A journey to Jerusalem
On the way back down the hill we visited the Russian Convent of St Mary Magdalene and attended a service there. The church is exclusively beautiful.
We spent a day in Bethlehem as well. It is in the Palestinian part of the country and it is marked with greater poverty than the Jewish side. We took a taxi in the morning and visited the monastery of “St Savvas The Sanctified”. The locals call him St Sabbas. It is in the desert, about 30 min drive from the town. St Savvas lived in the 5th and 6th century. He spent more than 10 years in a cave nearby, coming to the church just on Saturdays and Sundays for services. His life and example influenced a lot of followers, he organised the Great Lavra with hundreds of monks living in the there. He passed away at the age of 94. His body lies in a glass casket in the church and it’s incorruptible, one can see the skin of his face. There are many caves around the monastery that were used by hermits. A lot more information about the life of St Savvas can be found on the website of the monastery.
We spent the afternoon in the Church of The Nativity and the Holy Monastery of The Shepherds. These places are always overcrowded with groups of visitors. The birthplace of Jesus is a small cave. A security guard let just 3-4 people in at a time. He asked us why we were going in twice. The church above it is a catholic one, unlike all orthodox churches mentioned so far.
The Shepherds’ field is the place where an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the three shepherds. They went to see the newborn baby, spread the word of the angel, glorified and praised God. We were given a brochure with the history of the place and miracles which happened there. Some of them are about divine liturgies being sung in that church by angels at night and attended by Virgin Mary and St George, which were witnessed by local church goers.
On our last day we walked along Via Dolorosa, the way of Jesus to Golgotha. It is about 500 m long, with 14 stations marking the places where he was condemned and sentenced by Pontius Pilate, a crown of thorns was put on his head, where he was given the cross, where he fell under the weight of the cross, where Virgin Mary watched her son carrying the cross, where he supported himself with his hand on the wall, where he collapsed at the view of Golgotha, the place where he was nailed to the cross.
We went to see the Wailing Wall (so called Western Wall) in the Jewish quarters of the old city. The first 4 layers of stones are from the time before Jesus, the second 4 are from Roman times. There are fountains where the Jewish wash their hands and mouth before praying. They are very diligent and zealous in praying. We were advised to use their small hats (yarmulke) before going to pray at the wall. They write their messages on pieces of paper and leave them in the gaps of the wall. We did as well.
I haven’t mentioned all the places we saw and people we met, not because they were insignificant but because I didn’t want to dilute the main accents of the story. Actually everything that happened added more colour and taste to our experience. I should mention though, the churches of “St John The Baptist”, the Greek Patriarchate’s one in the Christian Quarters of the old city and the Dormition Abbey , the French church near the place where Jesus was imprisoned by Caiaphas (the high priest) outside of the Zion gate.
Here I complete my impressions, or whatever can be expressed with words, about that unique place and country. I thank God for the opportunity and blessing to go and see it! It’s a place where the spiritual world touches the physical one and you can’t say which of them is more real.
October 2015 Stanimir