By Adam Blagg & Todd Christensen
Greetings from Jerusalem! Our journey today was one of many locations, most of which were placed within the Old City and each had moments that could fill the contents of this blog. We will relate a brief glimpse of each location and a few reflections on selected places of interest. It is fair to say that our day was full and rich on a variety of levels and whatever is included is simply a glimpse into we experienced.
Our day began with a visit to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church built in 1844 and a talk with Father Joseph. The church was decorated with numerous icons and frescos that related various stories of the gospels, with a strong focus on the resurrection. The church is in communion with the Roman Catholic church but many of their practices were of the Greek Orthodox church, including the Heavenly Gates, Angel Doors, Icons, use of the Divine Liturgy. The church also includes all three initiation sacraments early in the life of a new Christian, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, another Greek Orthodox practice.
Our next stop took us to St. Mark’s Convent where we were greeted by our tour guide’s sister-in-law, Justina. She shared with us the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and also related personal experiences of the mystery surrounding the icon of the Virgin Mary. This convent also held one of the two places possibly attributed to the Last Supper.
We then moved to one of the more popular stops in Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place of worship for six different churches. It was interesting to observe a variety of different approaches to this holy site, from great veneration, high worship, quiet contemplation, and photo snapping hurriedness.
After lunch we moved to the Dormitian Church, a church built for the honoring of Mary and the Assumption. This location had a fresco of Jesus, depicting him reaching down towards Mary who was lying in state on the floor below the fresco. This is contrary to the normal artists rendition of Mary holding Jesus. Numerous alcoves, each with some form of icon, sculpture or artwork depicting saints surrounded this area. We also visited another location of the Upper Room, one that showed use by all three Abrahamic traditions at some point in its history.
We arrived at the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate for vespers but were met with disappointment as the gates were locked and the priest was preparing for their allotted time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We waited for a few moments to observe the procession and were greeted by the sight of the priest in full vestment led by two men carrying swords and pounding the ancient stones with wooden staves. Others, dressed in brown albs followed, making their way with a solemn pace to their appointed destination. What was truly unique for us observers was the accompaniment of three army escorts. Watching a holy procession with an armed escort placed this moment in a context unfamiliar to us.
All told the day has provided some memorable opportunities for future reflection and has been a wonderful start to this trip. We look forward to what still awaits on this journey through the Holy Land.
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