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This past Easter season, this great feast, Pascha for Greek Orthodox Christianity and Passover for Judaism, found us during Holy Week in the Holy Land, at the Gate of Worship… Jerusalem! So many thoughts spring to mind as you fly from Athens to Tel Aviv on this short two-hour flight.
Longing for adventure, knowledge, discovery, and forgiveness during these Holy Days…
How can the mind possibly comprehend this life of miracles, the literal and figurative paths of the Lord, the Resurrection… the events that took place in those neighborhoods that you will visit and touch with your hands, perceive with all your senses… the places where He Himself, His disciples, the Virgin Mary walked?
Can one ever fully grasp the blessing of this moment? Perhaps the only power we have as human beings is the ability to look back cinematically on what we see and hear, as if we were watching a film. Maybe the walls of the volcano of faith and the windows of the soul cannot bear so much vibration, so much truth…
How close or far is the Holy Land from our consciousness, after all?
What are the questions that need to be answered, and what are the answers that need to be replaced by higher levels of consciousness through our faith?
How strong can we become, so that we can survive the “personal modern crucifixion” we must endure from the difficulties of our times?
All these conflicting emotions challenge us intensely before our arrival in the Holy Land.
The people in our group, 22 Greeks from Athens and Thessaloniki, were each awaiting their own Resurrection. You could just see it in the eyes, in the facial expressions, in the thoughts. We all had one purpose…redemption.
The airport of Israel welcomed us with a strong military presence and the most advanced technology systems for the reception of visas, as well as the required rapid test for COVID-19, although in order to travel from Greece to Israel it was obligatory to have a negative PCR-test less than 48-hours-old.
We boarded the bus to travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, where we would be ultimately staying was a memorable first experience.
The passage from Israel to the Palestinian lands and vice versa is strictly patrolled, since Jerusalem, just 15 km from Bethlehem, belongs to Israel as opposed to the Palestinian Authority’s Bethlehem, the place where the Christ was born, in the depths of the Middle East, where the Holy Church of the Nativity with the Grotto is located.
To stay in the humble and poor but also blessed city of the Lord’s birth, having previously passed by the wealth of Israel through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, creates a desire to humble yourself, thinking that the God-Man chose a place like this to be born.
The Old City of Jerusalem, a World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest cities in world history and the place where King Solomon built the magnificent Jewish Temple and the famous Wall of Tears, better known as the Western Wall, which is the largest Jewish district in the world.
Within the defensive wall embracing the four ancient districts: the Armenian, the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jewish, rises the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, shared by many denominations, but mainly reflecting the Christian Orthodox people with Byzantine values who lived in the Holy Land before the Arab conquest. St. Constantine the Great was the one who gave it its original name and form, building it with his mother St. Helen on the hill of Golgotha, and also adorning the rest of the area with innumerable Christian monuments.
This year in Jerusalem the Christian and Jewish Passover (Pesach=Passover) came at the same time. While Christianity celebrates the sacrificial death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Judaism celebrates God’s “liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery.”
The emblematic historical walls of the city, its multicultural character, the smiles of the small vendors along the old market, the flavors of the East amid the aromas of the colorful spices, lifted the spirits of those of us who found ourselves for the first time in front of the sensational Martyr’s Street that starts from the Praetorium (Prison of Christ) and continues on to Mount Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
From Great Monday to Easter Sunday…the city of the Holy – through the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Orthodox clergy and the monks, who dedicated their lives to the Christianity – reenacts the Paths and Passions of the Lord, the Crucifixion, the Sacrifice, the Resurrection, inspiring Christian faithful in every corner of the Earth.
After the Divine Liturgy of Holy Thursday, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem performed the Ceremony of the Lord’s Supper. The Patriarch, among a crowd of people, accompanied by twelve clerics, performed a re-enactment of the Mystical Supper of Jesus Christ with His twelve disciples: the removal of the garments, the alternating dialogues between the Lord (Patriarch) and His disciples, the washing of their feet by Christ during the mystical supper, the ecclesiastical chanting between the recitation of the words, the breathlessness and the energy of the crowd in the face of the magnificence of the re-enactment which in a few minutes catapulted the participants back more than two thousand years – as though we were all there then…and were…His disciples.
We experienced the climax of the Divine Drama of the Paths of the Lord on Good Friday, when we were present in the Praetorium, the prison of Christ (where you cannot believe your own eyes), listening to the mournful chants… we watched step by step the Bishop re-enacting the course of martyrdom all the way to Golgotha.
The First Episode of the Mission to the Holy Land continued on Good Friday in the Judean desert at the Monastery of St. Gerasimos: Women from Greece and Cyprus carefully decorate the Epitaphion…A nun tells us how she found herself in Jerusalem, happier than she has ever been. We keep vigil with her blessings for redemption, and when wishing us a Happy Resurrection, she tells us: “Run to Jerusalem… come here! Worship the Blessing that the Lord generously gives us. Everything happened here, and here it will happen again…at the Second Parousia.”
Special Thanks to: The travel agency Travel Bizz, Seajets, Rentphotovideo, Peugeot Hellas, Mikelina Boutique, Shop & Trade, Saucony, Cozybox.
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