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Journey to the Holy Land

News--Holy Land

Our journey to the Holy Land with St. Philip’s was a bucket list experience, one of those trips that will carry us for the rest of our lives. We were not ordinary tourists but pilgrims seeking to grow our understanding of and faith in our Lord, and it was truly a blessing and a privilege.

Each morning as we started out on the bus, Fr. Jeff led us in a morning devotion that ended with “The Morning Song.” It was a wonderful way to begin our day:

Refrain: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
            His mercies never come to an end;
            They are new every morning, new every morning,
            Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, great is thy faithfulness.

The Lord is my portion says my soul, therefore will I hope in Him. Refrain

Words: Edith McNeill, Tune: The Steadfast Love of the Lord

We covered a lot of territory, and everywhere we visited, Fr. Jeff and Fr. Justin found a sheltered spot to read Scripture and give a lesson about the site’s significance, which helped create personal connections to the biblical places we were visiting. 

Jug at Cana News--Holy Land

Above left: A jug at Cana. Above right: Amanda and Maxwell Steinhardt renew their marriage vows with the Rev. Jeffrey S. Miller.

Our time in Galilee introduced us to where Jesus performed many of his miracles. At Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding by turning water into wine, we saw an enormous stone jar that could have been one of those that held the water/wine in Jesus’ time. While there, Fr. Jeff and Fr. Justin gave us the opportunity to renew our marriage vows, or if traveling without a spouse, to receive a special blessing. In Nazareth, we saw the ruins of Mary’s home, Mary’s well, and the site of the Annunciation, took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and toured Capernaum, where we saw ruins of Peter’s house and those of the synagogue where Jesus taught. In Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah, we collected water from the Jordan River to be used in future St. Philip’s baptisms. In Tabgha, we saw where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and where he appeared to His apostles for the third time. While there, we took a moment to wade into the water where Jesus’ apostles fished. After viewing the church at the Mount of Beatitudes, we enjoyed a lesson and service with communion in a pavilion overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

In Jordan, at the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa (originally founded by Alexander the Great and now called Jerash), Ben Hagood and Rachel Murphy demonstrated the impressive acoustics of the large, ancient theater by singing our national anthem. From our hotel at Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) near Petra, we could look west across the valley to the mountaintop where Moses’ brother, Aaron, is believed to have been buried.

Aaron's burial site on distant mtnAt Petra.JPG

Above left: Aaron's burial site on a distant mountain. Above right: The group at Petra.

Petra, a sandstone city built by the Nabataeans and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was an active trading center and the capital of the Nabataean empire from around 400 B.C. until the Romans gained control of it in A.D. 106. At a stop on our trek through the site, Penn Hagood shared a greatly informative and biblically oriented history lesson about the area. On the return hike through the ruins, several in our group took advantage of the camel and donkey rides offered by the locals. When leaving Wadi Musa, we stopped at the site where it’s believed Moses struck the rock to release water. Water still flows from that spring today. Our next destination was the Dead Sea, where many of us ventured into the salty water. We finished our time in Jordan with a stop at the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. After a service, many of us dunked our feet into the river. At Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land of Canaan, we were also able to look west to Israel and see the Dead Sea and Jerusalem in the distance.

Dead Sea Warning  The Dead Sea

Crossing back into Israel, we visited Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. We viewed in the distance the ruins of a Byzantine church on the Mount of Temptation, ruins of the Jericho that Jesus would have known, and the current excavation of Herod’s palace. Passing the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we stopped high above a gorge, the Wadi Qelt, overlooking St. George’s Monastery, which was built near what was thought to be the prophet Elijah’s cave, and the ancient road that Jesus would have walked between Jericho and Jerusalem. The parable of the Good Samaritan was set there. After our lesson, Fr. Justin graced us with some Scripture sung in Hebrew.   

In Bethlehem, we saw the Shepherds’ Fields and the Church of the Nativity, where we descended to the cave where Jesus was born. Nearby, we visited the Church of St. John the Baptist built over the site of John the Baptist’s birth. Our time in Jerusalem was filled with stops at the Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit, the garden of Gethsemane––where at least eight olive trees over 2000 years old, from the time of Jesus, still grow––and the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), where we had an opportunity to pray and tuck prayers into the wall. At St. Peter in Gallicantu, where Jesus appeared before the high priest Caiaphas, was denied three times by Peter, and was sentenced to death, we experienced the depths of the prison and saw steps that Jesus had climbed on His way to meet Caiaphas after His arrest. At the Church of St. Anne’s, we saw where Mary was born and nearby viewed from above the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralyzed man. Following a Scripture reading and lesson there, Fr. Jeff and Fr. Justin offered individual healing prayers to us.

Steps to Caiaphas' house that Jesus walked Where Jesus was tortured by the Roman soldiers

Above left: Steps to Caiaphas' house. Above right: Where Jesus was tortured by Roman soldiers.

Walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, was a powerful experience. It was sobering to see the stations of the cross along the way marking where Simon took up the cross and where He fell, and to see the dungeon in the home of Pontius Pilate with the game of torture that the Roman soldiers had carved into the floor.  At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we took turns touching the rock that held Jesus’ cross, saw the place where His body was first laid, and entered the cave of His final resting place from which He arose. On our last evening in Jerusalem, after an evening visit back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, several of our group accompanied Fr. Jeff to one of his favorite spots, the Austrian Hospice, to sample its “famous” apple strudel, a fun treat.

Pontius Pilate inscribed stone  Justin in Jaffa

Above left: The inscribed stone proving Pontius Pilate's existence. Above right: The Rev. Justin Hare in Jaffa.

On our way to Tel Aviv on our last travel day, we explored the ruins of Caesarea Maritima along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, where proof of Pontius Pilate’s existence, an inscription in stone, was recently found. Researchers also believe that Paul was held in the prison there. In Jaffa, at the site of Simon the Tanner’s house where Peter received a vision that he should accept Gentiles into the church, we stopped for our last Scripture reading and lesson of the trip. Fr. Justin shared a lesson about Jonah, who embarked from Jaffa before his encounter with the fish and who was the only prophet from Galilee. After a last shared dinner, we were homeward bound, having been blessed with a remarkable journey together through the Holy Land.