Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Israel, Day Five - - Old City Jerusalem

Where to begin?  So much awe, reverence, joy, fellowship, communion with believers ... I must tell you: there is no place like Israel.  Nowhere.  Ok, so this

We began at 9:00 at The Church of All Nations, which is built upon the site tradition holds was the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives.  The name, Gethsemane, means "olive press".  To gaze upon olive trees over 2000 years old!  This present sanctuary was built in 1924 and is the 3rd such structure constructed on this site.  The first, a Byzantine basilica, was constructed in 380 C.E.  The second was erected in the 12th century.  When we arrived in the sanctuary, a Catholic priest was holding mass, in Polish.  That's the thing about Jerusalem.  Even at this season when the crowds are lower, you will still see and hear tour groups in all languages.  I had never witnessed a Catholic mass.  (All my Catholic friends, please forgive me!)  We were told to be silent in the church which, of course, was beautiful!  Right in front of the altar has been conserved the Rock of Agony, which tradition holds as the place where Jesus prayed His prayers that last night before captivity, while perspiring blood.

After leaving the church, we went a short distance on up the hill on the Mount of Olives to Church of the Pater Noster (Latin, for "Our Father").  The church is so named because it features several mosaics of the Lord's Prayer, in 171 different languages!  Here is a picture of the mosaic for the Esperanto language:

Sanctuary, Church of the Nations, Jerusalem, Israel

In the delightfully simple chapel, there was a hush even as a large tour group entered, then knelt to pray.  There was also a place to write prayers in a book, along with the customary Catholic candle-lighting opportunity.  This chapel more than any other reminded me of the simple church building in which I grew up.  

Everywhere on this campus were large mosaics like the one you see above.  Some of them had the gospel of Matthew's ending to the Lord's Prayer; others did not.  That gospel is the only one which includes "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen."

Next, we stopped for a late breakfast - - coffee and sweet roll - - before walking through the Jaffa gate into the Old City.  The Old City was reconstructed, on a smaller scale from the one destroyed by the Romans, in 325 C.E.  Cobblestone streets through narrow alleys are lined with shop after shop after shop.  Here are a couple of pictures to help you visualize - - - it is impossible to describe.


Each merchant entreats you to step into his shop and peruse his wares.  I did not see even one female shopkeeper, fyi.  There were jewelers, potters, purveyors of Jewish objects, spice merchants, fruit vendors, baklava makers, leather goods merchants, clothing vendors...I could go on and on.  Remember my Facebook friend, who had asked me to find her a GA Bulldog tee shirt?  Yep!  Found it (thanks to Jiries)!  In Old City Jerusalem, no less, when I had expected I'd find it in a more "modern" area.  What an absolutely amazing place Jerusalem is!  

Josef, one merchant we visited - - a friend of Jiries' - - is a jewelry merchant (uh-oh, Hubster!  Shoulda gone with me to tell me "no"!).  Inside his shop is an authentic Roman well (think 1 C.E.) . This merchant's family now owns it.  They have lived there above the shop for over 300 years, passing down the jewelry craft from son to son.  The brother from whom I bought "a bauble or two" (ahem!) has another brother (also a jeweler) who taught at the Art Institute of Chicago for a time.  Here is a picture of Josef:

To Christians, the most sacred sites of the faith lie in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena, was the driving force for establishing this place along with its historical significance.  It was in 325 C.E. the church was constructed.  Such magnificence!  There, we saw a huge rock outcropping which tradition holds was part of Golgotha.  Worshippers stood in long lines today for an opportunity to approach the place where the cross was believed to have stood.  Another popular place for penitents is the stone slab on which Christ's body lay. (First picture below) Christian pilgrims kissed the slab and wiped it with scarves to transfer a blessing to them.  Thirdly, there was the actual sepulcher itself, around which a small shrine inside the rotunda of the church was constructed.  While we were there, the crowd was contained so that three priests (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Christian, and Coptic Christian) could process through one-at-a-time, swinging their incense burners and chanting.  The smell of the incense was amazing... Each one processed into the sepulcher, festooned it with incense and then came out swinging more from their highly-decorative censers.  So moving!


Can you smell that incense?
We did not stand in line to enter the sepulcher, because we would have been there "all day", and this is "low season" for visitors!  I cannot begin to imagine, seeing today's crowds, what it would be like in spring or summer!

Jiries' (our guide's) parents live in Old City, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  After we left there, he took us to their apartment to meet them.  His Arab ancestors were converted by the Crusaders, hundreds of years ago, to Catholicism.  Generations of his family have lived in this same converted convent for over 200 years! When we arrived both elderly parents were gone - - each to see separate doctors.  His father is troubled with an infection in his hand; his mother is having knee pain.  We never did get to meet his mother, but his father soon arrived and was as sweet as could be.  Precious, precious Christian brother!  I wish we had gotten to meet Mrs. Martha, Jiries' mother.

From there, we went to the Wailing Wall.  Oh.My.Goodness....y'all, I can't even.....But, I'll try, ok?

After passing through security, we went down a long flight of outside steps, to a plaza at the base of the wall.  The plaza was large.  There we saw a ceremonial washing fountain, which we observed Jewish women using.  As Debbie and I approached the wall, there were scores, maybe even hundreds of Jewish women, of all ages, holding prayer books and praying - - lips moving, bodies rocking, eyes closed.  Some were standing touching the wall.  Some were sitting in chairs, prayer books in their hands.  Some young mothers were pushing strollers.  I saw one toddler with her Hebrew prayer book in hand.  Debbie and I approached the wall individually, each of us laying our hand on it while we sent our prayers winging heavenward with theirs.  If you asked me to pray for you at the Wall, I did.  I also prayed for some who did not ask.  Then, after sticking my little folded paper of remembrance into a crack of the wall and covertly snapping a few pics with my phone, I the Muslim call to prayer rang out over the plaza, just like it does five times every day.  Words fail me.....


When we stopped by the tee shirt vendor's tent today, we had to wait a few moments until he finished his prayers, bowing repeatedly toward Mecca.  Afterwards, he rolled up his prayer rug and served us.

The devotion(!) of the people of Israel - - not just the Jews, but also the Christians and Muslims, is one of the most humbling things I've ever witnessed.  Just sitting here writing about it fills me with awe!  We Protestants, because we believe in the continuity of salvation (beginning with the decision to accept Christ as Savior, and continuing on until and after death), tend to take our Lord Jesus for granted.  We can be SO distracted by other pursuits!  I know you are thinking:  "Well, they do what they do to earn their salvation, or so they think".  Maybe so....or maybe they just madly love their God.  Could it be that also?  As I said this afternoon over coffee:  "We make time to do the things we love for the people we love."

We had late afternoon coffee at Mamilla Mall (sort of like Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta, but ritzier), outside Old City and near our flat.  Then, we drove by the City of David archeological site.  Today, it lies outside the Old City walls.  In the first century C.E. though the city inside the walls was much larger, and David's house/complex lay within.  Of course, that first century city of Jesus' day was razed by the Romans in 70 C.E.  I wish we had had time to more intently explore the City of David archeological site, since remains from King David's era have been recently uncovered.  But, it was getting dark then, and our day was done.

Much to contemplate and pray over.
Tomorrow, we plan to see Galilee and Capernaum.  It will be our longest day yet, as those towns are a couple of hours away.

It's said there is a Super Blue Moon out tonight.  I guess that makes this trip officially "once in a blue moon"?  🙏🙌

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