Wednesday, January 03, 2007

November 29, 2005: Bethany, Katamon, Bethlehem & Lydda

Forgive my brevity, but considering the amount of photos & sites I want to pass your way, I'm going to limit my ramblings.

Bethany: Here we visited the first Tomb of Lazarus (see photo), where Christ raised him after being four days dead. This site is now controlled by a Muslim family and is rarely opened or visited, because it now resides behind the "apartheid wall". After the Crusader defeat & the eventual disrepair the original church fell into, the Muslims built a Mosque over the cave, preventing a church from ever be reconstructed.

Katamon: The Monastery of the Holy Cross is built over the site where the tree grew that was used for Christ's Cross. Legend has it that it was Lot's task, as a penance for having sinned with his daughters, to water the staffs of Abraham's heavenly visitors (which were made of cypress, pine & cedar wood...see photo of icon). The staffs eventually sprouted a sign of his forgiveness & grew together into one tree. This tree was said to have been cut down for use in the rebuilding of the Temple, but remained unused until it was used for Christ's Cross. I'll cover the Monastery of St. Symeon the God-Receiver in a separate e-mail.

Bethlehem: The Church of the Nativity is built over the grotto where Mary & Joseph lodged and our Saviour was born (see photo). To get to the cave below the altar, you take a set of stairs just to the right of the altar. It was very moving to visit this holy place, not only because of its religious importance, but because it was also the place of siege several years ago during the Nativity season when the Israelis threatened to blow up the church. The interior of the basilica maintains intact ancient mosaics on both the walls & protected under a raised floor (see photo). Other memorable experiences would include being swamped by the locals either begging for alms or swamping you to sell you their wares because they don't get as many pilgrims or tourists anymore due to the wall & check points, because Bethlehem is in a Palestinian sector. The economies of Bethlehem & surrounding villages are being destroyed by this apartheid wall, which have traditionally thrived on tourism. Next to the Church of the Nativity sits the Cave of the Holy Innocents, discovered to house catacombs, graves, a Holy Table, and the multitude of relics (see photo) from the massacring of the children by Herod's armies trying to kill the Christ child. It was very moving to see this place, because the story of the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents (commemorated Dec. 29) has always pierced my heart, trying to imagine what the families must have gone through due to Herod's hatred & paranoia.

Lydda: The tomb of St. George resides here, with an Orthodox church built over it to commemorate & protect it. This was a special treat & surprise for me on the pilgrimage, because of my ignorance, I had no idea that his tomb lay in the Holy Land! The carving of his image on the tomb was superb & moving, so I included a photo of a close up (see both photos). His tomb is also known to be a site of a multitude of healings! We all made sure to be annointed with the holy oil from the lampada hanging over his tomb.

Besides this, in this e-mail, I'm including a few things I left out when covering Jerusalem or the Holy Sepulchre. Just outside of the Holy Sepulchre, sharing an entrance from the same courtyard, resides the Palestinian Christian churches of St. James & the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The church was built on the spot in the garden of Christ's tomb where Mary Magdalene met Jesus after His resurrection before He had gone to the Father, saying, "Don't touch me." (see photo). They also have the very icon of the Theotokos that St. Mary of Egypt faced when she couldn't enter the Church of the Resurrection on the Feast of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (see photo). Lastly, I'm including a rarity, a photo of the Resurrection (actually known as the "Descent into Hell") in Hebrew! The only one we saw our entire time in the Holy Land, and actually at the ruins of the Crusader Church in Emmaus.