February 16

Most of us our relaxing at the St. George Guesthouse prior to our leaving later this evening. The sun is shining and people are somewhat quiet, reflecting on these past few days in this very holy place.

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We started the day by praying the Stations of the Cross in the Old City.  We carried the cross and went from the outskirts of the city to Golgotha and then to the tomb, walking in the footsteps of our Lord.  It was very moving as we prayed the stations in a city that had not quite woken up from the previous night’s sleep.

After checking out of our rooms we went to the one of the sights known as the Road to Emmaus.  Here we celebrated our last Eucharist in the Holy Land as the pilgrims from Epiphany Parish.  We reflected on what we were leaving behind in the Holy Land and what we were hoping to bring back home.

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This pilgrimage has been a very special experience for the 22 pilgrims from Epiphany and we look forward to sharing our experiences with you in the near future.

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February 16

February 15th, 2016                                                            Neil Peterson & Tyler Morse

 

As we prepare our minds for our own imminent, Christly journey along the Via Dolorosa in the Stations of the Cross early tomorrow morning, we absorb the final installments of Christ’s ministry with our own Palm Sunday procession.  From Bethphage near the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane and eventually the deep prison cell of Caiaphas’ palace we reflected on and inwardly digested the dynamic turmoil coursing through Christ’s experience as he neared the end of his life.

The elegance of the Church of All Nations in the Gethsemane site sublimely captured the writhing pleas of Christ as he was fully enveloped in grief of his foreboding future.  The ancient olive trees currently inhabiting these grounds seemed to imbue wisdom, serenity, and gravitas to the ether.

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Psalm 88 being eloquently read within the bowels of Caiaphas’ palace was, it seemed, striking for many.  The quiet desperation and anguish of the situation for Christ was made vividly apparent as many seemed to be pulled directly into the experience – becoming one with their own anguish.  Peter thrice denying association with the Christ seemed to just add injury to insult in this dire situation.  The sheer beauty of the grounds and the presently standing church bestowed equilibrium to the pain and discord of the spiritual dilemmas we felt through these figures.

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The return to St. George’s in the afternoon left all of us to another swell day of free journeying through the streets of Jerusalem to wherever we so pleased.  Despite a hot situation at the Damascus Gate between Israeli and Palestinian inhabitants (which Bill & Karen Forbes almost witnessed), the delightful sunshine and company of fellow pilgrims made for another marvelous day.  We rest easy this eve and await the morning’s peregrination through our own metaphysical Death and Resurrection.  Blesséd be…

On another important note, we formally acknowledge today as the birthday of our fellow pilgrim from St. Mark’s Cathedral, Neil Peterson.  May the spirit fill you with joy and comfort this day, Neil!  The happiest of birthdays, indeed!!

February 14: Yad Vashem

Sunday morning, after an early Eucharist service in the chapel officiated by Father Naoum, a small group of us (Lex, Bill Wurts, Tyler and Ted, Robin and I) took the excellent and cheap light rail out to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum on Mount Herzel. In Hebrew “yad vashem” means “a memorial and a name,” but it is also an archive of the hell the earth became for Jews and other hated and “useless” minorities in the middle of the last century.

There is no way I can convey the experience in a blog post. Robin, Ted and I spent four and half hours there and still got through only half the exhibits.  I know quite a lot about the Holocaust and have a shelf full of books about it at home. But knowing facts is not the same thing as seeing a long murder unfold and intensify over several years as told by the murdered themselves.

In photographs and drawings, diary entries and letters, face by face, life by life, the museum visitor comes to understand that every single death was not only a discrete human death. Each death was almost always preceded by years of humiliation, injustice, fear, privation, misery, sorrow, physical and spiritual agony, hunger, and, before one’s own death, unconsolable grief for those who died before. The systematic, efficient and willing hate of Nazi Germany murdered lives and a way of life long before human bodies were lined up naked at open pits and machine gunned, or gassed and cast into the ovens.

In addition to the mountain of deaths, there is also the sickening knowledge that none of this was done in secret. As one museum exhibit made clear, these crimes against God and humanity were done openly, in full view of, and often with the help of, the same communities (Christian communities, let’s remember) in which the murdered had lived for generations. It makes me wonder about the crimes occurring under my own nose that I fail to see and protest.

After our visit, Robin and I realized we had both written down the same quotation from one of the exhibits:

“It is indeed a wonder how the world exists after [so much] screaming…Yet now, innocent children, pure angels, even the greatest, holy Jews, are murdered and butchered just because they are Jews…And the world does not turn back into water? It remains standing, steadfast.”

Holly Boone

 

February 14

Today was a free day so the pilgrims went in many directions.  Terry and I decided to venture into the Old City before dawn so that we could go into Jesus’ tomb without the crowds.  We arrived at the tomb at about 5:15.  Low and behold, there were two services going on around the tomb.  One was Orthodox, but the one at the entrance to the tomb was Roman Catholic.  They even had an organist! The priest consecrated the bread inside the tomb.  It was truly a special experience.  Following the service we were able to go into the tomb.

We returned to St. George’s for breakfast and the 8:00 am service in English.  Then it was off to the Old City again.  We walked the ramparts which allowed us to look at the Old City and the new city at the same time.  The contrasts were startling!

Following an excellent speaker on the Israeli perspective we had our own pilgrim Eucharist in the chapel at St. George.  It was a wonderful way to end a full day as we were celebrating the Eucharist at the same time as many of you at home were celebrating the Eucharist at the 8:45 service.

Did I mention my feet are a little tired?  Terry and I walked over 20,000 steps today, which translates to 9 miles.  We will sleep well, I am sure.

Diane

February 13

Isaiah 51:11 Seems to capture the whole Epiphany 2016 Pilgrimage for Bill Wurts and Dick Nelson.
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
We truly have rejoiced, sung, loved the people, the Holy Land and most importantly received a special touch from the Lord through fellowship with Him and each other.
Today we went to St. George’s Monastery (Different than the St. George’s Guest House where we are staying.
Now from Bill:

Today our group of pilgrims studied and then witnessed the St. George’s Monastery in the Judean Desert. This is a breath-taking facility built by monks in the 4th Century who wished to immerse themselves in the desert life style of John the Baptist and Jesus. The monastery is located along the Wadi-Qelt, the main route from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road was often taken by Jesus on his trips from Galilee to Jerusalem. It was a winding road deep in the valley which was often frequented by robbers. The 23rd Psalm is believed to have been written about this route and it’s “valley of the shadow of death”. It is also the road where the Good Samaritan performed his compassionate assistance for someone who had been beaten and robbed by some vigilantes.

The exact site selected for St George’s Monastery contains the cave where it is believed that the profit Elijah lived when he was being sustained by food that the Lord had ordered some ravens to bring to him.

The Monastery was overrun by the Persians in 614 AD and rebuilt by the Crusaders about 600 years later. The skulls and bones of the monks killed during the Persian are displayed in the Monastery itself. After many centuries of neglect, St George’s was rescued by a Greek monk named Kalinkas and restored to a wonderful condition by 1900. The Greek Ortodox  monks continue to run the Monastery today.

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February 12

We woke up this morning way before the crack of dawn for breakfast at 5am with a 6am departure for Bethlehem. Many of our destinations have been in the occupied territory of the West Bank and necessitate going through military checkpoints.Early departure facilitates these crossings.  Another benefit of early departure is getting to our destination much earlier than other tour groups.
Bethlehem means place of bread; having a special meaning for Jesus, the bread of life.  Our first stop is the Church of the Nativity which Constantine’s Mother, St Helena, built over the site or grotto of Christ’s birth.   It was built in 339AD making it the oldest continually operating Church in Christendom. We had a very moving service in the grotto beneath the Church where Mary gave birth to the Christ child. To have communion in that small space will be a lasting memory.  We also explored the Church of St Catherine adjoining the Church of the Nativity.
Bethelehem today is much different as the last few years have seen the building of the wall around the community separating the citizens of Bethlehem from the rest of the West Bank. The 30 foot wall, topped with barbed wire and guard towers is quite intimitadating.
The colorful graffiti and many large posters, some put up by Europeans, strongly evoke the anger and sorrow of it’s existence and the hope that it will one day be taken down.
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The nearby Shepherd’s field was where the multitude of angels appeared to proclaim the good news of Christ’s birth.There is a lovely Church there to remember their message.  Glory to God in the highest and Peace to his people on Earth.The acoustics in the Church are amazing and we were again inspired by our singing and our soloist Tyler.
After our day trip we spent our extra time going again to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City. Walking through this area you see the markets.  We waited to see the stone where they laid Jesus after the Crucifixion.  While waiting we listened to the monk’s service. The experience of visiting the burial was moving and deepened our day immensely as we journeyed from the birth to the death.
The fullness of this experience is greater than we can know now as it sifts through us and we grow in our relationship with Christ. Our pilgrimage will continue long after we return home.
Bill and Karen

February 11

February 11—we left at 6:30am to visit first the Western (“Wailing”) Wall. The Western Wall is just beyond the Dung Gate (named for obvious reasons) to the Old City. There is security—a metal detector—and then armed soldiers/police on the other side of security but not a heavy presence along the plaza. The first photo is part of the plaza.

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The wall is separated by sex. Men and women pray separately. We brought small pieces of paper on which we had written prayers to place in the cracks of the wall. The notes are collected by rabbis and buried at Mt. Olive. The second photo is the women’s section;

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the third photo is the men’s section.

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After the wailing Wall, we went through another security checkpoint to get into the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. (This area is called the Temple Mount by the Jews) The mosque is actually the entire (huge) plaza surrounding the Dome of the Rock. Muslims may enter the mosque through any of many entrances but non-Muslims must go through a single entrance. All entrances have guarded checkpoints.

The mosque grounds are tree lined and later in the day more crowded with worshippers. The fourth photo is a scene of some worshippers on the plaza.

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Then is the Dome of the Rock.

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The sixth photo is of the skyline from the Dome of the Rock.

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Non-Muslims are no longer allowed in to the Dome of the Rock itself due to religious tension. Muslims consider the entire mosque to be sacred space. Jews are not welcome and if they enter (which is forbidden by Jewish religious leaders) they are typically escorted by a phalanx of Israeli soldiers for their safety. There have been many instances of Muslims being very aggressive towards Jews who enter. Typically the Jews who enter are fairly radical Jews who want the mosque torn down and to rebuild the third Jewish temple. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount_and_Eretz_Yisrael_Faithful_Movement
After leaving the Temple Mount our first stop was for mint tea and bread at a shop run by one of Iyad’s “cousins.” The bread—covered with sesame seeds and opened and filled by Iyad with a spice called zatar–was, as always, delicious. Iyad has lots of “cousins” but as he has made clear, there are good cousins and bad cousins. Leaving the snack bar we had to navigate some bad cousins who Iyad told us had a reputation for being pickpockets. Good information and we all ran the gauntlet with our possessions intact.
The next stop was St. Anne’s. Located at the start of the Via Dolorosa, near the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the old city, this may be the best church in the entire Middle East. It’s a pretty and small Crusader church that escaped the wrath of the Muslims when they overran Jerusalem in 1187. Although it’s been restored a bit over the years it is the best-preserved Crusader church in the city. It’s called St. Anne’s because it’s constructed on the site of what the Crusaders believed to be the home of Anna and Joachim and birthplace of the Virgin Mary. The Nave is on the right.

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The altar in the grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary is pictured below.

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The visual attractiveness is just the beginning. The interior acoustics are simply unbelievable. No one in our group had experienced anything like it. Doyt knew about this from prior visits and we came prepared with two hymns to sing. We made several recordings of them and we’re attaching a recording. The soloist for the second verse was, of course, Tyler, whose voice took full advantage of the rare acoustics. While we were singing, a German group from Bavaria came into the church and complimented us on our choice of the second hymn—apparently it was originally a German hymn. As we were exploring the church, they were singing—apparently, that’s what’s “done” here.
After we finished at St. Anne’s we went to visit the Princess Basma Centre, a facility connected with the Episcopal diocese here that offers therapeutic services to Palestinian children born with disabilities. See http://www.basma-centre.org/history/. Epiphany has been providing support to them for a few years and expects to continue. It was a moving experience and the work they are doing is terrific. The kids we saw, little boys and girls of pre-school age, were simply adorable, both in the physical cuteness one usually sees in children of that age but also in their gameness to work through the extra burden that life has thrown at them.
A couple of other thoughts. The facility guide told us that in local culture the “blame” for these situations falls on the mother. At first, I (Rich) thought this was just a poor word choice—that he meant the responsibility for getting the children to the treatment fell on the mother but then he repeated the word and I realized he really meant “blame,” like the mother was responsible for the birth disability in the first place. How very sad, and I’m not sure what else there is to say.
The Princess Basma Centre also runs a school on the property for grades 1 through 12, where the disabled kids are mixed with normally-developing children. That caught our ear as two of our children spent a preschool year at the UW’s Experimental Education Unit, a program that does a similar mix for children up to six years old.
Finally, we went to the Centre’s woodwork shop where they provide continued training and some employment for disabled youth post-school. They made beautiful furniture and other things and several people bought trays or similar objects.

For lunch we went to the Borderline Restaurant for another great meal.  Here’s the main course, which came with a half game hen.  Then, we were offered the opportunity to skip the Israeli Museum and many of did so.  We took the opportunity to write this blog post.  Tonight we meet with the Archbishop and another gentleman who will give us a Muslim perspective.  Tomorrow is a early morning departure for Bethlehem.

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Sherilyn and Rich