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Holy Land Diaries 4…

The Everest Collegiate senior class gets on a plane tonight late (Good Friday 2014) completing their pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Following is the latest blog from Megan Luttinen.

Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, with a little side of Dormition Abbey and The Upper Room on Mount Zion, and a dash of St. Peter at Gallicante.

Going to the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday packs a special “punch.” Our guide Amer told us that the word “Gethsemane” means olive press. It was a garden, and also a place where they pressed olives. He also said specifically that it was a symbol of Jesus’ agony in the garden because we pushed and pressed Jesus so much that he sweat blood, almost like pressing an olive brings forth oil.

The church is darkly lit, and the stain glass windows are all shades of purple. An intricate ceiling and a mosaic floor are on display, showing the beauty of the church.  But the most epic part is the mosaic on the outside.  This depiction of Jesus and his disciples on the northern face is incredible. Small stones, used to make such an impacting image, show the dedication the artist must have felt when making the mosaic.  Next we see the panoramic view on the Mount of Olives, and from looking at it, I am humbled and in awe.

Amer shows us the path Jesus walked and the Holy Sepulchre. The path between where He started and where He finished was a mile, but it would have been a grueling trek. The Mount of Olives also has the ruins of a Church built by St. Helen, and the new walls are covered with the “Our Father” in about 160 languages.  It is crowded with people of all cultures, dress and faces, but one main thought is in all of our heads – “I am blessed to be here.”

Next we stop at Dormition Abbey  on Mount Zion. This church rests over the strongly supposed place that Mary ended her earthly life. It represents the place where “Mary went to sleep.” There is a statue of Our Lady in stone, and candles to be lit. There is a fresco of Jesus standing holding Mary, wrapped in white linen. The Upper Room is right next door, and it was an interesting place to be.

There were actually 120 people in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came over them, and they then went out speaking in different languages. We learn that 120 people represent what was needed to break off from Judaism. Authority comes from the number 120.

Our last stop before lunch is at St. Peter at Gallicantu, and this church is designed around the themes of redemption and forgiveness. My classmate Josh and I are talking about how beautiful the entire mosaic walls are. The church is located above the cistern where Jesus was lowered after his scourging.  It would have been cold, dark and full of dirty water.  Amer told us that Jesus was actually scourged three times. For me this is heart wrenching, because I feel Jesus’ pain at that moment. Don’t all of us have friends who betray us, or fall asleep when all we want is their comfort? Don’t we have moments where we are alone and afraid? Jesus was abandoned, betrayed, spit upon and sworn at. I will always keep the image of the mosaic of Jesus in ropes being arrested in my head. Just remember, Jesus did this for us. And we are saved because of it. Utterly humbling.

“All we can hope is that we come out of this with more faith than we had before.”

These words were spoken by Fr. Juan Solana LC, in an introduction to the Holy Sepulchre where we spent the night. It was somewhat of a calming talk, after the hectic and scary beginning to our night.  Fr. Daniel had told our group (almost everyone went) that we would probably have a difficult time getting into the Holy Sepulchre, but he had talked to a monk, and we hoped it would run smoothly. It seemed that God wanted a little more sacrifice and a lot more “Hail Mary’s” before we got what we wanted.

The Greek Orthodox, the Armenians, Coptics and Catholics were all squished outside of the closed doors of the Holy Sepulchre, and there was tension in the air.  Our group got almost to the front and was ready to throw up elbows so we could get in. We were determined, united and full of a need. I have to say it was terrifying.  We got in one at a time, amidst a yelling crowd and hands that grabbed us back. Fr. Daniel stood by the door grabbing us by the hand and yanking us in like a saving grace.  All I know is that I must have counted the group at least 4 times after we were all in safe and sound, just to make sure we were all out of the chaos. I must say our boys were so amazing tonight, keeping the girls safe and sound, acting like trained body guards. It turned out we were one of two groups let in. It was actually a moving experience to see so many people want to experience and know Christ at Calvary.

Now once again, this is a big group of people all together in one place. The Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Coptics have control over the spot where Jesus was crucified, so their chapel is there.  The Catholics have control of the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, so their chapel is at that spot. And they’re right next to each other.

(Our chaperone) Mrs. Krogh, and (my classmates) Jackie, Lu, Aaron and I were praying in our chapel while the Greek Orthdox were having their Holy Thursday service in theirs, filled with song. It was beautiful, deep and rich, and set the background music of the first couple hours of our night.

While we are here, we have been able to receive confession, walk the stations, visit Jesus’ tomb, and pray wherever we want. Joshua, Ryan and I got to pray together in the tomb and it was powerful to say the least. The tomb itself is finely adorned and many people just wanted to be near to it. Michelle has been wandering through the halls, praying a rosary. Angela and I were interpreting an old painting, only to figure out that it was Jesus being taken down from the cross. Jeremy was all over the place, while Miss (Valerie) Fifelski and Mary Jo spent their time in the chapel downstairs.

Fr. Daniel was always there to remind us, “Go see the tomb one more time!” or “Just go in there, don’t wait!” I’ve spotted Daman, Chris and Kersten sitting by Calvary, deep in thought and prayer. Jackie and I have found each other a bunch of times just to say hi and smile, but she has been praying very hard for all her intentions. Kimmy was just on her way to the rock of Calvary the last time I saw her. Noah was walking around everywhere, praying.  Ben was actually able to touch the rock during the Greek Orthodox ceremony, and shared light with one of the celebrators when Ben did not have any light to read his Bible.  Becca and Christina were in an intense conversation when I last saw them and Shannon and Louie were deep in prayer.

Each of us had a different experience, but we had moments together as a group. One thing we all had in common was the cold temperature of the Sepluchre, and the cold kept us all awake, almost as if Jesus was sending it so we would stay awake with him on such a sad, solemn night. We also were kept awake by the Armenian, Coptic and Greek Orthodox cleaning and chanting. We had to move from our spots, sleep without blankets and bunch together for heat, but we all had a good time. I hope that anyone reading this has a chance to visit the Holy Sepulchre because it is something you won’t forget. All I can say is after a crazy day, sleepless and prayer-filled night, I’m gonna sleep well on the plane tonight!

Here are some pictures from the trip!

 

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