Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sunday in the West Bank

A very early morning this morning -- 6:15 breakfast and 7:00 departing for the West Bank. We said "Au Revoir" to the sisters and headed out.

We drove early this morning and saw the Jezreel valley coming alive as the sun was rising. We saw in the distance Mt. Tabor, the place where it is believed the transfiguration of our Lord occurred. Had we not been here on a Sunday we would have gone to Mt. Tabor today, instead we are headed to church in Zababdeh. 

We arrived at the check point and waited for the checkpoint to open at 8:00. Ilyad joined us this morning (Mark went back to Jerusalem last night), and is our guide today with his son Sammi. 

We sat and listened to Iyad talk about the history of the area. 

Mt. Moreh, Gilboa, Samaria -- Iyad spoke about the land and the history. I can't write all that he said because I was intrigued by the link from the past to the present. We were passing through biblical history in a way I hadn't experienced in 2009. I felt a deep connection to the land and the stories. It made my mind drift to prayers I felt and prayed as I did when I studied this part of First Testament studies -- I felt myself drawn to and praying psalms in my head as I heard the stories. The Bible was coming alive for me in a new way.

Every once in a while Iyad would rub the piece of basil that he hung on the air conditioning vent in the bus -- it filled the bus with the fresh smell of basil. This added to the story in a way I'm still trying out unpack -- suffice it to say I will never be able to smell basil again without my mind drifting back to this place and the history of its people. Ilyad is pictured here, and if you look to the right you might be able to see the basil hanging from the air conditioning vent.

Our first stop once which passed through the checkpoint was St. George's Greek Orthodox Church in Burqin. Helen, mother of Constantine, had the church built over the 1st century cistern that tradition has it was the place of the healing of the 10 lepers. Here is a picture of the cistern.

Here our host explained that the bishop's chair was one of the few in the land made of stone. While I didn't dare sit in it, I couldn't help but take a picture near it. This is one of the oldest churches in all of Palestine, dating from the fourth century. There were also stone frames around the icons. It was mind blowing to me to be in a church that is that old and was founded by the Mother of Constantine. I wonder what she would think of the fact that this town, with a population of 70,000 has only 72 Christians. Their church services are held on Friday as their priest is in Ramallah for services on Sunday.

Outside first century cisterns were discovered. Here we learned that lepers were placed and lived down in the cisterns to keep them from contaminating the village. Two of our pilgrims climbed down into one of the cisterns that used to hold the lepers. Can you see them down there? I can't imagine the isolation and despair that the lepers felt.  No wonder they couldn't wait to tell people what Jesus had done for them -- to run out into the light and the open air. I couldn't help but think and pray while I was here -- When do I stifle the life in others? 

It is a beautiful church -- and as is my custom, I lit a candle and offered prayers there -- I won't tell you what I prayed for, only I felt myself start to cry. This whole experience is very overwhelming. I know it is going to take me a long time to fully process all that I'm experiencing. Yes, I've been here before (not this particular church, but the Holy Land. Yet, I'm not the same person as I was in 2009. I am, of course, the same but my journey of faith continues to deepen. This pilgrimage is taking me even deeper, and it is pulling me deeper and closer into relationship with Jesus, which is already deep and close -- and I know, again, it will take me a long time to process all of this.

As we headed over to St. Matthew's Anglican Church we passed through a village which is known for having a quarry as its main source of work. 

We arrived 20 minutes late at St. Matthew's -- but the congregation had waited for us! As they saw us coming the church bells were rung.  Fr. Salim handed me an alb and a stole -- it was large for me, but I didn't care -- I was so happy to be here with him and this very warm congregation.

I read some prayers and the gospel in English. As he preached in Arabic I started reading ahead in the English worship bulletin from St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem. I began to cry as I read the words "he died here in Jerusalem". At the end of the sermon he gave a quick synopsis of it to us in English. It was about Mary (of course), her obedience -- her YES to God. I had to pull myself together at the end of the sermon (I was still emotional from reading the words of the Eucharistic prayer during the sermon) as he asked me to say a few words during the announcements. 

I brought greetings from Bishop Bruno and the people of the Diocese of Los Angeles. I told the people how humbling it is to be here on a Sunday morning, and I told them I was emotional reading the words of the Eucharist as I couldn't understand the sermon being given in Arabic. I thanked them for their warm welcome and for waiting for us. I thanked them for welcoming our pilgrims.

The next thing I knew Fr. Salim asked me to celebrate the Eucharist. He asked me to celebrate using the prayer I had read a few minutes earlier and cried over. I thought I would be okay. When I got to the words again -- I started to cry. I had to stop. I was overwhelmed, and still feel overwhelmed, saying the words of the Eucharistic Prayer in that space on this day, having been to Nazareth, on our way to Jerusalem. I have been to the Holy Land before, but I don't think I will ever be able to celebrate the Eucharist again in the same way -- this was a great gift I received today, but it also feels like a great burden that I need to unpack. How can I help the Christian communities here? How can I be an advocate for them? How can the peace of God which passes all understanding be realized in this land? How can I invite others into the great impact of the words of our Eucharistic prayers?

I distributed communion -- the person with the bread dips it in the wine and puts it in the mouth of the people. For younger children, they receive the bread and the cup is touched to the top of their head.

After the service I was introduced to the organist. She brought me tissues when I began to cry at the altar. She had made the manger scene the day before which sat at the base of the altar. Here she is with her family. She put three wrapped gifts in the manger scene -- which again is a cave -- they were wrapped with Santa paper -- "from the Kings for Jesus". I don't remember ever seeing something so beautiful and heartwarming.

After the service I had a cookie and Arabic (Turkish?) coffee -- yum! I met with the people -- so warm and welcoming. Then we had this group picture. 

We walked down and I had my picture taken in front of the church that houses the Latin School that the Diocese of Los Angeles supports (thank you Mary Bruno!). I met children at St. Matthew's who attend this school, gratefully so! Their parents thanked me.

We got back in the bus and headed toward Nabulus. It is known as the place of the first confirmation -- Philip came to a town in a town in Samaria -- in modern day Nablus per the book of Acts. The countryside leading up the Nablus was beautiful.

Another view on the way to Nablus.

We then stopped at Jacob's Well at the Greek Orthodox Convent of St. Photini. Fr. Justinian, who is the priest in charge of the congregation was not there that day. He actually wrote all the icons and painted all the frescos in the church as well as the mosaics. 

We walked down into the well. It is down steps inside the sanctuary. Before we started Ilyad took water from the bucket that was on the ledge of the well and dropped it back down the well. It took a goodly number of seconds before you could hear the water splash in the bottom of the well -- the well is THAT deep! Wendy read the lesson of the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus to us. Again, it is so powerful to be in these places and hear the scripture read by a pilgrim, especially a young pilgrim. I was asked by Iyad to offer a prayer at the end of the reading. I agreed, but realized as soon as I tried to start it that I was still too emotional from the Eucharist to be as coherent as I would have liked to have been with this prayer.

In this picture two of our women pilgrims are drawing water from the well -- again it made the scripture come alive for me!

Fr. Justinian wrote many icons which are for sale in the area of the well. Steve bought one of the Trinity. The man working there gave me a gift -- a small jug (pocket size) of water from Jacob's Well. I hope that fits in my little bag to bring home on the plane as I don't normally check a bag (we came with just a backpack and a carryover each. 

When we went upstairs Chris took me over to one icon/fresco that Fr. Justinian wrote. He told me the story that when they were there years ago with Bishop Bruno, there was a priest on the trip who asked Fr. Justinian about this icon that I have pictured here. "Father Justinian, what is the significance of the carrot in this picture?". Fr. Justinian replied, "it's a carrot." The priest pressed him on the significance of the carrot again. "I felt like painting a carrot that day," Fr. Justinian replied. Fr. Justinian then turned to the priest and said "here in the Holy Land people want to place significance on everything -- sometimes it is just what it is. Sometimes it is just a carrot." The priest preached about this afterwards, and I know I will be preaching on this too. Another thing to think and pray about today.

As we drove along we saw Israeli settlements on hilltops here in the occupation zone -- the West 
Bank. We drove by the city of Shiloh, where the ark of the covenant was kept before it was lost to the Philistines. We drove by terraced hillsides -- terraced over thousands of years by the people who lived and work on this land. It is designed so that the land doesn't erode and so that they could plant and use the land for food production. There were also watchtowers built -- people needed to protect their land especially during harvesting time. They are typically made of stone -- see Isaiah chapter 5 per Iyad.

We then went to the city of Taybeh, the only 100 percent Christian village in Israel/Palestine with a population of 1,200. We ate at the Taybeh restaurant -- which was absolutely delicious! We ate musakhan. The one waiter asked us to like the restaurant's Facebook page, which we were happy to do. They had free wifi at the restaurant, which was a big plus for the group!

We then headed over to the Taybeh Brewing Company, which is the only microbrewery in Palestine, now being distributed in various countries and coming soon -- licensed to the Ipswich Brewing Company in Boston. The woman in the tasting room is from Boston, but her family is from Taybeh. The pilgrims had a wonderful time at the beer tasting (only one little glass), and bought souvenirs to take home. 

We left the brewery and headed over to St. George's church ruin there in Taybeh. St. George is the patron Saint of Jerusalem. It was an interesting ruin.

We then headed over to St. George's Guest House in Jerusalem -- our home away from home for the remainder of our trip. Crossing the checkpoint, Israeli soldiers boarded the bus and asked us for our passports and the little piece of paper (visa) we were given when we entered the country. We were happy to show them. 

At St. George's we were greeted warmly and shown to our rooms. Apparently the room Steve and I are supposed to be in is not available tonight but will be tomorrow. I'd be happy to stay where I am, but apparently someone is supposed to be in that room tomorrow. No worries -- good thing I pack lightly.

At 5:15 I headed with the rest of the pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before dinner -- without cell phone, iPad, backpack -- only us. We were asked to experience this for the first time without "things" to distract us -- not money, not electronics -- nothing! When we got there Vespers was being offered by priests who some of us assumed to be Assyrian at the site of the crucifixion. We waited a few minutes and got in a short line to reverence and pray at the site. We then walked down to the Holy Sepulchre and prayed there as well. A few minutes to walk around -- all in silence. We met up outside and walked back to St. George's in silence through the streets in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Dinner was ready when we arrived back at St. George's. They prepared a wonderful dish -- makloubeh, which was turned upside down out of the pot to serve it. A group from the Diocese of New York was celebrating their last night here in the Holy Land. 

Devotions and group time followed dessert. We prayed Compline together. We shared thoughts and feelings. It was as moving at the end of the day as it had been at the beginning.

....and the pilgrimage journey continues tomorrow.

More pictures from St. George's Orthodox Church:

More pictures from St. Matthew's Angli an Church:

More images from Jacob's Well in Nablus:

More pictures from lunch:

Our chef:

More scenes from St. George's ruin in Taybeh:

And another picture from dinner! 

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