Friday, 15 February 2013

Carrying the Cross in Jerusalem

6am this morning, while it was still dark outside, and the streets of Jerusalem empty, we picked up our cross and began to follow in the steps of Jesus through the old city.
Carrying the Cross through Jerusalem

It was an interesting experience to be able to carry a cross in Jerusalem, and to hear the Gospel stories around Jesus’ Passion, and to pray in these public places. 

Entrance to the Church of the Resurrection

As we made our way through the Stations of the Cross, we were making our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

A picture from the chapel below the place of crucifixion 

It was very meaningful for me to see the rock of Golgotha, the place where Jesus was nailed to the Cross and crucified. In the picture below is the chapel below the place of crucifixion, and you can see the rock of Golgotha behind the glass. 

From the place of Crucifixion, we moved to the Empty Tomb. It is a shine decorated in the Greek Orthodox tradition. And the truth is that it didn’t impress me too much - nor should it. He is not there, He is Risen!! 
Entrance to the shrine of the Empty Tomb

But what did impress me was the artistic connection with the empty tomb and the magnificent ceiling of Resurrection far above - the Great Dome of the Resurrection. As one looks from the empty tomb upwards, you are given that sense of Light and Life. 

Dome of the Resurrection directly above the empty tomb

As interesting as today’s experience was, it was certainly a reminder to me that God is so much more than these places and things. They are important shrines and reminders of what has happened in our sacred stories, but we are not to hold on to them. Jesus says “I will destroy this temple and raise it up in three days.” Jesus calls us to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. He calls us to live the Risen Life of His Divine Love. He calls us to love and serve him in all people, especially those most in need. “What soever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me.”

Faith in Christ is a living dynamic faith. Faith in Christ is relational in expression and experience. Faith in Christ loves and serves the world.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Jerusalem: Religious Toleration and the Inequality of Women

Jerusalem. What a history! What a city!

When it comes to the world’s three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - Jerusalem is the center of the religious universe.

On the rock on the Temple Mount, Abraham was going to sacrifice Issac.
On the Temple Mount, Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion. 
The Temple Mount was, before the move to Mecca, Islam’s center for prayer and pilgrimage.

The Hebrew’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem.
The Christian’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem.
The Muslim’s have lived in and controlled Jerusalem. 

As a pilgrim or visitor make their way in and around the Temple Mount and the Old City, the presence and identity of all three religions are clearly visible.  

Jerusalem Christian Churches
Yesterday I was in the Jerusalem Churches of: Bethpage, Dominus Flevit, Gethsemene, and St.Peter in Gallicantu. And we celebrated the Ash Wednesday Liturgy in the Anglican Cathedral of St.George last night. Tomorrow I will be in the Churches of: The Resurrection and St.Alexander.

Islamic Temple Mount
Today we were on the Islamic Temple Mount. The Israeli’s control access and security on the temple mount. But the Muslim’s alone have the use of the Temple Mount for prayers and community life. There are strict Islamic rules when in their holy place: no bibles, prayer beads or images are allowed on the Mount (and you are scanned at a security check point). Women and men are not allowed to touch each other when on the Mount; and if you do, you are quickly identified and instructed not to. And, when it is time for the Muslims to pray, all non-Muslims are escorted off of the Temple Mount. 

It was a strange feeling being in that holy place. There is definitely something special and holy about it. But with the presence of soldiers, Islamic watch dogs, and the sense of being forced in and forced out, I felt tolerated, but far from welcome. 

Coincidently, as we were leaving today, the city was going through an air raid siren drill! What a place.

Jewish Wailing Wall
After a strong Arab coffee, we made our way to the Jewish Wailing Wall. That was another very interesting experience. 

At the Wailing Wall

Notice the women separated from the men by a fence

First of all, the Wailing Wall is right below the Temple Mount. So when the Muslim’s were entering the Mosque above for their prayers, the Jews were directly below on the outside of the Temple Mount, offering their prayers at the Wailing Wall. 

There was a lot of energy today in that particular Holy Place because of Bar Mitzvah. The place was filled with music and song and celebration as young adolescent boys made their right of passage into manhood. It was wonderful to observe this beautiful Jewish custom. But it was also sad to observe the separation of men and women in the celebration. Women are not allowed in the section of the Wailing Wall where the men gather. So the mothers and grandmothers and sisters of the boys going through Bar Mitzvah had to stand outside their own wall and look on at the men in their celebration. 

On top of the Temple Mount, women and men worship in separate places, and non Muslims are not welcome during the prayer time. Below the temple mount, the separation of Jews and Muslims is made clear: the Muslims on top, the Jews below. And yet another separation of men and women at the Wailing Wall in Jewish custom. 

The Christian principles of freedom and equality for all people - which Jesus’ death and resurrection at Jerusalem inaugurated for all people of every nation and language - has taken christian societies hundred’s of years to work through in our collective consciousness, and is still working itself through when it comes to issues like the equality of women and men. 

Being at the Temple Mount today was a real challenge for me as I experienced two different cultures, and how women are excluded and unequal. Just earlier this week, 10 Jewish women were arrested at the Wailing Wall for wearing a prayer shawl that only a man is allowed to wear. 

But on a more positive note, I did experience religious toleration in one of the most religiously diverse and charged places on the face of the planet. 

Religion of all stripes is certainly here to stay. We need leaders in all of the world’s religions who are moderate, loving, compassionate, reasonable, and not threatened by those who share different views. What is also required of all religions is the deeply spiritual and mystical dimension that allows us to see that we all share the same Divine Life - we are equal, free, and united in the One Life that is God.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Garden of Gethsemene

The Church at Bethpage
Mounting the Donkey to enter Jerusalem
Bethpage has at least two important meanings for us. Because it is very near Bethany, it is the place where Mary came to meet Jesus when he was on his way to the tomb of the dead Lazarus. It is also the place where Jesus mounted the donkey and began his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. 

The Palm Sunday procession begins at this holy site each year in the Holy City. 

Dominus Flevit
Where Jesus would have looked out over the city and wept
On his way from Bethpage to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped on a site overlooking the Temple, and wept over the city because it had turned away from the Living God. Dominus Flevit means “The Lord wept.”
The chapel in the form of a tear drop where Jesus wept



A chapel on this site, built to look like an tear drop, looks over the city towards the Church of the Resurrection.

Just outside the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemene
From Dominus Flevit, we continued the slop down towards the Kidron valley to Gethsemene. The Garden of Gethsemene is on the Mount of Olives, and it is the place where Jesus went to pray after the Last Supper was celebrated in the Upper Room just outside of the city walls. It is the place where Jesus was arrested.

The Church of Gethsemene, in the Garden

The Olive garden at Gethsemene

The Upper Room

Before Jesus made his way to Gethsemene, he celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples in the Upper Room. Scholar’s tell us that this Upper Room was in either Mark’s or John’s house. The historical development of the site was to see a church built on to the room, to the room being enclosed into a larger building, to the Muslim’s building a Mosque next to it, to the Jews suggesting that David’s tomb was underneath it (beginning around the 12th century).

Entrance to the Upper Room
Interior of Upper Room

Mosque on far left, Upper Room on top, David's tomb on bottom floor

Church of St.Peter in Gallicantu

The site of St.Peter in Gallicantu, is where tradition says that Peter wept after denying the Lord three times.


Peter denying Jesus at the trial

Another amazing day in the Holy Land. It is one thing to hear of and know the Biblical stories. It is quite another thing to see them and to fit that part of the picture together. It changes things.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Israeli and Jordanian Soldiers, and Baptism

Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor
There is a second century tradition that places the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is mentioned in the Psalms, but it is not mentioned in the Gospel story of the Transfiguration. It is much more likely that the Transfiguration of Jesus took place on Mount Hermon, in the north of the country in what was Caesarea Philipi.  But as far as having a location for pilgrimage in order to reflect on this great and important Gospel story, Mount Tabor works.


The remains of an early Benedictine monastery is part of the mountain summit.

Remains of an early Benedictine monastery

The beautiful Church of Transfiguration

Spectacular view from on top of Mount Tabor

But a beautiful more modern building is now on the site. Notice the design of three booths on top, one for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.

Jordan River

From Mount Tabor, we then made our way to the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows.

The drive along the Jordan River Valley, clearly showed the military zone dividing Jordan and Israel. And again, as with the West Bank and the Syrian border, Israel is occupying Jordanian land along the two country's borders. 

The military zone dividing Jordan and Israel

To get to the Jordan River as a destination of pilgrimage, we had to drive through the military zone, with Israeli and Jordanian soldiers on each side.

Israeli Solders at the River Jordan

Jordanian soldier on the other side of the river

Despite the clear military presence, we were thankful and blessed to be in such a holy place. The place where Jesus entered into the water and was baptized by John the Baptist. And when he came up out of the water, a voice from heaven said “you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Touching the water from the Jordan

The St.George's group

The Zacchaeus Tree in Jericho
We then moved out of the fertile Jordan Valley and back into the West Bank and the Palestinian city of Jericho. Jericho is the Biblical city that Joshua and the Israelites attached and its walls fell down. It is also the city where Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree, and healed a blind man.

Jericho is near the Judaean Desert, and therefore a place that attracted monks after the fourth century.

Monastery in the Mountain of the Temptations

This monastery still has monks living in it, and is built right into the mountain, that the Crusaders called the “Mount of Temptation;” a place not unlike where Jesus retreated to be tempted by the devil.

Abid, our Muslim bus driver, riding a camel

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Rock of the Rocks

Banias, Caesarea Philipi

This morning we drove north into the mountains to what is today known as Banias, and the beginning of the springs for the Jordan River. 

The word Banias is related to an ancient pagan religion of Pan, the god of the underworld. At the time of Jesus, this religious thought was in the northern territory of Caesarea Philipi.

Jesus would retreat with his disciples to this northern area, and the mountain of Hermon. Hermon is a mountain range of 1000 sq km, and is the highest mountain in Syria and Israel. It is “the” mountain of the region.

It is at this place that Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Seeing the “loneliness” of this holy place, and the significance and magnitude of the “rock,” the Biblical story now has a whole new meaning for me.

The Golan Heights
The further north we drove, the colder it got, and one could see the snow on the mountain tops. Also, the further north we drove, the more obvious it became yet again that we were on land that the Israeli’s were occupying - this time it was not the Palestinians, but the Syrians. Since 1967, the Israeli's moved in to Syria and took over this land because of the heights and the valuable military position. Overlooking a UN Observation Post, we drove to within 50 kilometers of Damascus, and could see the Syrian border and a Syrian border town. Notice the UN observation post below, and the Syrian flay and community in the second picture. 

To go from conflict over Israeli settlement in the Palestinian West Bank, to Israeli occupation of the Syrian border, to looking out over Syria and knowing of the horrible conflict within its own borders, with Damascus only 50 kilometers away, was a very real and clear reminder to me of how broken our world is.

Feeding of the 5000
Our next stop was, way back down the mountain range, back by the Sea of Galilee, and the place were tradition says that Jesus fed the 5000. There is a Benedictine Church on the location, and an altar over the rock where tradition says that Jesus blessed the loaves and fish before distributing them to the crowd.

Sailing on the Sea of Galilee

The final experience for the day, was to sail on the Sea of Galilee!!

As a Newfoundlander, and as a Christian very much in love with Jesus, this was an "at home" feeling!!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Gold in Galilee

We spent last night in a lovely monastery on a high hill in Nazareth. As I lay in my bed falling asleep, I was very aware that Jesus, Mary and Joseph had laid down in their beds and slept very near to were I was.

The Wedding at Cana

Our first stop this morning was at the village of Cana, which is not far from Nazareth. In fact, when Nathanel says “nothing good can come out of Nazareth,” I can better picture a little small town rivalry going on.

The Wedding at Cana
Cana was where Jesus performed his first miracle in turning the water in to wine at the wedding feast.        

An Ancient Cana Water Jug

This picture is of an ancient water jug found in archeological dig in Cana.

Cana Water Jug, water to wine



Mount of Beatitudes
Following in the steps of Jesus, our next stop was at the Mount of the Beatitudes. From the church built on this hillside, you can see the beautiful Sea of Galilee.

Mount of Beatitudes looking over the Sea of Galilee

We walked from the top of the hill down through a field, just as Jesus did, in this very place. Wow!
He would have picked a grain of wheat from the field, and told a Life story using it. He would have picked up a mustard seed flower, and told another story about the Kingdom of God with it.

Picking wheat from the field on the way to the sea of Galilee

When we reached the bottom of the hill, we saw a cave that would have been “the quiet place” that Jesus would retreat to pray. And then to emerge to talk about the Beatitudes that the people gathered below to hear.

What an amazing experience to trace Jesus’ steps in this way.


Capernaum is not that far from the Mount of the Beatitudes, and it is the town Peter is from. Jesus would have spent a good amount of time in this small fishing village, teaching in the synagogue, healing those who came to him, and staying in Peter’s house.

The foundation of St.Peter's house, and what was later a church

Peter’s house, after the Resurrection of Jesus, would become a place where Christians would gather for celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

As we go through all of these sacred sites, it is also interesting to note that there are other pilgrims from all over the world, of every colour and language and ethnic back ground - all seeking to follow in the steps of their Lord.

I am so thankful for the archeological witness to the life of Jesus and the early church. I am  more thankful for the Living Faith imparted to us by our Living Lord.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Wonder and Beauty of Nazareth

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Martima
Our first stop today was at the ancient coastal city of Caesarea Maritima. It was a city that Herod the Great had built to increase his coastal defenses and commerce with the rest of the Mediterranean. It is the place where Pontus Pilate had his home and headquarters (he only went to Jerusalem 3 times a year for festival gatherings and crowd control). More importantly it was the place of the first gentile Christian baptism; where Peter had the vision that all food is clean and that the Christian Way is also for the Gentiles; and one of the places where Paul was imprisoned. It is also interesting to note that Saints Jerome, Eusibius, and Origin all lived at some point at Caesarea Maritima because of its learning culture. 

Some of the Ancient ruins at Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima is has a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean Sea.

Mount Carmel

Our next stop was at the top of Mount Carmel to the Carmelite Monastery. Mount Carmel is the place where the prophet Elijah slaughtered 400 of the prophets of Baal, and challenged the Israelites to return to their faith in Yahweh.


The view of the valley from on top of this mountain is breathtaking, looking down unto the valley and the river.

The view from on top of Mount Carmel


Nazareth. Mary and Joseph’s home. The place where Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit. The place where Jesus grew up. In ancient times, Nazareth was not a good place to come from because it was so small and of no account. Only a couple of hundred people lived there at the time of Jesus. 

The experts seem to have little doubt that the cave under the Church of the Annunciation was the place of the home of the Holy Family.

The cave that was the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth

I sat and prayed in this spot for some time. Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit very near to this sacred place. After the birth in Bethlehem, they returned to raise Jesus in this very place (except for their journey into Egypt to protect Jesus’ life from Herod). Nazareth was their home. 

Not far from here is the ancient well for the town of Nazareth. Mary would have lived much of her life going back and forth from her home to this well in the morning and afternoons. It is wonderful to imagine the Holy Family in the small town of Nazareth living a daily ordinary life in what was a very small town. 

Mary's Well in Nazareth

As I sat before the Holy Shrine of the Annunciation, I was remembering Mary’s total vulnerability and openness to God’s Divine Life. She models for the spiritual path to Incarnation - to becoming aware of God’s Spirit, God’s very Life, within us. God with us. With every human being. Everywhere.

Church and Shrine of the Annunciation

Friday, 8 February 2013

North of Jerusalem

North of Jerusalem: Shechem (Nablus);  and then Bethany

This morning we headed an hour north to the town of Nablus. Nablus is significant to the pilgrim for a number of reasons. It is the place where Jacob re-established one of Abraham’s wells, and the well is there to this day and has always been known as “Jacob’s Well.” It is in what was the ancient town of Shechem. After the kingdom of Israel divided into the north and south, a temple was established at Shechem by the Samaritans - an offshoot of Judaism. It was also at this Jacob’s Well that Jesus met the Samaritan woman.

It was at this Jacob’s Well where I found myself today!! To be at the very place where Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman. To drink the water out of the well that Jesus would have had water out of. To say it was an amazing experience is an understatement. 

Jacob's Well

Drinking water from the well that Jesus would have drank from

As amazing as it was to be in such a holy place, and to drink water out of a well that Jesus would have had water, when I was up in the Greek Orthodox Church above the well reflecting on the experience, I did remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: 

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It is an amazing experience for the pilgrim to drink water from this holy place, but the real water of eternal life is to be found within us wherever we are. Even in Conception Bay North!!

A Samaritan Priest

We then had the privilege of meeting the Samaritan Priest in the Samaritan synagogue on Mount Gerizem. There are only 750 Samaritans left in the world. The location of the ruins of the ancient temple on Mount Gerizem is now occupied by the Israeli army.

The beautiful country in the West Bank, Palestine

As our excursions have brought us deeper into the Palestinian West Bank, it is easy to understand the frustration of the Palestinian people as more and more Israeli settlements are being put into place on Palestinian land, and the Palestinian people are helpless to stop the Israeli’s from expanding into their land.

Lazarus' Tomb
After a beautiful lunch in the Palestinian City of Nablus (with a population of 250,000 people), we made our way back to south side of Jerusalem to the town of Bethany. Lazarus, Mary and Martha had a home in Bethany where Jesus would stay. Bethany is also the place where Jesus, four days after Lazarus had died, called him to life out of the tomb. I had the opportunity today to stand near that holy place.

Outside of the tomb. Maybe near to where Jesus was standing when he called Lazarus out.
I am really feeling like I am walking in Jesus’ footsteps. This pilgrimage is turning out to be much more than I had hoped it would be.

Tomorrow we head north to Galilee, and will spend four days following Jesus’ ministry around the sea of Galilee.