An Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Wednesday - to Bethlehem

Today our pilgrimage got under way.

At breakfast we looked over Bethlehem to the church of the nativity. That was our first destination.

Leaving the hotel we walked through Bethlehem's narrow, bustling streets with its wonderful shops selling everything from herbs to hi-fi's. The steep road took us down to Manger Square and to the Church of the Nativity.

One at a time we had to bend low to walk through what has come to be known as the door of humility. We entered the dark, but strangely moving Orthodox church. Typical of an orthodox church and its architecture we entered as it were from 'the world' and passed into the main body of the church. There were no pews. The walls had the remnants of once fine wall paintings of many saints. We were standing as it were in the middle of the wonderful communion of saints that binds us together with God's people of every age and every land.

There in front of us on a raised platform was the 'iconostasis' the screen bearing the richest of icons. Each icon painted with deep devotion to draw us into a sense of the divine presence and to open as it were a window for each of us on to the presence of God. And beyond the iconostasis the place where the bread is broken and the cup shared in the liturgy which is at the heart of the Orthodox way. As we could glimpse through the opening in the iconostasis into the dark mystery beyond it is as if we were glimpsing the mystery of heaven.

We explored parts of the church complex, moving into the neighbouring St Catherine's church laid out in the western tradition we are so used to with pews, a lecturn, an altar, albeit in the centre as a table around which people gather to celebrate the mass.

On to a memorial room and then we went round to the milk grotto. Here we shared in quiet contemplation recalling the care bestowed by Mary and Joseph on the little babe in their care. A wonderful icon of Mary breast feeding her baby. We were invited to think of those expecting, those hoping for pregnancy, and of those recently born ... and to say a prayer.

I couldn't but think of our ne grandson, Lake and of his parents, Dave and Steph, and think of them in my prayers. After all he was born on Easter Sunday, 2009! Easter Sunday, that is if you follow the Eastern Orthodox liturgy and their dating of Easter!!

Then it was time for lunch in a fine restaurant decked out as a bedouin tent. A lovely meal!

On to the Shepherds' fields. Into one of the modern churches that adorn the holy land designed by a famous 20th Century architect whose name escapes me. There we listened to beautiful singing by a group from some east European country and others from Slovenia. Led by a nun who was entering into the singing and leading it powerfully and so movingly. Then they started to sing Silent Night. It was most moving as so many joined in, each in their own language.

We went into the open air and sat in a worship place. And suddenly, after all the bustle of the day it was as quiet as could be. We shared in the worship you can follow in our worship book by clicking on the link to the right of this blog.

Glory to God in the highest heaven was the invitation to prayer.

And on earth, peace to all people, was the response we all shared.

Back for some retail therapy at Johnny's shop! All the souvenirs bought on the first day!!

And then we were home for a short break and dinner.

Our guest for dinner was Alex Awaad together with his wife Brenda and George and Alison colleagues. Alex and George work with the Bethlehem Bible College and the Shepherds' society. After dinner Alex, a Palestinian, Arab Christian, gave us a Palestinian Christian perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You can find out more about the Bethlehem Bible College, the Shepherds Society by googling Alex Awaad and teh BBBC and the Shepherds Society.

A long day is over, we are setting off in our coach at 8-00 in the morning, when we shall make our way to Jerusalem.

We finished our day, and I will finish our blog with prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.

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