Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Holy Land: The Mount of Olives (Day 7, part one: 4 June 2011)

Day seven...our last full day in the Holy Land!  As usual, we started the day with a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus with our trusty tour guide, Ihab.  We drove through the busy streets of Jerusalem and ascended the Mt. of Olives--a mountain to the east of Jerusalem's Old City with a stunning view from its top.

Our first stop was the Dome of the Ascension.  Several churches have stood on this site throughout history.  However, after the Crusaders were driven from Jerusalem in 1187, the Muslim leader Saladin gave the church to two of his followers, who added a stone dome and mihrab. The Ascension of Jesus is recognized in Islam, although it is not mentioned in the Qur'an. The building remained in use as a mosque for over 300 years.  The building fell into ruin by the end of the 15th century, and the east section of the octagonal surround-wall was walled off to form the asymmetrical shrine that stands today. A mosque and minaret were added next to the chapel in 1620 and the entire site remains in Muslim possession.

We stood on this holy ground and looked up at the clear, piercing blue sky where Christ ascended into Heaven.  Inside of the mosque, we placed our hands on the stone where Christ stood (legend has it his footprint is still in the stone).  We stopped to pray and soak in the grace of the moment. 

The Dome of the Ascension atop the Mount of Olives

Next to the footprints of Christ

Next, we went to the Pater Noster (Our Father) Church were Christ taught His apostles the Our Father prayer in a small cave.  We went down into the cave guessed it...prayed the Our Father!  It was very cool.  On the walls of the church surrounding the cave, the Our Father prayer was displayed in 62 different languages.  It was beautiful to meditate on Christians throughout the world being represented here. 

Peter and his best buddy on our trip.
  These two had so much fun exploring the Holy Land together!

The Beaudoin boys by the Our Father

After that, we went to a scenic overlook of the Old City and snapped a few pictures.

Then we visited the Dominus Flevit Church, a small chapel built where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem when he thought of its future destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.  The Church was built to look like a tear drop.  Through the window of the chapel was a clear view of the city, giving pilgrims the same perspective that Christ had that moved Him to tears. 

Outside of the church was a tree with thorns.  Our tour guide said that this same type of tree was used to create the crown of thorns Jesus wore on His head.  Picturing such sharp, unforgiving thorns pressed into Jesus' precious head made me shudder.

We next walked down to the bottom of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, the location of Jesus' agony the night before His death.  The snarled olive trees perfectly and eerily set the tone for the setting of Christ's intense suffering and prayer as He took all of the sins of humanity upon Himself.  However, the intense midday sun beating down on us made the atmosphere feel a little off and it required a bit more imagination to picture Christ praying here in the dark shadows of the night.

Next to the garden was a massive church called the Church of All Nations (it was built with funds from 12 different countries).  The Church of All Nations was amazing.    It has a bright, beautiful outside, but the inside is very dark and somber (with deep blue walls and purple stained glass windows). The darkness inside is supposed to set the tone for Jesus' night in Gethsemane. This church is built over the stone where Christ prayed on the night before his Passion and Death. 

This church was a powerful spot for Dan and me. We took a moment and knelt in the dark and offered up all of the sufferings and crosses in our own lives in union with Christ. We placed all of our pain, anger over injustices, and frustration in the Garden of Gethsemane; and asked Christ to help us leave it there.  

It was incredibly powerful to offer up our small sufferings in the place that Christ took on all of the sin and suffering of all mankind.  We are so blessed to have a Savior that knows our sufferings, that took them all upon Himself. 

We then journeyed to another section of the Garden of Gethsemane and arrived at another small cave church.  This was the "Grotto of the Betrayal" where tradition has it Judas betrayed Jesus.

After visiting this grotto, we visited yet another spot where traditions (mostly Greek) say Mary's final resting place was.

Next, we journeyed to the border of the West Bank to view the massive separation wall between Palestinian and Israeli settlements.  The current conflict in the Holy Land is between these two peoples:  Palestinian (Muslim) and Israeli (Jewish).  This wall was built around ten years ago in an effort to keep violent persons from straying into Jerusalem from the Palestinian-controlled West Bank.  According to our tour guide, the number of suicide bombings have gone way down since the wall was erected.  He said that he used to fear having his children wait for a bus to go to school in Jerusalem.  Viewing the wall was an intense experience and I think we were all happy we didn't linger here for very long.

After this, we were off to get some awesome lunch with some delicious hummus and something new:  baba ghanoush!

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