Wednesday, January 03, 2007

November 23, 2005: The Environs of Jerusalem

Now with a little downtime, I hope to catch up on a few updates about my pilgrimage in the Holy Land which would be a shame to passover! I write today, on the same day as the enthronement of the new Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III. I have arrived in Cyprus & am staying with an close old friend, not Syria, due to last minute changes & considerations... but I do still hope to make it back to Syria before leaving the region.

There are many sites both in & just outside of the Old City that are Holy Sites & sites of interest as well that we visited. Very close to the Holy Sepulchre complex are what's known as the Russian Excavations or the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. This site is important because during the Russian's excavation efforts to build a church, they discovered part of the Herodian city wall still intact, proving archaeologically that the site of the Holy Sepulchre was indeed outside of the city at the time of Christ, not inside as the walls have continued to expand outward over the centuries. They have also discovered what's known as the Judgment Gate which Jesus passed through on His way to crucifixion. We also saw the sites of two healing miracles, the Pool of Siloam in the city of David just outside the current city walls, where the man born blind was healed (of which recent excavations have revealed one whole side of the actual pool, see photo), and Bethesda or the Sheep's Pool where our Saviour healed the paralytic (of which there are ongoing excavations of this entire complex, see photo). Also close by is Praetorium or Christ's place of imprisonment, as he awaited crucifixion (see photo). This was very moving to visit & explore the prison complex that has been excavated. I've had a copy of a Russian Icon depicting the imprisonment, of which the original is kept there, that has always been very see depicted our Lord & Saviour mocked with the crown of thorns & the red robe of royalty. One last place I visited in the Old City was the Monastery of St. Melania built over her cave. We met the elderly & very hospitable gate keeper, who hardly let us leave without trying to feed us something, but were blessed with visiting St. Melania's cave where she practiced her ascetism. They display the chains she wore hung on the wall (see photo).

Just outside of St. Stephen's gate, so named for the Proto-martyr, because it was here that he was stoned to death, and after you pass over/through the Kidron Valley, you come to Gethsemane after a 5-10 walk. The Crusader crypt church containing the Tomb of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) sits here (see photo). You must decend a very long flight of stairs, some 30-40m, passing the tombs of Joachim & Anna, as well as, Joseph the Betrothed on either side. It is here that the famous icon, Panagia of Jerusalem also resides (see photo). I tried to visit & prayer here often, since I know many who have Mary as their patron, and was blessed to be here for one Sunday Liturgy. Now as you begin to ascend the Mt. of Olives from Gethsemane, you pass right by the Russian Convent of St. Mary Magdalene standing out with its traditional Russian style church adorned with gold onion domes (see photo). I met some very wonderful nuns here who not only provided me with hospitality & spiritual edification, but also some direction for finding some of the smaller out of the way holy places for veneration around the city. It was also here that I met an American monk that I spent a majority of my remaining days in the Holy Land visiting many holy sites & receiving much logistical help & moral support from. The monastery is very scenic with wonderful gardens & the best views of the Old City, but also treasures the holy relics of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her faithful attendant the Nun Barbara (see photos). Also, one cannot help but be struck upon entering the church by the large mural scene above the iconostasis showing St. Mary Magdalene handing Tiberius Caesar the red egg while proclaiming "Christ is Risen" (see photo). I spent the last week & a half in the Holy Land between St. Savvas monastery, the Russian Convent of the Ascension (where I was able to stay), and this one. After all of the pilgrimaging & sight seeing, it was very nice to spend my remaining time with those living & offering themselves to the glory of God in His Holy City, to see what living in Jerusalem is like as an Orthodox Christian & struggling amidst "the situation" between the Israelis & Palestinians there. I was blessed to meet several living witnesses and spiritually prosper from the unselfish love that they shared. When I go back, for the Holy Light God-willing, I hope to chronicle some of the stories of the "living martyrs" to make available for the faithful at large. There example is inspiring and convicting!

This is all for now, and I hope to send you a couple more to finish covering the Holy Land before next week...because I still haven't told you about Sinai, the Judaean monasteries, nor Bethlehem!



Post a Comment

<< Home