Sunday, February 23, 2020

2/23/2020 Last day in Bethlehem - A Walk to The Nativity Church and The Milk Grotto

Did not realize how tired I was - I slept in late and did not attend Liturgy ... kind of an anonymous day ...

After breakfast and feeling a bit recovered I set out to explore a bit of Bethlehem, desiring especially to go to the Milk Grotto.

In various places it is said that this is where the holy family stopped while en-route to Egypt and that this is the cave they lived in for quite some time before leaving for Egypt (perhaps even where the Magi visited). The grotto is a very short distance from the Nativity Grotto. Here is another link.

The fine white powder from the grotto (this will make sense if you read the items at the links) is said to have helped many infertile couples conceive and also to have effected miraculous cures of other diseases. 

My desire was to bring some back with me and as always God provides. After wandering around a very empty church structure with only a few minutes before they closed I bumped into a Franciscan who graciously provided me with a few packets which can be obtained only if you visit the grotto.

Pictures from my stroll of a few miles (streets were very quiet).

Walking the Old City of Bethlehem

A quick stop at the Nativity Church

The Franciscan Church at the Milk Grotto

The white walls of the Milk Grotto

Saturday, February 22, 2020

2/22/2020 Saturday - Soul Saturday - UPDATED 2/23

For the past 2+ days I was a guest at Mar Saba Monastery in Palestine.
  • Very little water
  • No Electricity
  • No heat
  • Constant up and down
  • They keep Byzantine time
  • Services were all in Greek and ran about 4 hours starting at various times on different days - I did pray for many during the long services.
I was to be there for one more day but decided to leave as the life was very harsh with no orientation and monks generally not easy to engage because of language and their duties.

I was able to help clean the Churches and help in the trapeza after lunch one day but the rest of my time was unguided.

Unsure as to how to get back a day early I decided to park myself in the courtyard and solicit pilgrims for a ride back as well as let the monks know (no one seemed to be the “point person”.

God provided a Russian monk who had been there for several days (Igor) sitting also with his backpack.

His friend, Theodosius, arrived and thank goodness he spoke Russian, Arabic and English. He came with his precious daughter (7 -8 years old) to pick Igor up.

We worked it out for Igor to stay at the Paradise Premium for the night and then his friend will take him to Jerusalem to catch a bus to the airport and return toRussia.

On the way from Mar Saba monastery to the hotel Theodosius made several stops:
  • One was St. Theodosius Monastery
  • The other was a monastery with one person in it, that person an American
When we got to the second monastery (built by St. Theognios a contemporary of St. Saba and St. Theodosius) it was pretty barren and look like a fortress. Garbage everywhere, rocks everywhere and up on the top of the hill. The walls were topped with barbed wire and looked pretty formidable.

We hailed the monk who came out to greet us and I intervened because he was an American and my English was the best. It turns out that he was father Lazarus whom I met the day before at Mar Saba. He has been at Mar Saba for 26 years from San Francisco where I believe he was the administrator for the bookstore at the All Holy Virgin Cathedral where Pam and I and the boys visited a very long time ago.

The grounds are nearly completely undeveloped and need archeological work. Fr. Lazarus is ”guardian” of the property.

So Igor and I have been communicating with Google translate fairly well and will have dinner together at six this evening.

God willing I will be at the church of the forefathers in Beit Sahour for liturgy in the morning and return to the hotel perhaps just to walk the city a bit in Bethlehem and prepare for about a 1 AM departure early Monday morning!


The wadi at the bottom of the cliff at Mar Saba

Ancient monastic caves

My Room (# 11)

Mar Saba

Yup - Kerosene light!

Saint Theodosius monastery

St. Theognios Grounds - Fr. Lazarus personal home - the monastery is throughout the land surrounding it. Theodosios (middle), his daughter (left), Monk Igor (right).

The “fortress” protecting the home of Fr. Lazarus.

Monk Igor and me at the tomb of St. Sabba.


A cave

And the trash that neighbors through on the property (a serious local ? Cultural ? problem - there is trash everywhere!)

Monastery ruins


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

2/20 - 2/23 Mar Saba

I will not post for several days as I will be at the Monastery.

2/19 - Wednesday - 10th Pilgrimage Day - The Holy Apostles of the Seventy Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus

Today was our final day in the Holy Land. Around midnight 4 will depart for the airport and their flight back to the US. In the morning 7 will depart for 8 days in Jordan and Egypt and one (me) will go for 3 days to St. Savas Monastery in a Palestine.

Our day today: The Tomb of St. Lazarus in Bethany, The Orthodox Shepherds Field Church, The Patriarch’s Tomb in Hebron, The Russian Orthodox Church built at the site where a Abraham and Sarah entertained Angels (the Oak of Mamet) and a “factory” in a Hebron where they make a Hebron glass and ceramics.

And the Walled Off Hotel!


Lazarus Tomb

Shepherds Field Church

Tomb of Patriarchs

Oak of Mamre


Walled Off Hotel Museum

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

2/18/2020 Tuesday - 9th Pilgrimage Day - St. Leo Pope of Rome

Old City, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

While all was stunningly beautiful, exotic, alive in sound, scent and sight it all paled when entering into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all its spiritual and physical depths. 

People were gentle, patient, soft spoken, reverent, crying, singing, remembering names, praying, kissing, prostrating, lighting candles, lost in thought, giving thanks ... 


Dome of The Rock

Pools of Bethesda

Inside the Holy Sepulchre Church
Dome of the Holy Sepulchre Church


He is Risen!!

Monday, February 17, 2020

2/17/2020 Monday - 8th Pilgrimage Day - St. Theodore The Recruit

Today we went To the old city of Jerusalem.

As usual for a trip through the old city of Jerusalem things get lost in your mind quickly.

There are so many holy sites scattered about geographically yet related to one another that it all becomes a blur to be studied and contemplated at some later time when the mind and body are not so tired.

Now is not the time so I will just post pictures. 

The disappointment for the day: The mothers at Saint Mary Magdalene Convent and Church would allow only orthodox through the gate. You really can’t blame them as they try to protect their monastic life.

The great blessing for the day: The tomb of the Virgin Mary and the kindness and sweetness of those inside, especially a priest from a Greece with a few Pilgrims singing hymns to the Virgin in the furthest recesses of the tomb, and the nun attending to the little store her name being Nektaria.

And to be fair the blessings of the day far, far out numbered any disappointment whatsoever.


Mosque of Ascension



Ascension Footprint

Church of Saint Mary Magdalene

View of Jerusalem from the mount of olives


Tomb of the Virgin Mary

Inside the tomb of the Virgin Mary

Western wall

View from inside the old city

Mosaics within the Catholic Church of the Assumption

The Upper Room