Sunday, September 23, 2012

Christian Communities Field Study

Here's our bus-load of eager students ready to start our field study at 8 a.m.  Today the "Christian Communites in the East" class is going to see different Christian sites in the land, all fairly close to Jerusalem. I am not taking this class, but decided to go on the field trip with them, as I was interested in the sites we were to see; all except one I had never been to before.  I am going to divide this field study into 2 blogs because I have a lot to show you:)
The Christians in Israel represent just 2% of the population of Israel (which is about 80% Jewish, about 18% Arab/Palestinian). Although they are a small minority, they are an important presence in the land, and do much preserve the ancient sites of Bibical events.
We spent out morning at En Kerem, which is a lovely artist's village that has many Christian churches. This is the traditional/historic site where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, where Mary came when she was pregnant, where John the Baptist was born, and Jesus would have visited.   This is the site of "Mary's Spring", which is a well where it is supposed Mary came to drink from. The first thing I noticed was the muslim minaret you see here towering above it. The muslims often have mosques at many of the Christian sites.
Most of these sites we will visit today have ancient histories of really old churches, that were destroyed and rebuilt many times. The Byzantines rebuilt many churches, later destroyed by Muslims, later rebuilt by Crusaders, later destroyed by Muslims, etc etc. But through all this building and destroying, the original sites of churches have been pretty much preserved, and most still have small pieces of architecture or mosaics, etc that were from at least the Crusader era.
This is Mary's are looking at three faucets/water spouts that have running water from the spring.
Leaving the spring, walking up a looooonngg staircase that leads to the "Church of the Visitation". I have told you in the past that there is no level ground here in Israel. You are either walking up or down wherever you go:)
The "Church of the Visitation" was built to commemorate Mary coming to see Elizabeth. You are see the large mosaic of pregnant Mary on a donkey traveling to En Kerem where Elizabeth lives.
Inside the church, here's a depiction of Elizabeth receiving and welcoming Mary to her her village.
When you go to these 'holy' sites, you must dress modestly, no knees or shoulders visible, no loud noise, often they want you to be silent inside the church, etc.
Walking back down the stairs, this is the view of En Kerem, very pretty countryside in the Judean Hills.
Walking along the street in En Kerem, all this walking makes me hungry for some ice cream....
After climbing another hill (ugh), we have arrived at Our Lady of Zion, a Catholic congregation and convent.
 Here's one of the sisters (on the left) and our professor "Petra" on the right. The sister has been in Israel for 40 years. She talked alot of about the importance of Christians knowing the Jewish roots of the faith, and there is much study on this subject at this convent. She was very gracious, a beautiful woman, she gave us all home-made lemonade to drink.
 The grounds of the convent were beautiful, set up on a hill. Here is a view from the convent across the valley...please notice the huge Russian Orthodox church with the domes on it..we'll be going there next!
Here's the outside of the Russian Orthodox Church. We had to climb a very loooonngg staircase to get up here. We are still in En Kerem, and this is another church that commemorates the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. This mosaic depicts the 2 women. Did you ever wonder what that 'halo' is that you see around people's heads in these religious icons?  It is supposed to represent the 'uncreated light of God' that dwells in the person.
 Outside the church, some vibrant orange flowers.
 The church was supposed to be unlocked for us to get in, but no, it wasn't. Our professor wasn't too happy. But we stood outside and stared up at the 3 gold domes that you saw from a distance in the picture above. The churches are built with the 'cupolas' or domes which makes the acoustics inside just awesome for beautiful singing.
Here's a view from next to the Russian Orthodox church. We are not too far from Jerusalem, it's just over the middle hill on you see on the right. Although if you were on foot or on a donkey, it's quite a long journey, I'm sure.  Well, we have spent our morning in En Kerem. We will be leaving now for another site where we will have lunch and begin our afternoon...Will put all that in my next blog. So stayed tuned...

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