw the layout of the remnants of the synague and homes in the area, as well as the beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee.  It is so lush and green here, as compared to the rocky and dry land of Jerusalem and the desert areas between.  We also visited Tabgha, the location of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  From there we made our way to the Mt. of Beatitudes, where we celebrated Eucharist outside under the enormous trees and constant warm breeze.  I offered the homily on the Beatitudes, which was planned well before our arrival.  Such a beautiful site, and had a great lunch.  Many had the St. Peter's fish for lunch, including Marcia, which is the entire fish; head, scales and all.  I knew better, so I chose the chicken schnitzel. 😉  The sisters opened the Chapel for a private tour and time for reflection and meditation.  This sacred space was filled with mosaic pictures, including the entire dome, and an ornante altar in the middle.  The acoustics were amazing, as some hummed, "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary".

We left for Tiberius, where we all got on a boat and took a ride on the Sea of Galilee.  It was windy, so remembering the stories about the disciples and the challenges of being a fisherman in such a place brought the biblical stories of the sea into reality.  The scripture of Jesus calming the storm was read by Marcia. After about an hour, we returned to the docks and walked to a museum where we saw an excavated boat from the 1st century at Kabbutz Ginosar.  What a story of how such a unique find required so much work to keep the boat entact and preserved for the current display.

After returning to Nazareth, we were shown a very special place, recently discovered under the Sisters of Nazareth Guest House (where we are staying).  We we escorted to a locked door, and then escorted down stairs to what was left of a 1st century home.  Located next to the Church of the Annunciation, this home is said to possibly be the home of the Holy Family, and the burial place of Joseph. We have learned over the past several days that families lived together until the son married and then built his home next door with his new family, and on and on.  What an information overload, spirit-filled and exhausting day.

But wait, not that exhausting.  Dinner was, well, lets just say something I couldn't eat.  So, Fr. Ryan White, Mr. Greg Donham and I decided to make a run for a Dominos Pizza place we saw driving back from Galilee.  It seemed much closer driving than it did us walking the streets of Nazareth at 9:30 at night. We finally found it, with 40 minutes before curfew; yes the nuns have a curfew of 10:30, and she took our keys and reminded us that she meant it.  The worker at Dominos was very polite, especially finding it humorous that half of the pizza must be without cheese. LOL.  We told him we had to be back by 10:30, and it was a 20 minute walk, so he bumped our order to the front of the line and got us out in record time. I'll admit it was odd sitting and waiting for the pizza in the brightest store in Nazareth at  that time of night, especially when people did a double take seeing us sitting at the table as they walked by.  Guess we stuck out a little bit.  We did a speed walk back, and even with Fr. Ryan recovering from a bout of gout, made it back with 3 minutes to spare.  The nun just gave us a grin as she handed back the room keys. The pizza, you ask? Awful! The experience? Priceless!