Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Day Seven – A Day of Rest

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Sunday sees us dispersing ourselves to various churches in and around Jerusalem  After so many new sights and sounds over the last week it is nice to be doing something familiar, although not quite as familiar as it would seem. The group being made up of Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Scotland, Free Church and Salvation Army representatives we each choose different ways of celebrating our Sabbath.

Some go to St Andrew’s Memorial Church, some to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, one to the Armenian Cathedral of St James and one travels out on a bus to the Pat Ba’Melach Bakery at Gush Etzion, about 10 miles outside Jerusalem to bake bread.

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A Dean Sandwich (Wakefield & Lichfield). Can’t you just tell we are Anglicans

My choice is St George’s Cathedral, and a group of us take the Light Railway to the Damascus Gate, from there a five minute walk to the cathedral. We are running a little late and arrive just as the procession is forming at the back of the church, but are shown to the spare seats… at the front.

The service is led by the Dean, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, the very first indigenous Dean of the Cathedral, having been born in Galilee. All around us I can hear American voices, but also Arabic, and we are told that the service will be in English and Arabic, sometimes spoken in one language and then translated into the other (the sermon); sometimes starting one response in one language and then finishing with the other; and sometimes using both languages at the same time (the hymns). It sounds like a bit of a nightmare to follow, but actually it works well and I am reminded of Pentecost.

The service finishes with a voluntary, Widor’s Toccata from his 5th Symphony in F, expertly played by the cathedral’s female organist and which drew a round of applause from the 200 congregants leaving the building, then out into the sunshine. Adrian Dorber, the current Dean of Lichfield spend one of his sabbaticals in Jerusalem and offered to show us one of the hidden gems in the Old City for an after service coffee.

IMG_7520I have to say that all the time I have been in Jerusalem I have felt completely safe, whether moving through the souks and different  quarters or riding on the Light Railways, rubbing shoulders literally with people ofIMG_7591 all faiths and none. You also become used to the presence of armed soldiers on entrances and corners throughout the city However, on the way back to the Damascus gate, we passed the American Consulate in Jerusalem, a heavily fortified entrance which brings back a reminder of the tensions that exist in this region.

And then you find yourself in a complete oasis of peace and tranquillity.

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Behind this very unprepossessing door is the Austrian Hospice. A slice of European elegance, built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces it houses its own Viennese coffee-house and terrace. Here you can sit in lush gardens and sip coffee and sample delicious pastries. The busy city is hushed and almost hidden from view.

For five shekels more you can visit the rooftop with its incredible views over the whole of the city. On this day the city shimmers in the heat and you can almost believe that the world is at peace.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

 

Day Six – Pilgrim Footsteps

Nobody wants to be subjected to sitting down and looking at the holiday snaps album. However, if you would like to look at more images then do go to the Jerusalem Gallery to see the rest of the photos

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Looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley

It is Shabbat and so one of the lifts in the hotel is automatically stopping at every floor so that you don’t have to push any buttons, and the coffee machines are covered up at breakfast. The coach easily travels along the road, which are clear of traffic – that is until we begin to climb up to the Mount of Olives. Here, as we enter the Arab neighbourhood of At-Tor the streets are busy as it is a normal working day and at least it stops raining as we get off of the coach.

The view is pretty spectacular up here, looking down over the Kidron Valley, with the whole of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem on the other side. Of course the golden Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as- Sakhrah) immediately stands out, especially when the sun starts to shine. However, looking down over the wall one is struck not by ancient monuments, but by rows and rows of graves.

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A prime, but expensive burial site, many Jews wished (and still do) to be buried on the Mount of Olives based on the Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

On that day his feet shall stand
on the Mount of Olives,
which lies before Jerusalem on the east;
and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two
from east to west by a very wide valley;
so that half of the Mount shall withdraw
northwards, and the other half southwards.
Zechariah 14:4

The Mount of Olives is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, Jesus often going there to teach and prophesy, with his disciples. The Sanctuary of the Dominus Flevit is a little church half way down the rather steep incline that recalls the occasion that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, prophesying her destruction because they would not recognise the Messiah.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it
Luke 19:41 

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Mature Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

At the foot of the valley there is a small garden area of approximately 1200m², representative of the cultivated groves that once covered the Mount of Olives. It is within a railed area next to the busy Jericho Road, and any semblance of tranquillity is shattered by the honking of car horns. Here then is the place that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane.

On this site is also the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. It was built in the 1920’s with donations from Christian communities all over the world. It is deliberately kept dark inside, but there is a beautiful piece of artistic fretwork on the entrance representing the tree of life and mosaics and stained glass windows inside.

 

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Two deer stand beside the cross on the tympanum of the Church of All Nations

A small service was being held inside and as the congregation started singing I realised it was Graham Kendrick’s The Servant King and several of us found ourselves joining in. Coming back out into the sunshine though I looked upwards at the tympanum (it’s always good to look up when you go around) and I noticed that there were two bronze deer either side of the cross. I discovered that these allude to the initial verse of Psalm 42.

 

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God
Psalm 42:1

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The Lions’ Gate or St Stephen’s Gate

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Lions or Panthers?

We walk along the Jericho Road to the east in order to enter the city through the Lions’ Gate. The gate is so called because on either side of the entrance there are four lions in bas-relief a reminder that the reason the wall were built was purportedly because of a dream that Suleiman the Magnificent had, in which failure to build the wall around Jerusalem resulted in him being devoured by lions. However, closer inspection reveals that they are probably panthers and not lions!

This is also known as St Stephen’s gate (his church standing nearby) and is the traditional start of the Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been taken by Christ through Jerusalem to Calvary. For many Christian walking the Via Dolorosa is a significant part of their visit to the Holy Land and I would never deny their sincere devotion in doing so. My logical brain on the other hand tells me that it would be difficult to agree on the ‘exact’ route taken by Jesus as too many different churches and factions have been unable to do just that over the last two thousand years, each one trying to take the route closer to their own particular churches;

However, as in all things historical, there are some sites that can be pinpointed as archaeologically accurate and others that have gained acceptance by the majority of pilgrims. Visiting each of the stations certainly enables you to ‘experience’ the story in an authentic way just knowing that within this city Jesus walked.

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The handprint of Jesus?

There are two stations, however, that sparked my curiosity, both involving hands. The first was at the fifth station, where an unsuspecting bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was roped in to carry the cross. As Jesus stumbled he apparently rested his hand on the wall in order to keep his balance and an imprint was left. The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.

The second is at the eighth station where Jesus came upon a group of weeping women, and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children. The station is marked by a stone embedded in the wall with the engraving IC-XC NI-KA , which translates as  ‘Jesus Christ conquers’.

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There is a large hole at the bottom of the cross, and as we stood looking and hearing about the station I noticed several women, who appeared to be local, deliberately going over to the stone and placing their fingers into the hole and making the sign of the cross themselves. Perhaps the women of Jerusalem still heed Jesus’ admonition.

The last few stations are actually situated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; a place where Christ’s crucifixion and burial is said to have taken place. I would think that it should be a place of utter reverence but as always it turns into an ‘unholy scrum’ of people, pushing and shoving, camera’s flashing and fleeting glimpses of these sacred spots. I must admit that this was the place I was most reluctant to visit, for those very same reasons (I had the same feeling about St Peter’s in Rome). However, I cannot be too ‘holier than thou’ as I did take a couple of photographs inside, and a person’s personal response should not be held up against our own reservations. Perhaps I might say that it should not be the commercialism of the sites, and the fact that these things are extravagantly venerated that bother me, but my own expectations of what I want to experience and which I didn’t encounter.

IMG_7496From there we made our way down and through the Jewish Quarter where we found a remnant of the British Mandate of Palestine from the early 20th century on to a remnant of even greater antiquity, the remains of a wall dating from the reign of King Hezekiah (late eighth century BC). It is called the Broad Wall because it is broad and it is a wall… it is a massive defensive structure, measuring some seven metres wide and was approximately eight metres high. No picture because I am sure you can imagine a broad wall.

 

 

Finally, we move down and round to a viewpoint over the Western Wall. The sun is beginning to set and its rays once more hit the Dome of the Rock. They are also reflected off of the wall where prayers continue to ascend and the Jerusalem stone glows as if alive.

The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world;
it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.
Benjamin Disraeli

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Day One – One Place to Another

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From one airport in darkness to another in darkness – at 6.30am the Luton skyline was barely visible and yet hundreds of people were making their way into the departure lounge eager to set off on their journeys around the world.

Flying to Israel on El Al involves quite a rigorous security procedure and we were told in advance that there would be searching questions and that we were to answer them as honestly as possible… “How long have you known the people you are travelling with?” “Well actually I’ve only just met some of them about half an hour ago”. “Have you been given anything as a gift?” “No, but I do have a gift for someone I haven’t yet met”. Still I seem to have answered to their satisfaction and they stamped my card and let me through (although I later found out they had opened my suitcase as certain items were rearranged!)

The baggage check-in clerk seemed particular interested in why I wasn’t wearing my collar as I was a Reverend. I told her I didn’t have to wear it 24/7 but I did have a nice pair of pyjamas with a collar insert… I think she got the humour.

When we got to the boarding gate however, I was reminded of a joke… you’ve heard the one of the Jewish homeopathic doctor, the Methodist minister and the Anglican priest no doubt? Not really a joke but three woman chatting together about world attitudes, children’s education and the effect of social media on family life – interfaith and ecumenical discussions all at once!

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Cloud islands in the Mediterranean

The rain was beginning to smirr on the outside of the aircraft window as we took off, but a few hours later we were flying across fluffy cloud islands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

I also got the chance to taste a truly kosher airline inflight meal with its own certification – which included an unusual Swiss dough and cheese pancake, on which I wasn’t sure if I should use the proffered salt and pepper condiments

It’s always exciting to glimpse the first view of land as you get to end of your flight and as we approached the coastline of Israel the city of Tel Aviv lay below us… but let’s be honest one city from the air so often looks like every other one and it wasn’t until we could see the uninhabited land that lies in between that the landscape revealed we were not over the relatively lush green of southern England.

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Approaching Tel Aviv

Another lengthy one and half hours to get through passport control before we emerged out into the darkness and then a forty minute minibus ride to our hotel outside of the old city of Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem Gardens Hotel, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Gardens hotel at first glance seemed a little tired, and we are room sharing, so the quirks of there being only one large towel in the bathroom and six hangers between us might be a challenge, but the evening meal was excellent and a glass of wine in the bar meant that we were ready for bed sooner than we thought.

Who knows what the view from our balcony will reveal in the morning, but to know that we are sleeping under the same moon and stars as our brothers and sisters around the world gave us pause to thank God for safe arrivals and new opportunities

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The view from the 4th floor

Please note that the internet connection in the hotel, whilst free, is intermittent and not very broad, so my hope of publishing each post in the evenings may not be possible. However, I am sure there are ways to overcome this small blogging problem.