For a bit of a change, this post will be just two paragraphs and then a whole lot of photos and Bible verses. Happy Saturday, y’all!
Today we got to visit 5 different Orthodox and Maronite churches (and one Episcopal church). We met some religious leaders (including one heck of a character, Justina, whom none of us stopped talking about the rest of the trip because she was just so unique!) and heard about each of their denominations or had silent exploration time or the opportunity to attend a service – an all-senses-engaged experience. What a joy it is to see how different members of the body of Christ look toward and worship our God, and especially in the case of the Orthodox church, engage with (kiss, hold, bow before, and so on) icons that visually share information about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
St. George’s Cathedral (Episcopal)
Coptic Orthodox Church
After they fed us a FOUR-COURSE LUNCH, they even let us go on their roof, which has some of the best views of Jerusalem.
Quite some views from the roof, no?
Syrian Orthodox Church (which claims to be the first church, as well as the location of the Upper Room [Mk 14:12-16])
And, lastly, we had the privilege of experiencing a service in the Armenian Orthodox Church, which I did not take a picture in because of the signs posted about not doing that. (My heart always breaks a little bit when I see those kinds of signs, but I also understand). But look at this sunset we came home to!
What a day of celebrating the beauty and diversity of the body of Christ, friends.
Indeed, the body [of Christ] does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (NRSV)
Today, we had the privilege of hiking the Wadi Qelt, a canyon in the West Bank that has been used throughout the centuries as a hub of spiritual life. For example, St. George’s Monastery is built into the rocks! (There are even smaller, individual caves all over the place for the monks who were coenobitic instead of communal). And it’s likely that the “valley of the shadow of death” written about in Psalm 23 is this particular canyon, as well as the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. Our tour guide, Dan, encouraged us to walk the first half of the 1.5-hour hike silence, and I couldn’t be more grateful he did. After we finished up the hike (not a particularly strenuous hike aside from the fact that the path was quite narrow, and I did slip at one point – thankfully, on the correct side to not fall off the mountain, but still to get a lovely little cactus’ pricks all over my hand), we went to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Our professor, a pastor, held a “baptismal remembrance” ceremony for all of us. He encouraged us by sharing that Jesus’ fullest, most important identity was declared to Him (and, in some Gospels, those around Him) during His baptism and that our identities were (and still are) as well.
agapétos: beloved: ἀγαπητός
Definition: properly, divinely-loved; beloved (“loved by God”), i.e. personally experiencing God’s “agapē-love” in God, Christ, and one another.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 (NKVJ)
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken…
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Psalm 104:1-5; 31-33 (NIV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)
On our way to the Jordan River, we also stopped at a monastery that had one of the most stunning churches I’d ever been into.
(The Jordan was a little less stunning than expected, but hey, it is the Land, after all. Things are never quite what you expect. The holy and the ordinary mix).
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:3-5 (NRSV)
What a beautiful reality of beloved, and what a precious day.