January 19, 2015
Today was a very full day exploring the vicinity immediately around Jerusalem. We began at a small church in Bethphage, which is located just west of the Separation Wall that cuts off the road to Bethany (where we stopped the other day on our way here from Bethlehem). Bethphage is where Jesus is said to have been seated on a donkey (colt) for his ride into Jerusalem for Passover (Luke19:28-40). The church here is run by the Franciscans. We were allowed to visit the church and held a brief service.
Just across a side street from the church, in among the neighborhood, are the ruins of a Palestinian home recently demolished by the Israeli military. The family owns the land and applied for a building permit for the home, but (as is usual) the permit was delayed, and they built without it. Finally, having lived in the home for fourteen years, they were informed that the permit was refused and that they needed to leave it. There was no deadline on the eviction notice.
The eight families who lived in the home awoke to the sound of bulldozers in the early morning three days later and barely escaped before a bulldozer broke through the wall to gut the interior of the home. This is, unfortunately, a common scenario.
Our next stop was the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father). It stands on the traditional site associated with Jesus teaching The Apostles how to pray the Our Father. The 4th century Byzantine church has been partially reconstructed and includes the remains of a first century cave that is now a Carmelite chapel, where we held a brief service.
The Lord’s Prayer is represented in over 100languages on tile inscriptions in the garden and church.
On the walk down from the Mount of Olives, we stopped in the vast Jewish cemetery on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley that faces west towards Jerusalem. The cemetery closest to the walls of the city, on the western slope of the valley is Muslim.
Next we visited the church on the Mount of Olives known as the Dominus Flevit, the place where “the Lord wept” for Jerusalem, longing to gather its people together “like a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37-39).
The clear leaded glass window above the altar is centered on Jerusalem, which means the church faces west, towards the place of Christ’s death (unlike most churches which face east, the direction associated with new life and resurrection). We held another brief prayer service with a hymn in this place before exploring the grounds and garden surrounding it. There is a first century Jewish ossuary cemetery here.
We walked down from the Mount of Olives to The Church of All Nations at the modern location for Gethsemane – the “place of the olive press.”
This large church contains within it an exposed area of rock (near the altar) where Jesus is believed to have prayed and wept before his arrest. So, the rock is referred to as “the stone of agony.” As many pilgrim groups do, we were permitted a few minutes to gather around the stone for a brief service and hymn.
We had some time to explore the church and olive grove outside it. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to see the cave associated with the olive press, where many believe the apostles stayed and slept the night before Jesus’ arrest.
Then we boarded the bus once more for a visit to three sites located on Mount Zion, the area where Jesus and the apostles seem to have headquartered whenever they were in the area nearest to Jerusalem.
Our first stop was to a crusader era church that was remade into a mosque but which is associated with the story of the Upper Room. The space is known as The Cenacle, and given it’s age is very unlikely to have at all been the location of the upper room.
That said, it is possible that Mount Zion was the place where the upper room was located somewhere, and this site does commemorate that space. We said a brief service with a hymn here before moving on.
The next site on Mount Zion was the Dormition Abbey. This church is the domain of a German Benediction community, though it’s very gracious and charming abbot is from Belfast, Ireland. Brother Gregory met with us for about an hour, sharing the history of the Benedictine community there and the role it plays stabilizing relationships between Palestinians and Jews in their immediate area.
An exploration of the church buildings includes a crypt dedicated to Mary’s death. Mount Zion is said to be where Mary died, because she lived there after Jesus’ death. There are other strains of Christian tradition that place her death elsewhere, but Mount Zion is very likely.
Our last stop for the day was the church associated with Peter’s denial of Christ after Jesus was arrested (Mark 14: 53-4, 66-72). The church is known as St. Peter of Gallicantu, a Roman Catholic church the name of which means “the cock’s crow.” The name is in commemoration of Peter’s triple denial of Jesus before the rooster crowed twice.
The remains of the Byzantine church built on this sight as well as the old Roman steps up which Jesus would have been brought after his arrest to the high priest Caiaphas’ palace, which this location is believed to have been. Because Jesus and his apostles based themselves out of Mount Zion when they were in the area, they would have used these steps many times to get between lower and upper Jerusalem.
In the crypt underneath the current church are the remains of first century caves and hole in the floor through known as a thieves’ hole. Prisoners would have been lowered into an isolated cistern, often partially full of water, until they would be brought up again for trial. The early Christian community believed that this is where Jesus was imprisoned before he was taken to Herod.
We held our Eucharistic service in the church here today, with an excellent sermon by Paul, the dean of the cathedral in Montreal.
After our time there, some us (including me) walked back to our hotel rather than taking our bus back. After dinner at The Gloria, I joined a night walk of the city with bishop Kirk. It was fun to walk through each of the quarters of the city – Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian. We ended up on the roof above the Muslim quarter, for a great view of the city from its center. Our walk included going to the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall), which is the only aspect of the Hebrew temple that was destroyed by the Romans.
It was a long day, but a good one.
Here’s to peace negotiations with squirrels!