Playing Catch Up
Trip Start May 19, 2012
79Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Jerusalem University College
Woke up Saturday at the blessedly late hour of 7:15 to get my run on with Molly and Jackie once again. We went around the Old City, plus a significant detour through a Muslim neighborhood, got back just in time for breakfast and prettying up for the day. Then it was time for class from 9:45-12:30, lunch, and then we were free until 8:00. It being Pentecost, and us being in Jerusalem, I thought it would be especially appropriate for us to take the maybe 4 minute walk past the Dormition Abbey to the traditional "and, historically, not improbable" site of the Upper Room, so I suggested this and we ended up bringing basically the entire group. Dr. Vlacos read the Acts account of the descent of the Holy Spirit and said a few words; one observation that really stood out to me was that the group of disciples that was gathered there those 2000 years ago was probably about the exact size of our group
Game plan went something like this: the Holy Sepulcher is open until 9 pm, at which point the doors are locked until midnight, so we arranged to meet Father Samuel, an Armenian Orthodox priest who looks after most of the Armenian holdings in the church. After successfully leading an expedition to a rooftop cafe for caffeine "I took mine in the Arabic coffee form and thus had no problems staying awake" we met up with Father Samuel and 8:45 outside the church. It was a somewhat surreal experience being on the inside of 20 ft tall wood and iron studded doors, being locked from the outside. Father Samuel took us to a side chapel that he called his office and we got to pepper him with questions about Armenian Orthodoxy that he mostly understood and mostly answered. Turns out Nicholas being a history nerd came in handy: I have an app on the iPhone that tells me random mostly significant things that happened on this day in history, and turns out in 451 the Armenians won the right to worship publicly as Christians from their Persian occupiers "Armenia was the first nation to declare Christianity as a state religion in 301, that's about 30 years before the Romans", so I asked Father Samuel about how the history of combat and oppression has shaped the Armenian Church. He didn't really understand the question, but he was very happy that I knew the event in their history, so yah know. After we finished asking him question, Father Samuel took us on a private guided tour of the Holy Sepulcher at night, with only a very few other pilgrims and some maintenance staff in the rest of the building. I don't know how to impact that statement for you really, but pretend that you understand that this is a really really big deal, and I don't know how Wheaton pulled the strings to make it happen. Here's a few anecdotes to try and get the idea across: we got to go in, three at a time, to what is believed to be Christ's tomb. I don't know if I've related the history of this place already, but if I have sorry, I choose to again. With a lot of sites in Christianity one can be reasonably skeptical as to their authenticity, but this site is actually quite certain. We have records of Christians meeting on this location as early as 65 AD to hold worship services; that's a scant 30 years after the crucifixion. Then, when Hadrian is rebuilding Jerusalem into a thoroughly Roman city and removing all traces of religions except for the Roman pantheon in the 130s, he does this weird thing and builds a temple to Venus on this random rock quarry just outside the city walls, which is our site. Eventually, Constantine would send his mother to Jerusalem to build it into a Christian city, and she destroyed the temple and dug out the graves under it. All this to say, yeah, the grave commemorated in the Holy Sepulcher is, if not on the precise spot, within maybe 50 feet of it, and I was in there with a priest and a couple other people, after hours.
Alas, the grave is also an important Christian site and thus, when a Muslim army recaptured Jerusalem during the Crusades, they took a hammer and chisel to it and dismantled it completely, so what we have left is rather a stylized shrine on the spot of the old grave. So it goes. We got a better idea of what the grave would originally have looked like when we were shown the unimproved first century tombs behind a Syrian Orthodox chapel. I notice this description is dragging a bit, so I'll summarize: Father Samuel was extraordinarily happy to show all of us, especially the lovely ladies, around his church and show us which oil lamps belonged to the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenians, which chapels belonged to the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenians, and so on. Probably the absolutely coolest thing we were shown was block of stone with some extremely early Christian graffiti that would have been on the temple Hadrian built over the site of the tomb; it was a stylized fishing boat and the Latin for "Lord, we have come". If I were ever to get a tattoo...
I'll wrap it up. We stayed and got the awesome tour until about midnight, when the doors were opened for midnight mass and over 500 pilgrims of the various denominations flooded into the church. After about 30 minutes we walked back to the JUC campus through the mostly deserted streets of the Old City-an experience in itself, and got to bed, trying to get as much sleep in as possible before beginning a day of studying for a test Sunday at 4:00.
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