Holy Land Pilgrimage 2017

THE DIOCESAN HOLY LAND PILGRIMAGE March 2017, led by our Priest-in-Charge Robert Jackson

This is the complete blog which was updated daily during the Pilgrimage-http://holylandpilgrimagesite.wordpress.com/

Anyone having problems reading the blog from the link above the blog is also reproduced below. It reads up the page (most recent post first).

A PILGRIM'S REFLECTIONS

The Tour of the Holy Land has certainly reinforced my Belief and Trust in Our God through the power of His Holy Spirit and His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have always been conscious of My Belief and Trust due to the numerous times I have been rescued either from incidents of not my design such as saving me from a 1965 fatal car crash in Iran or leaving me with no more than a slight scar after rolling off Striding Edge due to my inadequacy (eye-sight problem since birth).

My most memorable moments were the Services out-doors such as beside Lake Galilee and outside the Tomb where Jesus was buried, just to name two, because I have found the outdoors, eg such as on Kentmere Pike, as just as
easy for receiving God’s message(s) as inside a church.

Nicholas Stainforth

THURSDAY 16 MARCH-EMMAUS & JAFFA: The final day of the pilgrimage

After our last breakfast together we made our way to Abu Gosh. 

The site of Emmaus is disputed by scholars and archeologists, at least four sites have been proposed: at Amwas or Latrun, Abu Gosh (first favoured by the Crusaders), El Qubeibeh (later preferred by the Crusaders) and Qalunieh. Part of the problem has to do with the distance from Jerusalem. A much visited site is Abu Gosh, named after the former Arab Sheikh who used to levy tolls on passing pilgrims in the 19th century.

The biblical name of the village is Kiriath-jearim, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept before it was taken to Jerusalem. The large Crusader church here is built over a reservoir. The upper church is plain and beautiful with magnificent acoustics.

 

Here the three ecumenical leaders shared in leading a Communion Service, and we were each give a pin-badge of The Jerusalem Cross (a cross with four crosses in each quarter of the cross – symbolising how the Gospel was taken to each of the corners of the world). It is now for ‘us pilgrims’ to take this message as we journey on through our lives.

 

We travelled on to Jaffa, an old city, the church here is supposedly built over the home of Simon the Tanner, it was due to close at noon, and because of traffic we arrived with only 5 minutes to go. But, what could the priest say when 75 pilgrims just funnelled into the church? 

There are four panels in the church which depict episodes from the life of St. Peter, including the miraculous catch of fish, the giving of the keys, the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor and the washing of the feet at the Last Supper. It is a beautiful church.

 

We were then free to wander around this ancient little town to the south of Tel Aviv. It has a small artist colony and plenty of places for a drink. It was a sunny day and a perfect end to our pilgrimage.

From here we headed to the airport and the lengthy security checks.

 

It was 5:30am on Friday morning that I was finally able to climb into my bed.

 

Over the next few days I am hopeful that some pilgrims will send me personal reflections and a picture or two that can be uploaded onto this blog - so watch this space.

Blessings to all. Robert.

 

WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH-GOD HAS BEEN WORKING IN PILGRIMS LIVES

Our first visit this morning was to the Church of St Anne and the site of The Pool of Bethesda. The Church of St Anne is on one of the traditional places for the birth of Mary. The present building was erected in the 12th century and has wonderful acoustics – we worshipped together in the lovely place.

To the side of the church is the site discovered by archaeologists in 1958 – The Pool of Bethesda: where Jesus healed the man who had sat by the waters for 38 years. Previously discovered in 1871 were the remains of a crusader church sat on-top of the Pool. We read the bible account of the story, and prayed for those we know who need Jesus’ healing as wandered around this place where Jesus healed that paralysed man. We then went to the Western Wall, and had the opportunity to pray at the ‘Wailing Wall’.

Following this we visited The Garden Tomb [pictured above], another possible site for Jesus crucifixion, placing in the tomb and rising again. Though archaeology would suggest this site less likely!

I suppose the thing is that it does not really matter! People can wander round all these special sites and still go away not knowing the person of Jesus Christ, and knowing the person of Jesus Christ is what matters more than anything.
At the Garden Tomb we had a open air communion service.

Nothing could have prepared us for our afternoon visit. We knew where we were going and had an understanding of it – but still it was shocking! Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Memorial/Education centre (the word museum would be highly inappropriate).

We were give one and a quarter hours to look around. It is hard to decide if that was too little or too much! The displays, films, images… beginning with Jewish life before the holocaust and taking us though it were mind blowing and poignant. The figure of six million Jews exterminated (including one and a half million children) is way beyond my comprehension. No photos were allowed in the building, and it felt highly inappropriate to do so anyway. At the end of the display is a large circular room with a pictures all around the funnelled wall of murdered Jews, around that are files contains names of those who disappeared – an open list that is being added to all the time. In the centre of the room is a ‘well-like’ structure and when you look into it you see all the images from the wall and your own image too!

There are other monuments / memorials around the complex – if you get the opportunity you must visit this place – known simply as Yad Vashem.

In the evening we had an opportunity to tell our stories about what God has been doing in our lives during the pilgrimage. It was wonderful to hear how God had been working in peoples lives during this experience which we have gone though together.

Tomorrow we begin our journey home, via Abu Gosh and Jaffa.

TUESDAY 14 MARCH-THE SPIRIT AT WORK AMONGST US

Our first stop this morning was to the Russian Orthodox Girls School in Bethany, in the West Bank. The school provides an education to local children and enables Christian and Muslim children to learn together.

They have about 400 pupils aged between 4 and 15 years old who attend, including 20 who board. The children are from disadvantaged families. We were treated to hospitality and a talk about the school and we were able to look around the grounds which has a tiny chapel. The closeness to the area thought to be where Lazarus was raised from the dead, and the fact that excavations have uncovered the surface of an old road to Jericho has led to a local opinion that Jesus will have passed by that way – I was not convinced!

We then made our way to the place known as Qumran. The site began as a fortress in the Iron Age, and was occupied again years later by a religious group, most probably the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. We went to the visitor centre and the excavated ruins of their community buildings. One of the caves (cave 4) is clearly visible.

From here we made our way to the area where it is considered that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Here we held a service of Renewal of Baptism Vows which was very meaningful. The Spirit of God was obviously at work amongst us.

We then drove on to Jericho where we had lunch, visited another shop, saw a couple of the major sites and read some of the readings associated with this place.
Jericho is one of the world’s oldest known cities, possibly founded as early as 8000 BC, it is the lowest city in the world at 825 feet below sea level. It is notable as the first city attacked by Joshua and the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land.
Jericho is evocative because of its association with John the Baptist, who baptised by the banks of the Jordan to the east of the city at the probable site of Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28).

Here Jesus restored the sight of Bartimaeus and met with Zacchaeus sitting in a sycamore tree – which the driver was pleased to show us (we were not convinced).
Traditionally the desert and cliffs to the west of Jericho is the area where Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism and was tempted.

On the cliffs (the Mount of Temptation) is a Greek Orthodox monastery that was rebuilt in the 19th century traditionally marking the place where Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his homage. Looking on this site we read the account of the Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11) and prayed.

The Jordan Valley is an amazing place, which at the Dead Sea is over 1,312 feet below sea level. Once the waters from the Jordan reach the landlocked Dead Sea they have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.

At this place, the lowest dry land on earth, is a place to wade out into the waters, cover yourself with the mud and just float like a cork. So that is exactly what many of us did!

In the evening we had a speaker from Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence is an organisation of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. They want to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Their work aims to bring an end to the occupation.

Our speaker spoke personally about her experience and shared testimonies from others in the group about life in the IDF. It was enlightening to hear her perspective of a Jewish person who loves her country, yet sees a reality that is destroying Palestinian lives and Jewish lives also. For more information visit breakingthesilence.org.il

It has been a great day.

MONDAY 13 MARCH-GOD IS IN THE MIDST OF THE HUBBUB

Last night I led a 30 strong group down to the Western Wall – to sample the atmosphere of it. It was floodlit, its was reasonably busy, it was loud, and it was Purim. We all prayed at the wall, and we all made it back to our hotel – which was a positive!

This morning we left the hotel at 5:45am to walk the “Via Dolorosa” or “The Way of Sorrow” which winds along the Old City of Jerusalem, leading from the Ecc Homo Convent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the traditional route followed by Jesus from Pilate’s Judgment Hall in the Antonia Fortress to Calvary, the place of the skull. The tradition of following this route is a very old one, and it is unlikely it is the exact route, especially as the streets in Jesus’ day were many metres below the present ground level. Nevertheless it is an incredibly evocative prayer walk with Jesus to Calvary and beyond: a pattern of prayer and meditation on the Passion which Christians of many traditions have long found helpful.
It is normally a busy and noisy route, so to avoid this we set off very early. At each point we read, prayed and reflected.

Many found the experience to be very moving. As the time wore on, and we got further into the morning, many more people were about, especially in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We discovered that God can be found in the midst of the hubbub, as well as in the tranquillity of Galilee.

We arrived at our hotel and had breakfast at about 9am. As well as arriving having met with Jesus, we also arrived very wet due to the heavy rain. And it was Cumbrian rain – cold and plenty of it!

The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition. The location is identified in Christian tradition as the place where the Virgin Mary died — or “fell asleep”, as the name suggests. Accounts of Mary’s death in Jerusalem appear in early sources, these books are described as apocryphal (meaning “hidden” or “secret”). Their authenticity is uncertain and they are not accepted as part of the Christian canon of Scripture.
It is a beautiful church, with wonderful artwork.

We walked to the Cenacle. It is considered the site when many of the events described in the New Testament took place, such as: The Last Supper, some resurrection appearances of Jesus, the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus, the election of Saint Matthias as apostle, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Since the fourth century a structure identified as the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper has been a popular Christian pilgrimage site. Here we read from Acts 2, sung and prayed.

We then made our way to “Saint Peter in Gallicantu”. The Church recalls Peter’s triple denial of Jesus and his subsequent remorse. It was erected in 1931. The Catholic tradition positions the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas on this site, it is possible that Jesus was imprisoned in an underground cell here. Some archaeologists suggest that it is more likely Caiaphas lived further up the hill in the Armenian quarter of the city.

“Gallicantu” means “Cock-crow” in Latin. It was so named by the Crusaders when they built their church on this site. We prayed, read the Bible and sung around the site, and also gathered in the ancient cave/cell.

Outside the church are the ancient steps that came from the site of The Pool of Siloam. They would probably have been their at the time of Jesus’ trial, and many Christians believe that Jesus followed this path down to Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday and after his arrest by the guards.

We were given the afternoon off for shopping or rest – I chose the latter!

In the evening we had a visit from three people involved with the Eritrean Women’s Community Centre in Tel Aviv – Helen, Michael and Angela. The Centre is an initiative set up and run by a group of Eritrean refugee women. Established in November 2011, the centre aims to provide Eritrean women with a safe space as well as access to important services.

About 36,000 Eritrean asylum seekers currently live in Israel. Labelled “infiltrators” and “migrant workers” rather than being recognised as refugees, Eritreans, and particularly the isolated population of Eritrean women, are unable to access education, employment, healthcare and social services. It is estimated that the number of Eritrean women living in Israel is around 7,000.

Eritrean women in Israel travelled through the Sinai desert in Egypt in order to reach the border with Israel. This journey is notoriously dangerous as many refugees are held hostage by traffickers for extended periods of time until they are released in exchange for large sums of money. Many women are raped and the majority of individuals experience violence, torture, and a severe lack of basic needs along the way.

Therefore, many Eritrean women arriving in Israel are dealing with trauma, injury, a break down of family structure as well as severe emotional pain. The trauma experienced in the Sinai has collectively influenced the Eritrean community in Israel and especially the community of Eritrean women.

We found their story to be challenging and inspiring. As well as promising to pray for them and giving them money, a number of us promised to tell their story and express our concern for their situation. After all, these are are brothers and sisters.  [this is their website-https://www.eritreanwomenscenter.org/]
A special day!

SUNDAY 12 MARCH-THE FIRST DAY EXPLORING JERUSALEM

We were given until 7:15am this morning till the phones rang in our rooms to awaken us (it will be different tomorrow!) After breakfast we went to church at the Anglican Cathedral of St. George in Jerusalem – a service conducted in Arabic and English. There were a lot of people present from various countries and communities, and they had to put extra chairs out for the late comers. 

After the service we had coffee and cake and the Archbishop of Jerusalem’s Chaplain, David Longe, spoke to us about the work of the diocese. Among other things we learnt that the diocese is home to 7000 Anglicans and a total of 27 parishes extending over 5 countries: Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. He shared of some of the projects that the diocese is involved with, and encouraged us to support the Friends Of The Holy Land (FOHL) who do wonderful work in supporting organisations and individuals  - the School of Joy, which we visited yesterday, is supported by FOHL.

[This is the website of FOHL-http://www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/  ]

Following lunch we went to the Jewish Museum which has a 1:50 scale version of the city of Jerusalem of Jesus’ time. Our guide pointed out the major places of interest and gave us a greater understanding of some of the arguments for alternate suggested sites within the city.

Some places you can be sure that a certain event happened in that exact place, others have a certain amount of doubt attached. However, whether something happened in one place or 100 yards around the concern is not that important – the fact that it happened and the sacredness of the space helps the pilgrim allow the place to pass through them, not them through the place.

Over the next few days as we visit some of these sites/areas thinking back to the model will help us with our mental pictures.

The museum also houses artefacts and tells the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. No photos are allowed in the museum, but it was an interesting place to have a look around.

We then made our way to Ein Karem (Arabic for the spring of the vineyard). It is a lovely little village a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. Not mentioned in the Bible, it is considered to be the traditional home of John the Baptist. There are two churches, one up the hill commemorating the Visitation and one down then hill commemorating his birth.

Up the hill we climbed to what is also known as the Church of the Magnificat (Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55), in commemoration of Mary’s response to her cousin Elizabeth. Around are many mosaics of the Magnificat in different languages.

The church lower down is traditionally held to be the home of Zechariah. The Benedictus (Zachariah’s song in Luke 1:68-79) is also written in many languages in mosaic around the church.

After our evening meal we intend to visit the Western (Wailing) Wall, which will be flood lit, and to offer some prayers for this place and its people.

SATURDAY 11 MARCH-THE SCHOOL OF JOY, THE YMCA/YWCA AND THE MOUNT OF OLIVES

Today we loaded all our luggage onto the coaches as we would be leaving Bethlehem behind and heading to Jerusalem.  

Our first visit of the day was to The School of Joy which was founded by Randa AbuSada in 1993 in Beit Sahour, the town of the shepherds. Its aim is to improve the overall quality of life for children who have low academic achievement in the area.

The harsh political and economical situation has affected almost every member of the local community and specially the children and young people. Children are dropping out of schools and are heading for the streets, specially those ones who suffer from low academic achievements and come from poor families. The schools response was to start a work amongst poor/orphan children. They recruited 6 teachers, who are receiving less than half of the normal salary, and furnished the school. The school relies mainly on the generous donations from the local and international communities, and a small amount of fees are collected from those who can pay.

The School of Joy now serves 66 children, and does so without regard to race, religion or colour, and there are continual requests to take more children. 

We were humbled by the story of the school and its work and many were reduced to tears. Two churches (From Barrow and Whitehaven) had send cash to give the school and a basket was passed round. Many came away with a desire to want to do more, we will see if this leads to any action on our part?

[This is the school website which includes details of how to support them-http://schoolofjoy.org/  ]

We then travelled to the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine in Best Sahour and had the opportunity to listen to Nidal Abu Zuluf who spoke about its work, its history and the political situation they were living in. In particular he spoke of the Joint Advocacy Initiative, which seeks to encourage groups and individuals around the world to influence decision-makers and prompt actions that will contribute to ending the Israeli military occupation and its violations of human rights and international laws.

This was a very different experience than visiting the school, but still rewarding and informative, and many in the group found the talk and question & answer session most helpful.

We then returned to the Shepherds Fields as we had some spare time and we were able to wander round, reflect and pray.

After lunch we made our way to the Mount of Olives. Separated from the Temple Mount and the city of David by the Kidron Valley, the Mount of Olives has always been an important feature in Jerusalem’s landscape. The two mile long ridge has three summits each with a tower built on it. It was across this ridge, riding on a donkey, that Jesus came on the first Palm Sunday.

Walking toward Jerusalem on his final journey Jesus became distraught. Aware of the devastation and desecration that lay ahead for the Holy City, he wept. Located, facing the Old City, with the Temple area in the foreground, is a sanctuary called Dominus Flevit, which means, in Latin, “the Lord wept”. To symbolise Jesus’ distress the architect Berluzzi designed it as a teardrop. At this sacred place Bishop James conducted a Communion Service (at which I spoke).

We then made our way down the Mount of Olives singing as we went and we arrived in the physical location of Gethsemane – somewhat out of order In the timeline of events, but here we were!

The Olive trees in the fenced off garden would not have been around 2,000 years ago, but the general area is correct for the events and there is evidence that there has been a church on this site for hundreds of years.

The present church, finished in 1924, is very dim inside deliberately to recall this somber time In Jesus’ life. In the presbytery there is a large fragment of rock on which Jesus is supposed to have prayed on the night before the Passion. Known as “The Rock of the Agony” it is entirely surrounded by a crown of thorns in wrought iron.

We then made our way to The Gloria Hotel which would be our residence for the next 5 nights. Sorting out rooms and luggage was a challenge - however in the end all was sorted out and we settled in.

A very meaningful day.

FRIDAY 10 March-COMMUNION IN SHEPHERD'S FIELDS AND THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY

On the north eastern outskirts of Bethlehem is the village of Beit Sahur which literally means the “house of watching” or even more evocatively the “house of the night whisperers”.  Here are the traditional sites of the Shepherd's Fields (Orthodox, Protestant and Franciscan) where the shepherds “watched their flocks by night”. This is also the likely area of the fields that Boaz owned when he met and married Ruth, who became the great-grandmother of David, from whose line Jesus was eventually born. This Franciscan site, has a famous and beautiful church, designed by Barluzzi and built in 1954. On the hillside are small caves used by the shepherds of the sort used by shepherds down the centuries.

This was our first stop of the day for a Eucharist Service in the open air. We read from the account of Luke (2:8-20) where the angels appeared to the shepherds on the hillside. Richard Teal spoke to the group and we ended the service by singing ‘O little town of Bethlehem’.

We moved on from their to visit Herodium which is 12 km south of Jerusalem, on a hill shaped like a truncated cone that rises 758 m. above sea level. This  palace-fortress was built by King Herod. It had a breathtaking view, overlooking the Judean Desert and the mountains of Moab to the east, and the Judean Hills to the west. Sadly, weather conditions were such that we could not see too far and the wind was blowing enough to take your hat away!

Herodium is described in great detail by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius:

This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.

A short walk from our hotel is the Diyar Centre. Diyar is the plural of Dar, which means “home” or “homeland” in Arabic. Diyar is a Lutheran-based, ecumenically-oriented organisation serving the whole Palestinian community, with emphasis on children, youth, women and the elderly through programs that are contextual and holistic in nature. The reaches more than 60,000 people annually with cultural, educational, sport and creative activities.

We were able to visit the Lutheran Church and, as a special treat, visit the cave below the Cultural Centre which was discovered when the foundations were being dug for the centre. The cave would have been a dwelling 2000 years ago.

After a late lunch we went to the Church of the Nativity which was built in the 4th century AD under the influence of Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, the person responsible for the construction of the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The present building, the oldest church in Palestine, was reconstructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian (527-565) and further repaired by the Crusaders.

The church has a colourful history. When the Persians invaded in 614, they left the church intact. Legend has it that they did so because they were moved by a painting inside of the Nativity story depicting the Wise Men of the East in Persian clothes. King Edward IV of England donated wood from English oak trees for the ceiling. He also contributed lead to cover the roof. The Turks later melted it down to use as ammunition in their war against the Venetians.

The entrance to the church is a low doorway that has its own legends. One is that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent unbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbours.  The floor of the nave has a hole that allows you to see what remains of the Byzantine mosaics that covered the original church floor. 

Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, various Christian denominations share control of the church. The Nativity grotto is under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church.  There the traditional place of Jesus birth is marked by a silver star and the words “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” (Latin) meaning “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”. 

Here we read from Lukes account of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7), sang silent night and prayed. It was very busy and we decided to return later to visit the Nativity Grotto.

A great day!

A Pilgrim's Reflection by Sue O'Loughlin-Tomorrow we go to Jerusalem and at this stage in our journey I am feeling dusty and dishevelled, perplexed and excited, troubled and yet peaceful.

It has been suggested that the way to go on a pilgrimage is to go like Abraham, not knowing where you are going or who you will meet, suspending beliefs and simply to be: to be open, to be still, to wait, to learn to listen, in scripture and sacrament, in silence and in suffering for the voice of the one who loves more deeply than we have ourselves; who asks the questions we haven’t dared to face and asks of us that which we would rather not give.

So tomorrow I’m going to Jerusalem with muddled expectations and trembling heart. I’m going to Jerusalem to walk where Jesus walked, to meet with God – Abba, Father; Jesus – Son and brother; and Holy Spirit – comforter and inspiration. I’m going to Jerusalem with pilgrim brothers and sisters.

Today's photograph (above)is The Church of The Nativity at dusk, and was taken by Tim Austin, one of the pilgrims

THURSDAY 9 March-TOWARD'S BETHLEHEM

Today we left Galilee and made our way to Bethlehem via the West Bank. It was sad to leave behind the serenity of Galilee which had been our home for the past three nights. The journey ahead of us was to be over 2 hours and our final destination does any but speak of peace!

Our first stop was Jacobs Well. Which is probably the most ancient site we will visit. It is almost certainly the actual site of Jacob's well, where by tradition he first met his future wife Rachel and centuries later Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Genesis 33:18-20 tells us that Jacob bought a field near Shechem and this site has always been venerated by the Jews as that place. The tradition continued into New Testament times: "the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (John 4:5).

In 404 AD Jerome mentions a church here with a well at the centre. A variety of different churches have been built and destroyed at the site during the turbulence of following centuries. Then in 1860 the Greek Orthodox community acquired the site and the crypt around the well was restored, but no more. There have been recent attempts to complete the building of an Orthodox Church but these have been interrupted by the Intifadas. Sweet tasting water can still be drawn from the well, which goes down 35m 

At the nearby archaeological site of Tel Balata lies the remains of the Biblical city of Shechem, founded approx 4,000 BCE. In the midst is a "massebah", a typical Canaanite standing stone shrine. The city was destroyed by the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak in the Age of Solomon approx 918 BCE.

At the modern nearby West Bank city of Nablus (formerly "Neapolis", meaning new city) there is still a diminishing community of Samaritans who celebrate their version of the Passover annually on Mount Gerizim.

Here we read the account from John 4 of Jesus encounter with the woman at the well. We drew water and prayed in that place where Jesus had walked.

We made our way to, what was the City of Samaria, now Sebaste. It was Omri, the sixth king of Israel, who bought the Hill of Shomron and built the first city here on a hill that could be easily defended. Omri's successors, Ahab and Jeroboam II, embellished and fortified the city. Ahab, under the influence of his Phoenician wife, the infamous Jezebel, built a temple in honour of Baal, which was later destroyed by Jehu. Of special interest is the palace built by Omri and later enlarged by Ahab and decorated with fine ivories. The Assyrians captured the city in 721 BCE, after a 3 year siege, which meant the downfall of the kingdom of Israel.

In 331 B.C.E. Alexander the Great destroyed the city, which had risen from its ruins, as did John Hyrcanus in 108 B.C.E. Pompey rebuilt the town in 63 B.C., and in the year 27 Augustus bestowed it on Herod the Great. He enlarged it and called it 'Sebaste' (the Greek equivalent of 'Augustus'). Among the many fine Roman remains are a colonnaded street with shops, a hippodrome, forum, theatre and Temple of Augustus. After the death of Christ Philip the Deacon was the first to preach the gospel here, soon to be joined by Peter and John. This was the site of Philip's encounter with Simon the Magician.

After a lunch of soup, bread, various dips and vegetables, chicken and a rice dish with cauliflower that is flipped over in front of us - very dramatic! We made our way to Bethlehem - some of us slept on the journey.

‘The Wall’, of which we will see quite a bit over the next few days is always a shock for those encountering it for the first time - we will speak of this later.

After a time of shopping in a Palestinian Family Cooperative we made our way to the hotel in Manger Square.

Our speaker this evening was Revd John Howard who was until recently a Methodist in the UK, who arrived in Bethlehem to work for the United Methodist Church 6 months ago. He shared of his experience of ministry in Bethlehem and of some of the situations people face living in this area.

Tomorrow: Communion in Shepherds Fields and The Church of the Nativity.

A Pilgrims Reflection…

Today we went to Nablus in the West Bank to visit Jacob's Well. I have been to the Holy Land 4  times and this is the first time I have been here. I was particularly pleased to visit this site, as in my Church, St Paul"s in Grange-over-Sands, we have a stained-glass wimdow depicting this passage in the Gospel when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well.

To actually be in that same place that Jesus was in, turning the handle to raise the water in a bucket and then drinking that same water that Jesus would have drunk, was a very special moment for me.

Rosemary Hoyle

Wednesday 8 March-The Sea of Galilee

In the January of 1986, during a dry period, a collection of ancient nails and decaying wood were found buried on the shore of The Sea of Galilee. On investigation it was found to be a 2000 year old boat.

In a race against time they were able to raise it from the mud and save the wreck. It is now situated in a museum, which happens to be next to our hotel. This was our first visit of the day.

We then made our way to the shore and took a ride out onto the lake. With the engines cut we remembered that this was a place Jesus would have spent a lot of his time, and many miracles happened out on the water. We particularly remembered the time when Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 8: 23-27), we worshipped and prayed. It was a special moment for many.

We then made our way to Tabgha. At the time of Jesus, scholars believe Tabgha was an uninhabited farming area. Some Christian historians have surmised that Jesus may have come here for solitude in which to meditate, especially since it was close to the Capernaum. Today, Christians recall two of Jesus’ miracles: the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, and the event of St. Peter’s Primacy at this site.
The serene “Church of the Multiplication” was reconstructed over the 5th century Byzantine sanctuary, with part of the ancient mosaic floor on display, including the famous mosaic of the loaves and fishes in the basilica. The Byzantine artist was apparently unacquainted with the fish in the lake as none have two dorsal fins!

We had our Communion Service here, down by the side of the water. We recalled when Jesus had breakfast with his disciples having told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and the net almost broke as it had 153 fish in it. We also remembered the story of Jesus reinstating Peter.

The coach took us to The Mount of Beatitudes, where we clambered off and walked down through the fields towards the lake. At this time of year there is much greenery around and the ‘lilies of the field’ to which Jesus referred to in Matthew 6:29 could be found. But, the ‘lilies’ to which Jesus refers are not white flowers (lilies is a mistranslation in the AV Bible). They are actually Red Anemones. We read from Matthew 6:25-34 and prayed on the hillside in the sunshine:

At the bottom of the Mount is The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. It is here that Christian tradition teaches us that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples and Peter is restored.

We lunched in a restaurant on Peter Fish, which tasted better than it looked, and then made our way back up the valley, past the ruins of Chorazin, to the Franciscan chapel on the Mount of Beatitudes. The chapel, is octagonal in shape to commemorate the Beatitudes, the words of which are written in stained glass.

We read together Matthew 5:1-12, prayed and worshiped. We then had time for wandering and personal reflection.

In the evening we had a talk from the Revd Kate Reynolds who is an Associate Minister at St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Tiberias. She shared about her experience of ministry in the area and took lots of questions from our group. A Great Day.


Tomorrow we head towards Bethlehem.

Tuesday 7 March-Bend your will

On pilgrimage in the Holy Land you are always going to have to ‘bend your wills’ to what is happening around you, and the wisdom of those who know best! And that is okay, after all we are ‘Pilgrims’ on a journey with God so whatever happens and wherever we go He is with us! Our guide thought that a slight alteration to the program would improve it – so we agreed. So, we would sail on Lake Galilee tomorrow and go to Magdala this morning.

When construction of a new retreat house began in 2009, no one could have imagined what God had in store. As workers began to dig the foundation for the guesthouse, they discovered a First Century Synagogue where it is certain that Jesus taught. Inside the synagogue they also found The Magdala Stone, a discovery many archaeologists call the most significant archaeological find in the past 50 years.

Eventually an entire first century Jewish town that was lying just below the surface was discovered, and continues to be uncovered. This was the hometown of Mary Magdalene, a location to walk where Jesus taught, and to connect with the first century life of Jesus’ followers. The site also has ‘The Encounter Chapel’ with beautiful mosaics and paintings.

We then travelled to Nazareth and our first stop was at Mary’s Well. A Greek Orthodox Church has been built over this, the town’s original water source, which the Greeks prefer for the site of the Annunciation.

We then travelled a little way to The Synagogue Church. A church built over the site of the original Nazareth Synagogue. This is where Jesus preached (Luke 4:16). Taking the scroll of Isaiah he read from chapter 61, and infuriated many of those present.

In recent years a new Catholic Church has been built Catholic Church over a Byzantine Church, which was built over the place where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. This would have been the home Mary grew up in. This impressive building has many murals given by Catholic Churches from around the world.

In these places we read the appropriate scriptures, reflected on them and prayed.
We then moved on to Cana, the traditional site of the first miracle (John 2:1-11) . In the Franciscan church, built over the remains of a 6th century building we reflected on Jesus’ first miracle. We then held a service to renew Marriage Vows.

Monday 6 March-The Journey Begins

For some of us the day started very early indeed in that we got on our coach at 2:45am. Trying to arrive at Manchester Airport for 8am was always going to be a challenge, and we did arrive late – but still in time to check in.
The flight was over five hours, and after locating our bags and the guides, we had a two hour coach journey to our hotel in Galilee. The Holy Land is two hours ahead of UK time – so we arrived at 9pm and after a meal just went to bed. Tired out, but, full of anticipation for what the next day would bring.