Wednesday, January 03, 2007

November 30, 2005: Judea, Galilee & Sinai

Ok, thank you for your patience as I've tried to catch up & wrap up on the important sites & experiences in the Holy Land. This will be my last update, except for some "parting shots" & reminiscences of the Holy Land in a separate e-mail, and again I'll be brief. Things are well, I am enjoying myself in Cyprus currently, and we just celebrated the Feast of St. Andrew the First Called Apostle today on the New Calendar. So Happy Namesday & Many Years to all of the Andrew's that are reading this!!!


Hodzeva & the Monastery of St. George of Hodzeva: When we went we were unable to really enter the monastery to view and venerate, because they were in the middle of renovations. I was able to take a few nice shots of the Judean desert & a view of the monastery itself along the Wadi Kelt. (see photo) I hope to return to view & venerate when I return to the Holy Land. The monastery treasures the incorrupt relics of contemporary ascetic St. John Jacob from Romania, as well as, the cave of St. Elias where he was fed by the raven. This area is honey-combed with caves of ascetics from centuries of monastic toil in the Judean desert.

Jericho: Sitting above Jericho on a ridge is the Mount of Temptation where Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted by Satan, overcoming the three greatest temptations: that of bodily pleasure, wealth & pride. A monastery resides at this spot now, being taken care of by one lone monk (similarly seen at St. George of Hodzeva, St. Gerasimos' Monastery, St. Theodosios' Monastery & Jacob's Well...which will all be covered in my parting shots e-mail). (see photo) The monastery was also founded upon the settlement of many hermits living in the surrounding cliffs in caves striving ascetically. Jericho is considered one of the oldest cities in the world & the lowest inhabited place on earth, a few 100 meters below sea level. The Dead Sea itself is considered to be the lowest point on earth, fyi.


Mount Tabor: The place of Christ's Transfiguration before the Apostles Peter, James & John, and the appearance of the prophets Moses & Elias with him. (see photo) The women's monastery that resides there today, sits atop a network of catacombs presumably used by the monastics of earlier centuries to flee from marauders, bandits & marching armies. It is very quiet & serene at the peak & is understandable why Our Lord chose this spot to take the chosen disciples. One can see all of the way to Nazareth from the peak. (see photo)

Nazareth: Besides being the traditional village that Jesus hailed from, it was also the location of Archangel Gabriel's Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. They have a church built over the spring where the divine appointment occurred. (see photo) This was a surprise on the trip for me as well, I had no idea that the spot was known much less maintained for pilgrims!

Cana: The locale of Christ's first manifested miracle, at a wedding as depicted in the Gospel of John! The church, dedicated to St. George, preserves two water jugs reputed to be from the original six that our Lord turned the water they contained into wine for the wedding feast. When we visited we were happy to learn that they had recently celebrated their 200 or 250 year anniversary of the founding of the church!

Sea of Galilee: We were treated to a boat ride, on something of similar build to what Christ might have sailed in while fishing or traveling this very large lake with His disciples. From the Sea of Galilee one can see the many locales & regions that Christ served the majority of His ministry in: Capernaum, Tiberias, Magdala, Tabha (place of the multiplication of the loaves & fish), Mount of Beatitudes, and land of the Gadarenes. (see photos) The place on the River Jordan where Christ was baptized by John is closed except for two times a year, Theophany & Bright Week. So during the rest of the year, pilgrims visit a new spot established for them at the mouth of the River Jordan on the Sea of Galilee. This is the spot we used to enter the Jordan as well.


St. Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai is an oasis in this rugged desert. To get there is a pilgrimage all by itself and worth spending time at to soak up all of the treasures of the monastery (icons, illuminated manuscripts, embroidery, etc.), as well as the holy sites of the Burning Bush; the peaks of Mt. Sinai (2nd tallest on the peninsula @ 7500 ft), Mt. Horeb & Mt. St. Catherine (the tallest @ 8650 ft, & so named because it's the peak which St. Catherine's relics were miraculously translated to); the cave of St. John Climacus; and surrounding cells, sketes & chapels. We were there maybe 24 hrs and only able to take in a handful of everything that the area has to offer. I'm including photos of the Burning Bush, St. Stephen of Mt. Sinai's incorrupt relics from their Bone Room (he used to sit at what's now known as St. Stephen's Gate on the ascent to Sinai's peak & hear the confessions of those heading to the top, b/c it was revered as very holy ground in the past...), a few shots of sunrise at the peak of Mt. Sinai, and a view of the monastery from the trail on our well as the Sinai taxi! I plan to return for a longer stay as well, once I return to the Holy Land.


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