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Reflections On The Holy Lands
by Archpriest Andrew Harrison

Of all of the places that went in the Holy Land what place left the greatest impression on you'? This question was asked by many of you at St.Luke.

Before I went on the trip I asked if anyone wanted me to say any special petitions at the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. I received a number of requests which I was determined to fulfill. I was not sure how I was going to do it since I was told the church is shared by all faiths. There is also the political climate to contend with. I could quietly read the petitions in some corner of the church, but what I really wanted to do was to celebrate a Divine Liturgy, and recite the special petitions.

The first of the trip included spending several days walking the streets of Nazareth, visiting the site of the Miracle at Cana and a fishing boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Looking out across that sea below the Golan Heights from the summit of the grass covered hill where Christ gave his Sermon on the Mount left an indelible icon on my soul. You could imagine in the air the voice of Christ saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This seemed unnatural in a land guarded by soldiers wielding machine guns.

The Jordan River is cold in January but that didn't stop the many pilgrims from feeling the chill as they plunged into it. I asked Lee Kopulos, who also went on the trip, to retrieve the cross I had flung into the trickling water. Next year we are planning to repeat this event with many pilgrims from our parish along with others.

The bus continued along the road following the Jordan River, which flows, from a fresh water lake alive with fish, into the salty Dead Sea where nothing can live. This is the lowest spot on the planet. Above this valley overlooking the Dead Sea lays the plateau of Massada. This place is the Alamo of the State of Israel; the place where Israeli soldiers take their oath of allegiance to their country. It is also a popular place for devout Jews to have their weddings. Next to the partially restored synagogue at Massada are the ruins of an Orthodox Church. It was suggested by the tour guide that Orthodox Christians could also arrange weddings there. I fantasized what this would look like as the bride and groom, priest, choir, attendants and family enter the cable car to take the long hovering ride up the mountain.

A short distance from our final destination of Jerusalem lays the village of Jericho. The bus traveling the route of the Good Samaritan passed cliffs, which supported the monastery of Christ's Temptation. Through my binoculars I could see local residents walking down the precarious path leading away from the monastery. They had just attended the Divine Liturgy. We were not able to attend because we did not have the time or stamina to walk up the winding steep rocky path. We were assured that when we return with our St Luke pilgrims a visit to the monastery would be included in our itinerary.

The sun was setting as we entered the Holy City passing by Bethlehem, a Jerusalem suburb. City electric lights and Bedouin tents in stark contrast as we became snarled in city traffic. The Christmas Carol, Silent Night was on my mind although it was not a silent night. Silence came from within as the bus entered Jerusalem, the city that Jesus loved. The next morning included visits to the Orthodox Church of the Nativity, built over the cave where Christ was born, the tomb of the Theotokos, the Mount of Olives Garden of Gethsemane, the Temple Wailing Wall and golden Dome of the Rock. Our guide was Bishop Nikiphoras the former administrator of the Church of the Resurrection. He assured me after reading my letter of introduction from Bishop Job that permission would be granted by His Beatitude Diodoros Patriarch of Jerusalem to celebrate a Divine Liturgy. Bishop Nikiphoros introduced me to the staff at the patriarchal offices and presented my request. To my disappointment the Patriarch was not available. Bishop Nikiphoras was able arrange for the celebration of a Thanksgiving service at Church of the Resurrection.

I had, in my hands the list of prayer requests. I also carried our St. Luke telephone directory. A monk standing in front of a pillar looked strangely at me when I chanted: "Blessed is our God…. "When his eye fell upon Bishop Nikiphoros he disappeared behind a pillar. The service was short but I had completed my mission. All petitions and every one listed in the directory had their name mentioned in this holy place. As I concluded the service, I prayed that I would return with many of our St Luke family next January and actually have a Divine Liturgy. This was the place that made the greatest impression on me. It will be on mind when I announce at Pascha "Christ is risen." I will be holding a bundle of' candies I brought back with me just for this occasion. The candles represent the 32 years of Christ's life on earth and are used in Jerusalem.

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