A journey to Jerusalem
I and my brother Biser, who lives in England, went to Izrael for a week at the end of September 2015. For us, as Christians, there are many interesting places to see and the time is never enough for everything but we had the chance to hear some amazing stories and see holy places.
We attended a night service at the Church of Resurrection. It was in Greek and lasted 4 hours starting from 12 at midnight. It is not easy to express with words the all the feelings of a Christian when one attend such a ceremony at the place where a miracle happens every year. Here is the small chapel, called Holy Ciborium, inside the Church of Resurrection, where the Orthodox Jerusalem Patriarch receives the holy fire, which God sets alight every Easter and he passes it to the people waiting outside to see, rejoice and receive blessing from God through his fire and spread it around the world. The miracle has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. Here is a narrative from the Orthodox Patriarch Diodor:
I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks asif the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp...
At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church."
We had Holy Communion after the service and walked back to our hotel, overwhelmed from the unforgettable event. We learnt that the tomb of Jesus is located few meters directly above the grave of Adam and Eve and some of his blood trickled through a crack in the rock (Jerusalem is a city built on stone) down to their grave. Thus God showed symbolically that with his blood Jesus redeemed the sins of all people back to Adam and Eve.
Just inside the entrance of the Church of Resurrection there’s a big flat stone, where the body of Jesus was laid down after the crucifixion. Everyone knees and kisses it. It smells of holy oil and one can often see some of it in the cracks.
On the second floor of the church complex is Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion.
The Old City Jerusalem can be entered through a few gates. The most popular one is Jaffa gate on the west. At the north is Damascus gate, leading to the Arab quarters. Here is a photo of it:
The King’s gate is on the east and it has been walled up and closed after Jesus entered it at Palm Sunday. The locals say that it will reopen for his second coming. We went out of the Lions gate on the east, which is near the King’s gate. We walked down the hill and reached the lowest point of the glen between two hills. There is located the Church of Assumption, where Virgin Mary passed away in her sleep. Her tomb looks like a bed carved in marble. The whole church is built inside a rock as many others around. Very close there is the Gethsemane garden. There are some very old olive trees with huge trunks.
We climbed the steep hill east of the old city. On the top of it is the place from where Jesus ascended to Heaven, sent off by his disciples. It is a rock and there’s a small chapel built around it.
There are three monasteries on that hill. Two of them are Russians. The third one, The Monastery of Holy Ascension is Greek but there are some Russians living in it as well. We were warmly welcomed by the Russian nun Nina. She narrated the most significant events from its history. The land was bought by the Jerusalem Patriarchate. In the 1987 Archimandrite Ioakim requested a building permit from the Jewish authorities for building a church but he was refused. He collected money from donations and started building it hoping that he will get a permit later. In 1992, after the church was built, the Jewish municipality sent two bulldozers to demolish it. When they knocked down the ceiling the round Icon of the Pantocrator fell down. The builders continued demolishing the walls. When they were about to start smashing the floor, which is a ceiling of the basement and was intended to be built as a part of the church, something unexpected happened. The Pantocrator icon lifted up, rolled around and stood upright in front of the bulldozer. The steel hammer broke, the builders panicked, they took their machines and went home. No one ever attempted to destroy the church again. A new church was built nearby. The ruins of the old one can still be seen with reinforcement steel sticking up from the semi demolished walls. We saw the miraculous Icon of Pantocrator along with other relics in the new church.
Three years later, in 1998 two Arabs attacked the monastery with an intention to kill Archimandrite Ioakim. His mother Anastasia came out first and they poured out their anger on her. She lived a very modest Christian life, giving away her possessions and helping people. She always kissed the hand of his son as a priest but the previous night she told him that now is the time for him to kiss her hand. She knew or sensed what was going to happen. The Arabs cut her tong and she died from chocking. They attacked her son as well but another monk, Vladimir came to the rescue. Father Ioakim sustained injuries and stayed in a hospital for a while but recovered. Vladimir was praying at the time of the attack. He heard a voice calling him: “Vladimir, Vladimir”. He asked later and found out that there was no one around to call him. It must have been an angel’s voice who attracted his attention so he can save his brother. Anastasia was buried in the church. Archimandrite Ioakim passed away quietly in 2009, on the day of The Ascension. After completing the church service he went to his monastic cell and he was found there in the evening. He meant to be buried with his mother. When they opened the grave of Anastasia they found her body incorruptible. Both of them are buried on the left hand side of the present church. The Monastery of The Ascension has a website and some more information can be seen there.