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Published: August 29th 2017
I had been anticipating my day on the Mount of Olives since quite early in my planning phase. Especially understanding that it was the hill where Christ arrived and descended into Jerusalem, setting off the momentous events of Easter Week all those many years ago. I had already figured out that the best way to go would be to egress out of Lion’s Gate, which was just down the street from the pilgrim house. My peek out the gate and toward the green tree strewn hills the previous day already had me excited. What was out there? It was time to find out.
I wanted to do everything on my own. No tour. No taxi driver. Just me alone to wander and ponder. The first steps were easy as I descended out of the Old City and walked toward the base of the Mount of Olives. The first site I stopped at was the most meaningful, the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus hid out with his disciples the night he was arrested by the temple guards.
I found a time and space between tour groups to sit and take in the place in relative tranquility. What I noticed immediately
was just how close the garden was to the Old City and how it was in the shadow of the temple up above. Jesus could of either escaped easily farther over the hill or at least hidden himself better. But no, he chose this spot to wait, pray, and accept what had to happen next.
The garden itself has olive trees that could easily be around two thousand years old. Across the way is the grotto, where Jesus left the group to pray to God on his own and asked if he could be spared his fate. Unfortunately, that area was gated off to me, but I could still glimpse it through the steel beams of the door. I made plans to come back later in the week and spend sundown there.
After stopping by the attached Church of All Nations, I headed up the hill hopeful that somehow someway I would be able to find my way to the various destinations on my to-do list. At the end of a steep climb I reached a bustling Arab feeling street. I could go left or right. It was then that I would make a decision that would help
me out throughout my trip. I would follow tour busses. They had to be going somewhere good, right?
Unfortunately, the tour bus I was following got stuck in a roadwork induced traffic jam and I was left to my own devices. The bustling street petered out with no site making its location known. So I kept walking. I could see the Judean Desert out in the distance. I was out walking amongst roundabouts seemingly cut off from the main drag. Eventually, I came across another tour bus. I scrambled up a dusty incline to see what they were up to. A decent view of the Temple Mount and the Golden Dome of the Rock. Hey, it was something.
Working out with my guidebook and my intuition I figure out I must have breezed right by the German Hospice on my haphazard walk. If I could find that I could reorient myself and the other sites’ locations would fall into place. I retraced my steps and low and behold there it was behind a not very well marked iron gate. On the grounds of the hospice there was even an impressive high tower that I was able to climb
up. Looking out of it I got an exhilarating view of the Mount of Olives and the surrounding area. The rest of the day’s site seeing would be a snap.
A couple of highlights were the Chapel of the Ascension, where Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Church of the Pater Noster, where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer. The fact that a couple of important sites like this can be mentioned so casually and fit easily into a sightseeing itinerary show just how holy the city of Jerusalem actually is. It is just dripping with core history and religious significance.
Inside the Chapel of the Ascension is a footprint in the stone purported to be where Jesus ascended from. Outside is open sky. I looked into the radiant blue sky and tried to imagine Christ ascending high into it until he disappeared from view. The sky seemed deep and rich enough. At that moment, a journey between dimensions didn’t seem like such a stretch. Still my mind was satisfactorily boggled.
Besides the cave/room where Christ taught the Lord’s prayer, the main feature of the Church of the Pater Noster are these colorful tablets with the
Lord’s Prayer written out in 140 different languages. I was particularly intrigued that they had one written out in the Cherokee language, from the new world to the heart of the old. I also searched out the tablet written in Japanese to see what I could read. アメン, Amen.
I finally arrived at the ultimate lookout point with spectacular views over the Temple Mount. You could see everything from the Dome of the Rock to the individual Muslim worshipers walking around on their way to prayer. There was also a good view of the Jewish cemetery below, which was absolutely crammed. Apparently, according to Jewish tradition God’s judgement of the dead will begin on the Mount of Olives. I guess they are hoping that it’s first come, first served for their entrance into Heaven.
After taking pictures from every possible angle it was time to head back down the hill. I stopped by the Russian orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene with its eye catching shiny golden onion domes. Fortuitously, besides for one Russian woman praying I had the place to myself. Somewhere out of sight the monks were singing an enchanting Russian hymn.
On my way back
home I wandered through the stone lanes of the Old City, stopping to pick up a delicious pita bread covered with meat sauce to be my lunch. I took it back to my room and took a nap. Over one of the many meals at the pilgrim house it had been recommended to me that I go back up the Mount of Olives and watch the sunset over the Temple Mount and Old City. If I was to do that I would need to rest my weary legs.
Sunset atop the Mount of Olives lookout turned out to be perfect. There was a happy gathering of different people as we all camped out under the sun and waited for it to descend over old Jerusalem. I felt very much the Holy Land pilgrim with my striped hoody pulled over my face to block the sun, lending me an exotic air. Apparently, some other pilgrim thought so to as she turned her camera on me as I basked in the rays of that ancient sun. I was there for well over an hour listening to a mixture of Christian and Israeli music on my ipod. As the sunset reached its
climatic point the song, “So Far to Find You” came rushing into my ears sending chills up and down my neck.
“Will you let me hold you in my arms tonight
I have come so far to find you
So far to find you
Will you take my love and give up the fight
I have come so far to find you
So far to find you
From a world away, I journeyed
Just to hold your hand
You will never be alone again
I've come so far to find you
So far to find you”
Jesus and I sharing a moment across time and space overlooking the Temple and the Old City of Jerusalem where it ALL happened 2000 years ago. With that the sky turned a dusky lavender and I headed back home to the sound of the muezzins call ringing out filling the air and calling the faithful to their evening prayers.
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