Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holy Saturday

Once every four years the Orthodox observed Easter lands on the same date as the one marked by the Gregorian calendar.  2011 is one such year, adding more celebrations over one weekend in Jerusalem. In addition to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Orthodox also celebrate what is known as Holy Saturday. On that day, Greek and Armenian Patriarchs follow huge processions into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to participate in what is known as the Miracle of the Holy Fire.

Hundreds of people fill the church with bundles of long thin unlit candles.  The sepulcher (which is widely believed to be where Christ was laid to rest) and the patriarch chosen to enter it are both checked by guards to verify that neither have hidden a way to start a fire.  Around 1pm the patriarch enters the sepulcher with two unlit candles, the door is shut behind him, and he kneels on the alter to pray.  Soon afterwards a pillar of light pours down from the sky and sets aglow a rock the patriarch is kneeling before.  The light changes to a fire that is cold to the touch and has a radiance that is different than all others.

The patriarch lights the candles with the fire, exits the sepulcher, and shares the flame to those closest to him.  The fire from that one flame is passed from person to person until the entire church is illuminated.

Due to our Saturday tour of Nazareth and Galilee, we missed the event.  But when we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher later that evening it was still filled with people.  Lit candles lined the wall around the sepulcher, and crowds crammed in line waiting to enter it.

In a moment of insanity we decided to join the crowd for a chance to see the inside of the sepulcher as well. We were pushed, we were shoved, and we were used as arm rests.  When we had enough it was too late to turn back; a wall of people blocked us in every direction.

45 minutes of waiting ended abruptly when the door to the sepulcher, which was a mere 10 feet in front of us, closed.

Maybe, just maybe, the light went out.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"You my boy! I really get love an aloha fo you"

Included in our Nazareth and Galilee tour was a trip to the Jordan River.  It was not the exact baptism spot, which is located in Jordan itself, but no one really seemed to mind. They still flocked to the entrance in droves. 

The wall leading up to the entrance/gift shop was lined with plaques of the scripture, Mark 1:9-11, in various different languages - which continued past the entrance along the inner wall as well.  In my rough estimate, there were around a hundred plaques in total.  But only one truly stood out.  No language touched me more than the Hawaiian Pidgin's scriptural rendition of Christ's baptism.

But those plaques weren't the real site to see.  And quite honestly, neither was the river and its beautiful surroundings.  Looking past it all, most of our time was spent watching people emulate Christ and baptize themselves in the waters of the river Jordan.  Two types of baptismal robes were rented out: the cheaper plastic variety, which we discovered is see-through when wet, or the more expensive cloth variety.  Sadly, most people went the more economical route.

Donned in their garb, people chose one of three spots along the bank of the river to enter the water.  Each spot had three rows of bars equidistant apart in a semi-circle shape, which created a rainbow effect, of sorts.

Now... I could continue painting a picture with words, but sometimes (in cases such as these) videos speak more than words ever could.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And over here you'll see...

Although I paid a pretty penny to tour Nazareth and Galilee, I'm feeling charitable enough to play tour guide for free.  It was a rather whirlwind tour we took, with the amount we saw in the time frame in which we saw it... and I figure I may as well give you that experience as well.  (So, read fast).

Welcome to Nazareth:

Wait... is that good shopping?

Now, before we get to the Christian sites, just let it be known:

Ok, we are presently inside the church of the Annunciation, and have already seen Mary's home. Why don't we look at some of the depictions of the Annunciation of Angel Gabriel to Mary by various countries around the world:

Over in St. Joseph's Church we can see the steps that lead down to a bath area in Joseph's home:

As we leave Nazareth, if you look below you will see the Mount of Transfiguration:

Time for a small rest break...

Moving on!  We've reached Capharnaum, also stated to be "the town of Jesus" - no shorts please.

And finally, the water on which two men walked, the Sea of Galilee:

Don't go too far. This tour's not over. I'm saving the best for last. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

When you believe

The thing about Shabbat in Israel is that public transport doesn't run at all.  And to take it one step further, you'll be hard pressed to find taxis as well - at least in the Jerusalem area.

Saturday morning we had a scheduled tour (my mother is a tour fiend) to Nazareth and Galilee.  We were requested to meet at a hotel near the old town city center, a 10 minute drive away from where we were staying, at exactly 5:50am for pick-up.

The lack of taxi abundance on Shabbat worried my mother to the point of stopping every taxi driver we saw on Friday and requesting if they could pick us up. Hardly any of them were Arab or Armenian Christian, the only two types of people who do drive Saturdays, and those who were didn't work the early morning shift.

The evening wore on and just as we were at the brinks of despair, we walked into a shop to placate the emotion with chocolate and happened to speak to an employee who was able to help us. He called his cousin who was willing to pick us up at 5:30 from our apartment.

At 5:30 the following morning we were waiting outside the apartment for our ride.  There was no car in sight.  A few minutes passed before I decided to call the drivers number, which his cousin the shop employee gave us.  The phone rang and rang, but finally the call was answered by a groggy hello. He said he was on his way and he would pick us up in ten minutes time. I wasn't happy...  and I may have done too good of a job expressing it as well.  I told him we would wait down by the main road, since we would only have five minutes to reach our destination from the moment he stated he would arrive. Plus, I figured we could catch another taxi if another one came by sooner.

In the end, he never showed up.

Even the main road was empty.  At 5:40am we had only seen one car drive by.  I was getting nervous. When we saw our first taxi at 5:42 I tried flagging it down, but since it was going in the opposite direction I never made it to the median in time for it to see me.

As the minutes passed by, so did a few more taxis.  Only one of them acknowledging me as I tried to get their attention.  But as he was also going in the opposite direction with passengers, he only motioned that he was sorry.

When the clock hit 5:50 we weren't any closer to reaching the pick-up point as we had been 20 minutes prior. At that moment I felt any attempt to continue onward would be futile, but we started walking anyway and my frustration towards our no-show taxi driver mounted.

Three minutes later a miracle occurred. The one driver who actually acknowledged me and my frantically flailing arms with an apologetic shrug pulled up beside us.  He had dropped off his previous passengers and turned around to see if we still needed a ride.

We hopped in and he sped off (like all Israli taxi drivers do). I watched as the minutes went by on the clock:  5:59... 6:00... 6:01. After each passing minute I made a comment expressing my doubt and discouragement of our likely vain attempt.

But I should have known that in a land of miracles the miracle of miracles would occur. As we sped forward towards our destination point, we rounded the curve to see a bus, our bus, starting to leave without us. Our driver honked, the bus stopped, I jumped out of the taxi to reach the bus driver and confirm our spots... just in time.

Once my mom and I were comfortably seated and the bus started moving, I was again flailing my arm to our taxi driver... but this time to thank him. He returned the gesture by doing the same.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shrine-ify it!

Although Israel is a predominantly Jewish country, it was interesting to see the influence of other religions there, namely Catholicism.  What I found most noteworthy was that every site deemed holy had a Catholic church plopped on top of it.

Check it:

Mary's home, where she was informed by angel Gabriel that she was pregnant? Now inside a church.
Joseph's carpentry shop?  Also inside a church.
The manger where Christ was born?  You guessed it: inside a church.
The home where the bedridden man with palsy was let down through the roof? Under a church.
The Garden of Gethsemane?  In front of a church (because they couldn't put one on top of it). But to compensate, the garden is fully gated.
The widely believed crucifixion site and nearby tomb? Yes, they too are inside a church - an enormous church.

View of Mary's home from the Church of Annunciation

Monday, June 13, 2011

Two step

We couldn't have picked a busier day to arrive in Jerusalem.  Not only was it a Friday - the beginning of Shabbat, but it was also Passover, Good Friday, and if I can recall correctly, one more holiday which, in the blurred activity of that day, my mind just can't seem to identify. Pilgrimages to the city had taken place from as far away lands as America, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines. (Along with everywhere else in between). Needless to say, the streets were crowded.  Very crowded.

Throughout the day, processions were held along the Via Dolorosa - a path where many Catholics and other Christians believe Christ took his last steps.  The groups of pilgrims carry crosses of their own and stop at 14 different stations along the way representing the spots where certain things occurred, including Christ's condemnation, receiving the cross, the times He fell, where He met His mother, et cetera up to where many believe He was laid in the tomb.

In another part of the city near Jaffa Gate, David Street was a virtual mosh pit. We found ourselves stuck within it, unable to move in any direction.  I had half a mind to climb atop of shoulders and ride it out.  But then there were the police, who magically parted the crowds enough to let their little dance train reach a location where they could jump a man.  That was all it took, apparently, to ruin the mood. So everyone left, leaving us free to make any type of move we wanted.

In the evening the crowds found their way at the Wailing Wall.  Shabbat during Passover is a time for the Jewish of all ages to give supplication near the foundational remains of Herod's Temple. They came in droves, and like the masses earlier in the day, it was quite the site to see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

O Jerusalem

It was a surreal feeling as we walked up to the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.  The moment we climbed the stairs and passed through the walls of the old city, we were transported back to a different era.  Street vendors dotted the entrance, inviting us into the city with sweet smells of roasted corn and date bread. Limestone streets matched those of the old buildings they joined. The white monotone of the city was offset by the vibrant colors of the linens and spices the multitude of shops had to offer.

Light reflecting off the limestone buildings made the entire city look magical.  No photo I had previously seen, nor the ones I took of Jerusalem myself were able to capture its glimmer and sheen. So I stared at the city, sad that the only way I'd be able to see its full beauty is by walking its streets.

In the middle of being enraptured by the architecture, our focus was shifted to people watching as one Hasidic Jew or another rushed past us.  We couldn't figure out where they were headed, especially since we saw them walking this way and that all throughout the day.  In the end, we just came up with our own conclusions.  My mom deciding they all just like to 'walk with a purpose'.  While I on the other hand felt that they, like my own genetic disorder (from the maternal side), are chronically late.
Then again, if I lived there and knew where I needed to go, I'd probably walk the same speed to skirt past the hoards of tourists as quickly as possible.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Preconceived notion

Due to the select pictures I had seen throughout my life, I had what I thought was a distinct image of what Israel looked like.  I envisioned a dry, brown, desert-like country with sparse greenery. And while part of Israel does, in fact, look like that - primarily around the Dead Sea, the image I conjured up of the rest of the country couldn't have been farther than the truth.

The lush green rolling hills, the mass amounts of trees, the immaculate roadsides and the stunning glow of the landscape reflected in the rising sun took both my mother and my breath away.  With a welcome as warm as that one, neither of us cared that our flights arrived before dawn.