Day 8 (Wednesday) – Chapels of the ten lepers, Jacob’s well, and St George… and back to the Old City


We left Nazareth at 7am and headed back through the West Bank. I started with a prayer for the stewardship of creation (see yesterday’s post to see why). It was ironic and yet not surprising that our trip back south would feature the single largest waste management failure I’ve ever witnessed. The garbage issue aside (and I will detail some of that below), today was an amazing day.

We first visited the Church of the Ten Lepers. This is where Jesus healed ten lepers. The church is built on a cave and cistern that is remembered as being a refuge for lepers in Jesus’ time. This Orthodox Church was a gem. We prayed prayers of healing for people in our lives. I won’t share my prayers with you all this post, but I felt the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way in this place. After our brief service we were treated outside to coffee hour! Turkish Coffee and biscuits in a shady garden was a just what we all needed. It reminded me of home and the importance of simple hospitality.

We next drove through Nablus. We entered town through what was obviously a regional dump, garbage trucks and dump trucks were dumping trash as we drove by. Yet, the dump never really ended. On the side of the road there were piles of trash that had obviously been dumped by garbage trucks that dropped their loads before getting to the actual dump. Our lunch conversation revolved around how it was possible that none of us had ever heard a word about the garbage issues in Israel and the West Bank. This is the Holy Land, and yet the land is disrespected in a way that is hard to fathom.

After we had left the dump section of Nablus behind us we headed up Mt Gerizim (which is in Nablus). This part of Nablus was a pretty little city with one of the most amazing churches in the world.

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Samaritan Woman. The church has an amazing history. In the basement is Jacob’s Well, the same well that the Samaritan woman was at when Jesus entered this town. I haven’t had time to check the tradition with archaeological records, but the fact that the church has been built above this well since Byzantine times and that fact that the well is still functional lend credence to the tradition. We gathered at the well, drank from it, and met the bishop who lives in the church / cathedral. He is an icon maker of the highest level, and he wrote many of the icons in the church. He also oversaw the building of the church when it was destroyed. The church has been bombed in recent years (there is a remnant if that explosion on the steps to the well. The priest before him was murdered by a Settler with an Axe, who wanted control of the well. The current bishop tracked down the murderer, was stabbed twelve times, and finally captured him and handed him over to the authorities. The priest who was murdered was canonized as a martyr by the Greek Orthodox Church. His tomb and an icon remembering his death (written by the bishop) is in the church. The ancient and modern history here was astounding.

The Bishop blessed me while I was there. He also anointed my hands with oil, which is customarily done at the ordination of a priest but was not done to me when I was ordained (that practice fell out of favor in our diocese in the 2000s – I don’t know if it has been revived.). I was grateful and, literally, blessed to be in his presence and have my hands (finally!) anointed by a bishop.

Our next stop was Tybei which is a Christian city in the West Bank. There is a brewery there, and we stopped to tour the brewery and sample some beers. My kind of pilgrimage! The beer here was excellent. They make a great White Ale and a malty IPA. Their stock beer is a Golden Lager which is great too. Of course any purchases here help the local
Christians, so I bought a T-shirt.

Tybei has a ruined church dedicated to St George St George is a very big deal all over the Holy Land. The ruined church is the site of numerous local rituals celebrated by Christians that seemed to me a tad “out there”. There were hooks and splattered blood on the ground from a recent animal sacrifice. There were fire pits and charred areas. It was a place unlike anything I’d seen in the Holy Land.

We made our way back to Jerusalem and for the first time in our trip we had some actual free time. Bob, Eero, and I took the opportunity to return to the Old City. I had numerous gifts that I wanted to properly Annointing and Bless on the Annointing Stone at the Holy Sepulcher. Eero was in search of the ideal Jewish housewarming gift. Bob wanted to go back to the Wall. We did all three and metvfor a beer in the Jewish Quarter. It was a splendid few hours. Returning to the Holy Sepulcher and the Wall increased my love for each place. Prayer here is different and easy.

Our evening concluded with a Speaker who provided a perspective on Jewish issues. It, like all of the speaker events, was excellent and eye opening.

Photos are here. Please forgive my iPhone typos.

Day 7 (Tuesday) – The Sea of Galilee


Today we visited the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is about 40 KM from Nazareth and it took about an hour to get there (we left at 7am bright and early, but after a good night sleep). We passed through Cana on the way there, but did not stop; there were too many other sites that were on our list to make time for that – ironically we would spend a significant amount of time in Cana later in the day.

Our first stop was the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. The Jordan River feeds into the Sea of Galilee, and it is (at least from the Pilgrims I have heard from) notorious for being underwhelming as a pilgrimage site, dirty, and often crowded. The bank of the river that we visited was not crowded but otherwise it lived up to its reputation. There were several, weathered lazy boy style chairs on the embankment creating a strange outdoor living room, there was a lean-to tent set up that was falling over because it wasn’t leaning on anything, and there were several large objects mired in the slow, brown, muddy river water, including a skiff and a black couch with a white skull and crossbones spray painted on it sitting directly in the center of the river. The amount of litter in the Holy Land has been intense, and I could have said more in prior posts about noxious smoke from garbage being burned in Jericho, piles of tires in the desert, trash stuffed into walls at Gethsemene, even litter in the pool at Arafat’s tomb, but I’ve tried to spare my few readers this reality – though you can see all of this in the photos I’ve posted. The litter is just there – it is sad, and something needs to be done about it. There was a movement at General Convention this year to add more language about our duty as stewards of creation to our liturgies, including the Baptismal Covenant. Visiting the Jordan made me far more appreciative of that need.

Our service at the river began with a stirring round of “Shall we gather at the river”. The opening line in this spiritual goes as follows. “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river? Shall we gather at the river, that flows by the throne of God.” God has a sense of humor. The river was not beautiful, it barely flowed, and the “throne” in it is a monument to humanity’s disregard of the environment. If this place did not inspire our group to do more than “our part” in safeguarding creation, then nothing will.

After the hymn we renewed our vows and several of us waded knee deep into the water. We used olive branches to sprinkle the group with water. It was quite nice… as long as you blocked out the debris and flotsam.

We hopped back on the bus and drove up to the Mt of Beatitudes. On top of the Mt is a Monastery and Chapel. The view is wonderful, the chapel and gardens around it are pretty, and the gift shop is excellent… but there is zero archaeological evidence of anything to do with beatitudes in this place. Lower down the mountain was another story.

We walked down the mountain in silence (our direction was the pray for people as we walked). The view of the sea was spectacular. Near the bottom of the mountain we gathered at a spot that is remember as one of many places where Jesus taught his disciples and where he prayed on this own in silence. There are several carved rocks here. One has a cross, another has the beatitudes, a third has Jesus’ image. It was a lovely place and a perfect gathering point after a half hour of silent prayer walking down.

The group continued to the bottom of the mountain – maybe 300 feet down. I was given a special assignment by Iyad to demonstrate how one can speak from the hill (using a cave as a geological bullhorn) and be heard easily by a crowd below. One school of thought is that this is the place, or one of the places, or like the place, where the sermon on the mount might have been given.

From here we headed to the Sea of Galilee and the church built on the spot that is believed to be where Jesus grilled and ate fish with disciple after his resurrection. The Church was very beautiful and simple. It is built on a rock which is partially exposed under the altar. We were given a chance to wade in Sea of Galilee – more of a lake than a sea. The water was beautiful and clean, which was refreshing after our experience at the Jordan. I sat for a long time with my feet in the water, marveling that Jesus and his disciples had certainly spent much time on these waters and in the towns around the sea.

Our next stop on the sea was thevtown of Capernaum, where Peter’s house was and where Jesus healed a man who was lowered through the roof. There was also a synagogue in that town where Jesus taught and healed. The story of the man being lowered through the roof is one of my favorites in all the Bible and so I was looking forward to Capernaum more than almost anywhere. The ruins of Peter’s actual house (scholars and archaeologists are as certain as one can get in these things) are still there. A Church was built on it in the 4th century but that too is in ruins, and a more modern church has been built straddling the archaeological site. You can see the ruins through a window in the church floor and also from outside by looking under the church. Capernaum was perfect.

Next we went on a boat ride. We cruised out onto the Sea of Galilee for a pleasant sail. After an hour we came back to shore and saw the remains of a 2000 year old boat used in Galilee.

We hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Nazareth. The traffic in Cana was terrible, and so even though we never set foot in the town, we spent a good hour in the place where Jesus attended a wedding and turned water into wine.

Galilee was fantastic and is was really helpful to see the locations and topography, and get a sense of the distances. Jesus spent most of his three year Ministry in Galilee. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

When we returned to Nazareth we were treated to an archaeological treasure and a surprise for our group. There are excavations under the Convent/Guesthouse of the Sisters of Nazareth. These excavations include the most perfect tomb from the time that Jesus lived (give or take a decade or two). We saw the exact type of stone that would have been rolled to block the tomb of Jesus and the same sort of tomb that Jesus was placed in. It is possible that this is St Joseph’s tomb – Nazareth was very small and tombs were reused again and again. Seeing this tomb was perhaps the single most eye opening archaeological site I had seen in the Holy Land. It was perfectly preserved, it dated from Jesus, time, it was in Nazareth, and it exactly matched the type of tomb described in the Gospels. A perfect was to end the day!

Photos are here. Please forgive typos – I’m on my iPhone.