I realize I have been away from this Jerusalem Diary for over a week, so here’s a catch up. Last Sunday, May 8 I went across the street to worship with the Syriac Catholics. The Syriac Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Rite churches in communion with the Holy See. As usual, the history of this church is long and complicated. What interested me was simply to worship with them and observe their liturgy as I did with Elias the week before when we attended the Melkite Greek Catholic Mass.
About halfway through the Mass a young mother with two kids came and sat in my pew. The little boy was dressed as a Jew with the yarmulke (skull cap) and prayer tassels showing beneath his shirt. After Mass I introduced myself and discovered that the Mom is a convert to Catholicism from Orthodox Judaism. Furthermore, she was a fellow American and asked if I knew about the Coming Home Network and Marcus Grodi’s TV show. I have learned that there is a considerable number of Jewish converts to Catholicism out here and they even have their own fellowship with Mass in Hebrew. Wow!
The last week was spent mostly in the library during the mornings, with various hikes of exploration around the Old City. One of the places I discovered near the Greek Catholic Patriarchate near the Jaffa Gate is the Razzouk Tatto Parlor. The Razzouk family have been doing tattoos for pilgrims for the last 700 years. It is a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages to get a commemorative tattoo when you come to Jerusalem. The Razzouks did a great job on my tattoo, and I asked the Dad what happens if the next generation is not interested in tattoos? He said, “It’s not an option.”
This morning I “rose early in the morning” and made my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where I was invited to concelebrate Mass in the empty tomb. The main celebrant was one of the Franciscans.
I have been blessed over the years in various pilgrimages to have been able to celebrate Mass in some very amazing places: the tomb of St Peter in St Peters, the tomb of St Francis in Assisi, the chapel of the relics of St Bernadette–and more. But to say Mass actually in the tomb of our Lord on an altar set up on top of the very burial stone itself. It was simply overwhelming. When Fr Jacob went out to administer communion he whispered, “Stay here and pray if you want.”
I knelt there and the tears came.Not only to be there where the most history shattering event took place, but to say Mass and have a few moments of personal prayer! I’ll never forget it. I thought of all the places life has taken me and all the experiences with which I have been blessed and all my own sin and pride and unfaithfulness. It was almost too much.
I have been using this sabbatical pretty well I think. I’ve been working and studying most days and I’m half way through writing a little book which has been accepted for publication. It is called The Secret of the Bethlehem Shepherds and I think it will really change some minds and attitudes about the Christmas Story we all love.
So tomorrow I am giving myself a little vacation (but with some extra work added in) I am traveling to the Greek island of Symi. On Symi is one of the St Michael Monasteries that is on the straight line known as the Sword of St Michael. I’ll be there for three days, then will take a ferry to the island of Patmos where St John wrote the Book of Revelation and where he died. Why Symi? Because I a working on a documentary film project with film maker Stan Williams. I’m going to Symi to do some background research.
I’ll then return to Jerusalem for my final week before heading to England to lead the pilgrimage tour, then ten days further in England to visit friends and family before finally heading home.