After leaving Rameh in the Galilee on Holy Wednesday (note = it was Orthodox Holy Week, preceding Easter aka Pascha), we ventured on to Jerusalem via the West Bank / Palestine. Here's what we did on Holy Wednesday and Thursday (and yes, it involves a lot of church).
Journeying south from the Sea of Galilee, the highway goes right by the Jordan River, and thus right by Jordan itself (note the flag from the hilltop). This would be all of Jordan that we would see on this trip (I had been previously in 2007).
The topography was more interesting than I remembered it (I had never taken this highway before).
Herman had met Dirk and Ashley (Orthodox converts like us, who worked in Gaza and elsewhere in the Holy Land) earlier in his Middle East trek, and they were kind enough to pick us up on the south side of the Sea of Galilee and take us first to the Monastery of St. Gerassimos (Deir Hajla) near Jericho in the West Bank. You can read a brief excerpt on the saint's life here.
We enter the monastery's church.
These are either the remains of those martyred by the Persians (in the 7th century) or, perhaps more likely, killed by an earthquake in the 19th century. Both sets of remains were in the monastery, but I have no idea which photos show what.
The monastery grounds are exquisitely gorgeous.
As is the interior of the church.
I recommend coming here if you are in the Holy Land.
Markos inside of the very fetching monastery dining hall.
Dirk lets us out in Jerusalem (that's the Mount of Olives straight ahead, with the Old City of Jerusalem behind me). We'd meet up with him and his wife later in the week (specifically Easter Sunday).
The short uphill walk into the Old City of Jerusalem.
I envied Markos = this was his first time entering the Old City. Herman had been in Jerusalem already during his trek (and I had been in 2007). This is the Lions' Gate, or St. Stephen's Gate (according to tradition, the first Christian martyr was killed very near this location), on the eastern side of the city.
We stayed in a Roman Catholic pilgrim's hotel, which had a fantastic rooftop view. Not sure which church this is, but it's not the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (I think it's the dome of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, which is more famous for its bell tower).
The Dome of the Rock in the distance.
Markos and Herman ham it up. Markos is ethnically Jewish, so I think he was especially delighted to be in Jerusalem.
The street near our hotel.
The markets reflected the perceived needs of Orthodox pilgrims (note the flags of Greece and Cyprus, as well as the icons).
We went to church on Holy Wednesday at (I believe) the Chapel of St. James, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was very full, and very nice.
Dirk and Ashley are an awesome couple, and their hospitality won't be forgotten.
Markos and Herman underneath the Ecce Homo arch.
Holy Thursday = we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, the holiest place in Christendom. Inside the church you'll find Golgotha (where Christ was crucified) and, about 50 yards away, the Holy Sepulchre itself (i.e. the tomb, from which Christ rose from the dead). In between the two lies this slab, known as the Stone of Unction or the Stone of Anointing. While the slab only dates from the 1800s, the spot is traditionally the location where St. Joseph of Arimathea prepared Christ's body for burial. Given the location almost exactly halfway between Golgotha and the tomb, it makes perfect sense to me.
The line to enter the Holy Sepulchre was far too long today (I had hardly any lines when I went in the summer of 2007, but Holy Week has about 50x the crowds).
Golgotha, aka Calvary, aka the location of Christ's crucifixion. It is a Greek Orthodox chapel. Note = to understand the jurisdictional layout of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, read here about the Status Quo.
I believe this is back inside of St. James' Chapel for a service.
Lord forgive me for not remembering who this bishop is.
Obviously it was quite packed inside.
The chandeliers captured my attention for a spell.
Herman rests against the walls as the faithful go to receive communion.
Back outside (yes, it's still Thursday!), we went to the rooftop of the Holy Sepulchre complex to get a view of the footwashing ceremony, a very important tradition in Orthodoxy on Holy Thursday.
The dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We weren't the only ones on the rooftop.
Israeli police watch from the rooftop as well.
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the background; security forces and crowds in the foreground.
Herman and Markos gaze out on the city, including the Dome of the Rock.
A monk walks by on the roof.
The courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would be the site of the footwashing.
The bishop would wash the feet of the priests. Truly, I couldn't see this myself = I had to raise my camera as high as possible and aim down. Not a bad pic, if I may say so myself.
We left the Holy Sepulchre and walked through Jerusalem. We happened upon the Prison of Christ, which I hadn't noticed before even though I had walked by it many times. Markos and Herman prayed at this spot (I did too, after taking the photo). The veracity of the location isn't the point, of course.
A chapel inside the prison.
There were different cells, according to tradition; Barabbas and others were held in one area while Christ was held in another.
Afterwards, we took a bus to the Separation Wall border with Bethlehem, to visit the Church of the Nativity and Mar Saba (a monastery).
The chute, my nickname for the walkway once you cross through the intense security posts. At the bottom of the chute were a bevy of taxis waiting to take pilgrims to the church.
However, we walked past the largely dishonest taxi cabs and pressed uphill past very interesting political graffiti on the wall.
Some of it was of the slogan variety...
While other parts were more artistic.
A good deal was political commentary.
Manger Square, with the Church of the Nativity (built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus) in the background.
While there is another entrance, most people humble themselves by stooping into the traditional entrance, which forces you to bow. Makes sense if you ask me.
Inside the church, which like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is subject to the Status Quo, delineating sections of the church between the Greek Orthodox (who have primary jurisdiction), Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic.
The descent down into the grotto, where Jesus was born.
This silver star marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
The iconostasis back on the ground floor.
The Mosque of Omar on the other side of Manger Square is, curiously, the only mosque in all of Bethlehem.
We traveled from Bethlehem down the road to Mar Saba, an Orthodox monastery.
Our cab driver (who was Orthodox) leads us to the gate.
The Kidron Valley, over which the monastery looks.
The hillside monastery is extremely beautiful. This was the only area in which we were allowed to take photos (a rule change from my visit in 2007, when I took photos galore inside... hopefully I'm not the reason for the rule change :-/ ).
This monk (name escapes me) was known to our community back in California, since he was born there. He was visiting another monastery when I came in 2007. It was nice to have an American guide.
The caves opposite the Kidron Valley in which many monks (including Saint Sabbas) lived and prayed.
Stormy skies over Palestine.
We are the three... amigos!
The Monastery of St. Theodosius, also in the West Bank.
While the current buildings are rather new, the monastery dates back to the 5th century.
This was my first time at this monastery.
Back in Jerusalem (and yes, it's still Thursday!). This is Damascus Gate, which was where I first entered the Old City myself back in 2007.
A plaza near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the Lutheran church to the right.
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
The entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Holy Sepulchre itself, at twilight.
Looking up to heaven.
Time for a service (the Passion Gospels) in the Orthodox Catholicon, directly opposite the Holy Tomb.
Obviously we packed a TON into two days (and one day in particular). The next day would be similar. Stay tuned.