Published: August 1st 2011June 21st 2011
Our tour guide Dalia, who grew up in a kabutz, began our tour on top of the Mount of Olives. What a sight! The whole city of Jerusalem faced us. Closest to us were huge cemeteries completely covered with graves of Jews going back many generations. We could see many significant landmarks including the Dome of the Rock (the 3rd holiest site of the Islam faith), built on top of King Herod's Temple. The walls of the old city we see now were built by the Ottoman Empire. Other sites pointed out, but which we did not visit, included the high priest Caiphas' house (where Peter denied Jesus 3 times), a church located where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper in the upper room with his disciples, the general location of Pontius Pilate's headquarters and the Mercy Gate, now sealed. The Mercy Gate is where Jesus perhaps entered the city with shouts of "Hosanna!" (on Palm Sunday). Next, we toured the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, also called the Basilica of Agony. In the garden, we saw olive trees said to date back 1000+ years. Gethsemane was especially meaningful considering it is the name of our first church
in Gainesville, Florida. We took many pictures, including one of a large stone in the ground in front of the altar, possibly the stone where Jesus prayed and sweat drops of blood. (Remember, Gethsemane means "olive press" = the place where Jesus was "pressed" down by the weight of the world and the choice to accept death and the cup of salvation.) From this location, we took many other pictures of St. Stephen's Church and the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene. We next entered the Holy City through the "Dung Gate" and walked to the Wailing Wall. This was a very moving sight - to see people of all nations, colors and ages laying their hands against the wall and lifting their prayers to Yahweh. The Western Wall is the closest location the Jewish people have to where the altar stood inside the ancient temple of Herod, Solomon, and David. Our guide said "there is good energy here." Men were required to cover their heads and I explained to our group what the orthodox men were doing at the wall by following Deuteronomy 6:4 et al - the Shema prayer. Next, we walked along a portion of the
Via Dolorosa that led us from the Muslim quarter to the Christian quarter of the city. It was powerful to walk the same path where Jesus once carried his cross. Before entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we entered the Ethiopian Church and the site where St. Helen discovered the cross of Christ buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is sacred ground that is shared by the Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, and Armenian Christians. Altars have been erected marking the place where Christ was crucified and where the empty tomb of the resurrection was discovered. The Orthodox Christians also claim to have the "holy stone" where the body of Jesus was washed and prepared for burial. We had just enough time to break away from the group and visit the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer right around the corner. It was a familiar worship space and very meaningful to visit, even for 5 minutes! We finished our Jerusalem tour by exiting the Jaffa Gate that was originally built by King Herod and then included in the Ottoman continuation of the wall around the Old City.
To enter Bethlehem we had to cross into Palestinian territory and even change guides
on our bus. As we drove closer into Bethlehem we saw the Evangelical Lutheran Home and wondered if Sara Bolick (the Bishop's daughter) was there. From manger square we entered the Church of the Nativity through a very small doorway. This holy site is also shared between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Orthodox side looked very old and in desperate need of restoration. We saw the traditional ornamentations and icons of the Orthodox chancel. We then descended beneath the altar floor where a golden star marked the birthplace of our Lord. Off to the side was another corner space marking the site where the Christ child was laid in a manger. Inside the Orthodox church they pointed out a mosaic floor with a very rare "eternal cross" pattern, only found in mosaics from the Byzantine church era. (We saw this same eternal cross on a mosaic floor in Cyprus.)
Right next door was the Catholic cathedral adorned in gold and white. According to tradition...the catecombs underneath this sight are the graves of the innocents slaughtered by Herod in Bethlehem. Pope Benedict XVI held Mass here a few years ago and filled Manger Square (5,000+). We also learned about St.
Jerome who lived in a cave nearby for 35 years when he was translating the Bible. He was originally buried here, but the crusaders are said to have moved his remains back to his home country.
Thank you Christ Jesus for your Incarnation, Life, Ministry, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Amen!
There are more photos below