Saturday, 13 December 2008

jerusalem (10) - holy week

Our small band of pilgrims enter the Damascus Gate at Dawn

Friday 12th December. Up at 5:30am as a small group of us visited the Church of the Resurrection before breakfast. Really enjoyed walking through the old city at dawn, the streets were so quiet and still and we were able to see the place in a different light without the bustle of the people and markets. The Church of the Resurrection was, however, quite busy and there was a Catholic mass just beginning at Calvary. There were also more people at the tomb than on my previous visit. Nevertheless, there were some places of peace and solitude for prayer and these tended to be the little side chapels and other areas no one is much interested in. My favourite spot is the place known as the holding cell, where Jesus was kept just prior to his crucifixion. It is mesmerising to move from area to area and hear the services in different languages; priests in a variety of vestments reflecting the diversity of traditions, interweaving their liturgies like some elaborately choreographed opera.

A Coptic Priest by the Edicule at the Church of the Resurrection

After breakfast we headed for the Mount of Olives to follow some of the journey of Jesus during Holy Week. Beginning with the Palm Sunday Church at Bethphage, we spent time reading the account of Jesus’ Entry to Jerusalem on a Donkey, before reflecting on the contrast between the procession of Jesus and the procession of Pilate into Jerusalem. The church is a relatively humble place with simple frescos and an interesting mounting stone, thought to be from the crusader period. On the stone is the picture of a laughing donkey and you can only view it by looking at its reflection in a mirror.

Dominus Flevit

On to Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) a tear shaped church commemorating Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. This is another Barluzzi church and through the window behind the altar one looks out across the Kidron valley to Jerusalem. The reading from Luke 19:41 led into a reflection led by Brother David and quiet prayerful singing.

The bare rock at Gethsemane

Down the road we entered the Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees and Barluzzi’s Church of All Nations also known as the Church of the Agony. The focal point of the church is a bare piece of rock where Jesus prayed to his Father before his arrest, while the disciples slept. It was one of those churches I found helpfully led me into prayer and, despite the visitors, there was a stillness about the place that I found very affecting. I have to agree with Brother Robert that Barluzzi really was a genius at rendering scripture in stone.

Ascent from Mary's Tomb (Orthodox)
Bit of a shock to the system for me at this point as we moved further along the base of the Mt of Olives to The Tomb of Mary. Much as I understand the importance of Mary, she has never been central to my devotions or worship and I struggle with some of the traditions that have developed about her over the centuries. It was an interesting place to visit and we spent time reading John’s account of Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the Cross John 19:25-27. The tomb is deep underground and empty as Catholics believe Mary was assumed into heaven (at least that is the assumption); leaving the church was a bit like emerging from a dark womb.

St. Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church - The Upper Room

Lunch was followed by a visit to the Syrian church of St. Mark’s in the old city. The Syrian Church believes that this is the site of Mark’s house, the place of the Last Supper and Pentecost and they claim the first church in Christianity. It was an extraordinary visit, not because of the church but a woman called Justina who showed us around. Justina shared with us stories of miracles she had witnessed at the icon of Mary in the church and then sang the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, as she said, the language of our Lord. She got very upset when a couple of our group crossed their legs while sitting in the church (a very rude gesture in her tradition), however, Justina was a great host and a tremendous evangelist. Eventually she took us down to the Upper Room (down because the city street level is much higher today than C1st AD) where she sang to us in Aramaic once more and then encouraged us to join in. By this stage we were pushed for time so set off to Mount Sion outside the southern wall and a visit to the Cenacle. This is the other site claimed as the place of the Last Supper and has a much older tradition associated with it. The place normally shown in photographs is part of a Crusader church, which became a Mosque and then a Synagogue. We read Paul’s account of The Last Supper from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 before singing Eat This Bread.

Cenacle - traditional site of The Last Supper

The Cenacle is next to Dormition Abbey, the other site dedicated to Mary’s Assumption. This is a really imposing and dramatic building on the top of Mount Sion looking across to the old city and is a clear feature of the Jerusalem skyline. The Abbey is another church decorated with mosaics. There are also swathes of white plaster and I don’t know if this is because they ran out of money before completing the decoration or this was the original intention but for me it didn’t quite work. I’m prepared to forgive any shortcomings with the d├ęcor because they did have a decent Advent Wreath and serve a great cup of coffee in the cafeteria.

Advent Wreath Dormition Abbey

I enjoyed a wander through the old city as the sun set, watching the orthodox Jews running to their synagogues for the start of Shabbat and trying to get photos of their different hats and clothes as the light faded. I did manage a photo of the moon rising over Jerusalem, it really was a stunning sight. The rest of the evening was a relaxed affair; a briefing about departure and procedures at the airport, followed by dinner and then a short rehearsal of some of the liturgy we will be using tomorrow morning when we will be walking the Way of the Cross (another 6am departure!).

Moonrise over Jerusalem

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