By Robert Russo
Greetings from the West Bank. What a glorious day here in the Holy Land.
We awoke this morning to this blessed sun filled Sunday morning. We started the day gathering for a very special worship service at the Greek Melkite Church in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. Today the Greek Melkite Church, an Orthodox Church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, was holding a Catholic ecumenical service in honor of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux being there for the day, thanks to the sponsorship of the Carmelite Order. Many local priests led by the Bishop led us in the congregation through The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in a magnificent display of wholehearted worship to the holiness of God with full worship of each aspect of the Trinity. Many in our group were touched deeply by the high liturgy and worship to our LORD in this service. With beautiful iconography of Jesus all over every inch of the walls and ceiling, the incense, the singing, and the pageantry, was a spiritual feast for all the senses and truly touched our spirits. The two hours of liturgy was preceded by an hour of deep prayer in preparation for the service and culminated by a procession of the relics through the Christian section of the Old City. The whole service of worship stood out as both “ancient” and “holy.”
The afternoon was spent in free time where folks took time eating, drinking fine Turkish coffee (pretty much espresso), bargaining at markets, walking the wall of the Old City, visiting the Museum of Jerusalem or revisiting sites from the day before.
Yesterday I couldn’t help feel a sense of offense to the spirit inside me as I semi-rushed through these ancient churches and Biblical sites taking tons of photos, and not enough time of prayer. So today I revisited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I stood in line with many prayerful Eastern Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims to spend time in contemplative prayer while touching the stone and sitting next to the rock of Calvary and lying at the empty tomb of Jesus. It was truly awe striking for me to be there prayerfully reflecting upon what Jesus did there from His life, His death on the cross and His resurrection. From the looks on the faces of other pilgrims there, I know this feeling was shared by many. You would often find women and men sitting in a corner or standing by candles lost in prayer. Such a spirit of humility by Jesus Christ’s modern day disciples was deeply moving and beckoned me into reflecting on my own sense of humility in this world and before God.
We entered Bethlehem this evening, a much more economically poor area, but rich with culture and history. As I spent the evening with a small group, walking to the Church of the Nativity and through Manger Square anticipation grew for our time of learning and reflection here where our Lord Jesus was born of Mary.
Pray for us to hold the sacredness of the history here centered in us as we see what life is like today in what is yet again an occupied territory. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.
Signing off for the evening, wishing you all many blessings from Bethlehem, on behalf of us all here,
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