Very Rev. Protopresbyter James Dutko, Pastor of St. Michael's Church in Binghamton and Dean of the Southern Tier DeaneryI had the privilege to participate in an Orthodox Pilgrimage to the Holy Land from October 28 through November 11, 2010. The trip was led by Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky who is the director of Orthodoxtours.com.
The Group departed on Thursday evening, October 28 from the Philadelphia International Airport for a nonstop 12 hour slight on US Air to Tel Alviv. It consisted of 32 people from various areas of the United States and Canada.
Although beginning the journey as strangers, they ended it as friends and as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The group spent three nights in Tiberius along the Sea of Galilee, six nights in the old city of Jerusalem and three nights in cities of Petra and Amman in Jordan. '
Everywhere they went, They were treated with dignity and respect by people of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They were never in any danger and fear was never part of the story.
To say the least, it was a joy for them to be in the Holy Places. Places they had read of in the Scripture and heard proclaimed in the Gospel lessons of the Sunday liturgy came to life as they visited and prayed in the villages and cities, the mountains and deserts, shore lines, rivers and lakes of the Holy Land.
Although life there is surely difficult, it was apparent that Christians of faith have lived and continue to live their lives in these places traversed by Our Lord and the Apostles.
Although not everyone will have an opportunity to visit these sacred places, we all have the privilege in our parish churches to continue our own pilgrimage homeward bound.
The Pilgrimage Group which included faithful from Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, as well as from Oregon, Washington, California, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina and New York are Pictured at Cana of Gallilee.
The journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was not an easy jaunt through the countryside. The distance of approximately 80 miles would have taken at least four days by caravan along a road which barren and deserted lands.
One of the special joys of the pilgrimage was our visit to Bethlehem Square and the Church of the Nativity. The original church there was constructed over the cave of the Birth of Our Saviour by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine.
Before descending into the crypt at the Church of the Nativtiy, we
had a chance to venerate this precious Icon of the Theotokos. Her
smile is unforgettable!
The journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem took us through the Separation Wall that divides the Palestinian territories from
Israel. Wall need not be forever, so pray for those who seek to
build bridges between the sons of Abraham who dwell in the Holy Land.
This was a typical a breakfast setup of humus, eggs, cheese, breads and delicious fruits and vegetables which we enjoyed during our two weeks in hotels in Tiberius, Jerusalem, Petra and Amman.
During our visit, we had the privilege of entering the 5th century monastery of St. Savas, located in the ciffs of the Kidron Gorge near Jersualem. There, we were blessed to be able to pray before his relics. The monastery also contains a cave where St. John of Damascus composed many of his famous odes used in the church today.
While in the Holy Land, we sent three days visiting sites such as Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Tagha and Magdala along the Sea of Galilee. We also sailed on its waters and even had a chance to even swim there. The water is pure and the lake is reminiscent of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.
One of the great adventures of our travels was a visit to the Monastery of St. George in the desert of Judea. The origins of the monastery dates to the 4th century and includes a cave where Elias the prophet was fed by ravens.
A pilgrim lights a candle at the Monastery of St. Gerasimos in a desert near the Jordan River.
Olive trees fill the Garden of Gethsemene in the ancient city of Jerusalem.
Sister Martha spoke with joy and enthusiasm about her life at the site of the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany She and her community on nuns operate the Bethany School for Girls.
Nuns of the Russian Orthodox Community of the Resurrection in Bethany operate a school for 300 girls between the ages of 5 and 16 who live in the region. YOu can learn more about this incredible place by logging onto: /www.synod.com/synod/engdocuments/
The Moselm Gate keeper and his sons pose for a photo with Fr.
Jim near the 5,000 year old Oak Tree of Abraham in Hebron. The site is adjacent to the only Christian church in the city, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity.
his is magnificent Icon Screen in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Elias the Prophet on Mt Tabor. The icons depicted, not only there, but in every nook and crany of the ceiling and walls were a virtual "picture book" of many of the miracles of Jesus as described in the New Testament.
A pilgrim from our group walks along the pathways on the hills adjacent to St. Savas Monastery.
Pilgrims from all over the world gathered in front of the entrance
to the place of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the magnificent
church of the Holy Sepulchre (Church of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem. We returned at midnight to share in the celebration of a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at this site.
While in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which we Orthodox Christians often refer to as the Church of the Resurrection, we had an opportunity to venerate the rocks of Golgatha beneath this altar at the site of the Crucifixion of Our Lord.