We began the day as usual with a delicious buffet for breakfast. The food here has been fantastic. The ‘law of the land’ is Kosher, so there is no dairy when meat is served. So no bacon with my eggs, and no butter with my bread. I’m sure I’ll survive. Our daily stop for lunch has been local favorites and staples, falafel or shawarma. Lucky for me, I like them both, but have kept the falafel for Wednesday! After breakfast we board the bus for the day’s excursions.
Today couldn’t have started in a better place - Mount Tabor! As I used to serve the Church of Transfiguration in Florence, SC., and that our ministry bears the name of the Feast, it was like arriving at our global Be Transfigured Ministries Headquarters. I was unable to enter the Holy Altar since the Abbot was not present, but I instead offered names for prayer in front of the Holy Icon Screen. I have to say that it has been my privilege to offer names for prayer at these holy sites, and to pass along a donation that was collected in our host parish of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, FL. In so many of the Churches and monasteries, you can find hundreds (if not thousands) of ‘tamata - or promises’ offered to the saints for various spiritual and physical needs. The iconography in the Church is spectacular, and pictures don’t do justice to the awesomeness you feel inside the Church. Outside, behind the Holy Altar are three stone monuments commemorating the three altars erected by Saints Peter, James and John, after they had seen the Transfigured Christ.
From Transfiguration we visited the Church in Cana, which holds two of the stone jars used by Christ in His first public miracle. Again, there were thousands of ‘tamata’ to show the faith of so many pilgrims. I was blessed by permission of the Abbot to enter the Holy Altar and offer names for prayer, as has become my custom at each Church and monastery.
Then we were off Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation and the well where Mary met the Archangel. Our visit was brief as a funeral was set to begin in a short time. Again was I was allowed entrance into the Holy Atlar to offer names for prayer. The well (as you can see in the photo) was filled with money. At first I was sad until I realized (by God’s grace) that the coins and dollars are ‘tamata’ in their own style. I doubt pilgrims were using the well as a wishing well, but more a prayer well. If the Archangel had visited the Panagia there, may the Archangel could bring their prayers to God. We enjoyed lunch in Nazareth.
After lunch were headed to the Roman Catholic Church built above the House of the Virgin Mary. The fairly new Church was built “suspended” above the ancient site, much like the House of Saint Peter’s Mother-in-Law. We could see the ancient house, the fourth century Byzantine Church foundations, the Crusader Church walls, and finally the modern Church above all of them. That is another realization I’ve come to while visiting these ancient sites. I always wondered about the modern situation, and why such huge complexes were constructed. It wasn’t so much for the crowds, although I know prior to the national Israeli state, the main population was Christian and filled the Churches, but so the ancient sites could be preserved. I suspect, if Christ waits long enough for His return, eventually there will be yet another Church, still larger built to surround the current Church. All for God’s glory! Outside the Church, in the courtyard, were icons of the Virgin Mary donated from every nation in the world, reflecting the global acceptance of the Panagia as OUR MOTHER. An important historical monument of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI meeting in 1964.
From Nazareth we climbed the mountain where the Jews attempted to (and failed) to kill Christ after He declared “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.16-30) It was a brief stop, actually a National Park, but from the top we could see the cities of Galilee and realize by today’s standards it really is just one neighborhood. Of course we are traveling by luxury bus, and they had their feet. Not at all the same, as a one hour drive today was several days through mountains. I never realized how mountainous the Holy Lands are. From the top I understand why Christ went “down” to this city and “up” to this city. It wasn’t up and down on a map like we think today. It was hundreds of meters in elevation. These are real mountains!
People keep asking me what my favorite part of the trip has been. PLEASE don’t ask me. I truly cannot lift one moment above another, and that includes the time of fellowship with our pilgrimage group.