Thursday, 11 December 2008

jerusalem (8) - he is not here!

Domes of Church of the Resurrection to left of central tower of the Lutheran Church.

Wednesday 10th December. Today the pace slowed down a little. We had some free time in the morning which I took to relax, read, change some money and wander. Then before lunch we met for a lecture on The Church of The Resurrection (also known as the Chrch of The Holy Sepulchre) and after lunch headed for a visit. This extraordinary church is the latest construction on the site believed to be that of Calvary and the empty tomb of Jesus. Now there is another tomb site, near St. George’s College, discovered by General Gordon when he took Jerusalem under British rule. This site is one favoured by some reformed traditions who dislike the Church of the Resurrection and all that goes with it. For some people it also looks more like what is expected, with an attractive garden, however, the tradition for this site is very late.

Ethiopean monastery on roof of the Church of the Resurrection.

It is difficult to describe the church, which is accessed through the narrow streets of the old city. Click here for a floor plan. We started on the roof where there is an Ethiopian monastery and what immediately hit me was the dilapidated nature of the monastery, reflecting the poverty of the monks. They are just one of six different denominations who share responsibility for the church and all have to agree before work can be carried out in much of the church. This has meant some areas have been shamefully neglected for many years and some parts have been in danger of collapse. Inside and past various chapels and we came to Calvary. There are two altars here; one owned by the Roman Catholics and the other by the Greek Orthodox. It is the Orthodox sanctuary which is over the bedrock in which Christ’s cross is believed to have been placed and you can put your hand through an opening and touch the rock. The area was quite busy and it was difficult to prayerfully engage with the space so we moved on to other parts of the church. I will need to go back again early in the day to find a quieter time and spot to reflect.

Greek Orthodox Calvary

The edicule where the tomb of Jesus is believed to have been is in bad condition; held together by large metal bands surrounding the structure. Visitors are allowed in four at a time by an Orthodox monk and once inside you don’t see much, just an altar on the spot where the tomb was located. The monk banged on a stone after a few moments to say time was up. One bonus was that the Orthodox chapel under the main dome was open and with no one in it there at least was some space to be still for a few moments.

Edicule of the Tomb of Jesus.

Dome of the Greek Orthodox area.

As I mentioned, I need to go back at a better time of the day, though it was good to see the place as many people encounter it. One small insight summed the church up for me on this visit. We visited a small chapel off which is located two tombs, one believed to be that of Joseph of Arimathea. The chapel was little more than a cave and in a terrible state. Apparently this is the Syrian chapel but owned by the Armenians who let them use it. The Syrians won’t renovate it because they don’t own it and the Armenians won’t restore it because they don’t use it! Now I understand why at various times these different groups have found it so hard to agree on anything significant to do with the building. One other incident did lift my spirit; as I left the Franciscan Monks were beginning a sung procession of worship round the church and the singing was magnificent.

Syrian Chapel owned by the Armenians.

After dinner we had the first of three lectures on the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians. This evening’s talk was giving a Jewish perspective and was presented by Ophir Yarden of the Inter-religious Co-ordinating Council in Israel. I won’t comment on what he said as we have two more contributions from a Christian and a Palestinian and I need more time to reflect on this subject. At this point I will just say that Ophir was very impressive in his explanation of the variety of Israeli perspectives and grasp of the national and international situation. He sees this as a critical period given the recent elections in the U.S.A and the Israeli elections in the New Year.

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