We landed in Tel Aviv on the second day, and made our way to the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in the city of Jesus' birth. We were glad to be off the plane, but our internal clocks still were 10 hours behind, and that made sleep the first night in Nazareth challenging!
After breakfast at the Convent, we visited Sepphoris (Tzipori), a village and archaeological site in central Galilee; St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Shefa'amr; the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation; Mary's Well where Gabriel told Mary she would bear the Son of God, St. Joseph's Church in Nazareth, and the Latin (Roman Catholic) Basilica of the Annunciation. Jet lag began to wear off at last!
We got an early start with a renewal of baptismal vows at the Jordan River. Next we visited Tabgah, the site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, and walked the Mount of Beatitudes. We regathered for Eucharist overlooking the Sea of Galilee, toured the water by boat, and visited Capernaum. There we explored the ruins of an ancient synagogue, the site of Jesus' preaching, and took in the home of Peter. All that before lunch. We returned to Nazareth to hear about the ministries of Christ Church (Anglican), explored the city, and enjoyed dinner with the Sisters of Nazareth and other pilgrims. An extraordinary day.
The day began with an early morning trip to Jericho, where we viewed Mount Tabor (the Mount of the Transfiguration) from a distance, then moved to Tel Jericho to catch the cable car up to the beautiful monastery at the Mount of Temptation. After coming back down for lunch in Jericho, we floated on the salty water of the Dead Sea and continued to the Wadi Qelt before entering the City of Jerusalem and taking in breathtaking views from Mount Scopus, including the Mount of Olives, the Dome of the Rock and the Old City of Jerusalem, and the City of David. By then we were exhausted, and checked into the Holy Land Hotel just outside the Old City for dinner and a relaxing evening.
The pilgrims began their Sunday with prayer before walking to St. George's Cathedral by way of Sa'd waSu'ayd Mosque, the US Consulate, the British Council. We enjoyed the hospitality of the St. George's Cathedral Guest House before and after worship, which was all in Arabic. After a tour of the cathedral, we left for lunch at Ruth Restaurant near Bethlehem, then toured the Herodion, a truncated cone-shaped hill near Bethlehem, in the Judaean Desert, West Bank. Herod the Great built a fortress, a palace, and a small town in Herodium, between 23 and 15 BCE, and is believed to have been buried there. We finished the evening with a rooftop cocktail party at the Holy Land Hotel.
Most of Monday was taken with a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Pilgrims began their day very early with a trip to the Church of the Incarnation, where they were present for a mass at the site of the birth in the Grotto of the Incarnation. From there, they traveled along a wall separating the Palestinian West Bank territory from Israeli territory, and enjoyed lunch together. They visited the Shepherds' Field, where angels sang "Glory to God in the highest," then returned to Jerusalem for a visit to the Israeli Museum. Because the pilgrims were up very early that morning, they were exhausted by the end of the afternoon.
Pilgrims visited the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, starting the day with prayer at the Western Wall. Later in the day, they visited the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which commemorates Peter's three denials of Jesus before the cock crowed twice.
The pilgrims gathered at the historic Herod's Gate to learn about recent Israeli history in Jerusalem, then moved the the nearby Damascus Gate to enter the Old City. The destination was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and the empty tomb of Jesus. After lunch at the nearby Lutheran Guest House (Lutheran Hospice), the pilgrims explored the ancient city before ending the day with Vespers (Evening Prayer) at St. James Armenian (Orthodox) Cathedral.
Pilgrims again rose early to beat the crowds at the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, and the adjoining Basilica of Gethsemane. A short walk down the hill took them to the Church of Bethphage and the Dominus Flevit Church, where Jesus wept for the fate of Jerusalem.