Wednesday, February 26, 2020

02/26/2020 - Reflections: Wednesday of Cheesefare Week - Pophyrius, Bishop of Gaza

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Dear friends,

I arrived home Monday (2/24) about 5 PM quite thankful to be home after traveling for about 25 hours. I was especially thankful to have my wife, Pam, meet me at DTW; thus avoiding taking the Michigan Flyer (which was quite nice!) to Lansing and from Lansing home to Owosso which would have added another couple hours onto the trip!

In retrospect I think I have been struggling with an intestinal problem, mildly for over a week and for the last 3 days of the trip much more severely. This made the last few days and the travel quite wearisome and difficult - but difficultly strenghthens us and I am grateful for patience and perseverence. I seem to be recovering (from the time difference and the intestinal issue) quite well now along with doing all the laundary and sorting out everything from the trip.

Seven pilgrims are still traveling with five of them returning on Thursday 2/27 (from Egypt) and two others a few days later (from Qatar). Please keep them in your prayers as, though I'm sure they are enjoying themselves, I'm sure also that they are weary and ready to return home!

Two things I want to do in this (possibly) last blog:
  1. Ask you to send me an email (
  2. Reflect on the trip after being back a few days now
Send me an Email - Pretty simple actually but will be helpful feedback for when I do this again. Please let me know:
  1. Who are you (many of you I know but there are a few that are a mystery!)?
  2. How did you find out about the Blog?
  3. Why were you interested in following the blog AND was that interest satisfied?
  4. How did the Blog affect you (e.g., your faith, your knowledge about Biblical and other places, your interest in travel, etc.)
  1. This was my second trip; as such it was not so overwhelming as my first trip (10 years ago). I felt much more able to understand where I was and not be simply carried away by the beauty, the mystery, the seeming impossibility of being where I was. I felt much more like I was on earth than I was in heaven, much more grounded, much more mature. I was more able to step outside of myself and observe and consider and think. Both experiences were good - just different! I think it is a natural progression.
  2. My first trip was with a primarily Orthodox group with a bishop, several priests, several deacons and many others - 99% Orthodox. Our tour guide was Orthodox, his father and brother were priests and he had served in all the holy places for most of his life. This trip was primarily non-Orthodox Christians making pilgrimage for the first time. Our tour guide - who was excellent - was Roman Catholic and did not have the same relationship with the Orthodox community. These things made a difference from my standpoint (as I am an Orthodox Christian). For instance Mount Tabor would be a major pilgrimage stop for Orthodox but we did not go there. Our first visit to the Shepherd's Field was to the RC site versus the Orthodox. Also, we were not able to enter the Orthodox Church and Convent of St. Mary Magdalene (where even our non-Orthodox pilgrims were aware of it being the burial place of Russian / English connected Royalty) because we were not Orthodox. I sensed that our guide was a bit frustrated with entering into the Orthodox sites because of more limited hours ... perhaps even a sense of a lack of cooperation with the tour company (maybe this was because they were more protective of being overrun by tourists who do not understand?).
  3. Difference in feel between Orthodox and Roman Catholic sites. The RC sites almost always felt extremely well funded, cold, sterile and professional, like museums. The Orthodox sites felt like you were entering into someone's home, a little dusty but warm and inviting, humble and simple; struggling; real; holy.
  4. This trip, since I was not so overwhelmed and since I was more familiar with the people of Beit Sahour, allowed me to enter into relationships more freely than before - and for other reasons. So I was able to spend an evening seeing the city with a friend's cousing from Beit Sahour and visit his home, his mother and his sister. I was also blessed to have made friends with a few Russians, an American monk at St. Saba, and others from the Beit Sahour community who are connected with the hotel, some of whom lived in Flint years ago and returned.
  5. I realized that for some reason I felt very lonely on this trip; reflecting back I was probably feeling lonely on the first trip as well ... perhaps just more aware of it on this trip.
  6. The monastic experience at Mar Saba was VERY REAL and I learned many things but I'm still working through them. It was also difficult, partly because I was having intestinal issues and did not have a bottled water source - my own fault, but also partly because of the lack of any knowlege or sense of their Typikon - the order of their life. I did not know their service times, they changed on the two nights I was there, everything was in Greek, I did not seem to be assigned a "contact" in the event I needed something or to advise me. There was no "playbook" in a sense. So every moment felt to be an "uncertainty". However, due to this overall situation and my desire to leave a day early I ended up meeting three individuals whom I would not otherwise have met - and to have met them was a great blessing!
  7. Cultural exchage and appreciation of how life is very different in other parts of the world is a key part of travel. It is important for Christians in this country to become aware of the Palestinian Christian situation and how complicated it is. 
  8. Television. It was interesting (and strange?) that the only station on the TV in the hotel room (I did not turn it on till the last day when I was packing) was Russian!?
  9. I am still assessing the meaning of this trip and how it is part of guiding my life forward from here. I am truly thankful to have been with the other 11 pilgrims and become friends with them and to have met the other group from Maryland that we joined with in order to fill up the bus.  Part of this is in the quotes that follow (both taken from an article on pilgrimage) part of this is still being formulated - in any event, it is GOOD to be home:
    1. 'If a man changes his place, he is no further from God. Wherever you may be, God will come to you, if your soul's lodging is such that the Lord may dwell in you and walk among you. If you are full of evil thoughts, even though you be on Golgotha or on the Mount of Olives or in the Chapel of the Resurrection, you are as far from receiving Christ within you, as those who have not acknowledged His sovereignty. Accordingly, beloved, advise the brethren "to journey to the Body of the Lord," but not to make the journey from Cappadocia to Palestine.' St. Gregory of Nyssa.
    2. "Indeed, for some it is not necessary to travel to Jerusalem the earthly at all, they find the Holy City in the village church on Easter night." Stephen Graham

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