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
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
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 Godů. "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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