Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Holy Land: Mount of Olives

May 19:  We started at the village of Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus mounted a donkey to begin the last week of his life with his entry into Jerusalem with people waving palm branches.  There is a little church with quaint mosaics to commemorate the event.  Inside, there is even a round stone that the (12th-century) Crusaders identified as the stone on which Jesus stepped to help him mount the donkey.  Devotees of course like to see such things.

A king normally enters a major city riding a proud military horse or stallion.  Jesus rode a donkey to allude to the prophet Zechariah who said that the new king of Israel would not be militaristic but a humble & peace-loving king.  Some scholars think that Jesus & the crowds were also making fun of king Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee on behalf of Rome, who loved to enter Jerusalem in a grand way.  Imagine if Herod, since it was the week of Passover, was also entering Jerusalem from another gate but at the same time as Jesus.  This would have contributed to the decision to have Jesus executed.

We proceeded to the Pater Noster Church, which has several versions of the Our Father on its walls including Tagalog, Pampango & Cebuano.  This church on the Mount of Olives is also considered by some devotees as the site of Christ's Ascension, if one follows the ending of Luke's gospel.

The best part of our day was the visit to the Basilica of the Agony, or the Church of All Nations (because Roman Catholic dioceses from all over the world contributed to the building and the decor).  The Basilica has a garden of olive trees some of which are at least 2,000 years old (& they do look old but still bearing fruit) and thus they could have been silent witnesses of Jesus' agony and arrest.  Different flowering plants were also in the garden & it was a beautiful sight.

Inside the church which was architecturally designed to be somber & with dramatic darkness, there was an exposed portion of a large rock in front of the altar & this was lighted just right.  The rock was where Jesus could have prayed in agony.  It was moving to kneel and pray & observe devotees who would touch the rock with their hands or even place their foreheads on it as they prayed.  I did not touch the rock myself because it was not my way of praying. Still I truly felt the nearness of God & I remembered especially Deeda, Sophie & Dennis.
I would count this church as a must when I hopefully return to Jerusalem with loved ones.  From what I have seen so far, I think Sophie & Dennis will have to be at least teenagers to truly appreciate Jerusalem.

We had picnic lunch before entering the Church of St Peter Gallicanto (at the Crowing of the Rooster) to recall Peter's denial and his repentance.  What is more interesting about the site was below it: the ruins of the palatial house of Caiaphas, the longest serving high priest during the Roman occupation & of course the high priest when Jesus was arrested.

Archeological diggings found the ossuary of Caiaphas, and they uncovered dungeons, one of which is a deep pit in which the bound prisoner was lowered.  We were able to go down to the dungeons and even the pit.  The gospels mention that Jesus was brought to the house of the high priest and it was in the courtyard where Peter's denial occurred.

Although not mentioned in the gospels, it would have been possible that Jesus was temporarily kept in one of the dungeons or even in the pit before he was turned over to the Romans.  This is another site that I would consider a must to visit.

We ended our day at the Church of the Dormition or where Mary could have passed on from this life.  Strictly speaking, nobody really knows where the mother of Jesus died, but devotion has chosen this as one site.  The other possible site is a house at Ephesus.

At the lower part of the church, there is an image of Mary lying in state with a canopy of beautiful mosaics.  Just for the mosaics, the place is worth visiting.

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