December 12, 2009
Have you ever felt as if someone was looking out for you?
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an internet cafe in the Old City of Jerusalem? It's like trying to find a Christmas tree in Berkeley.
OK... it's time to come clean. I didn't come to Israel for the waters, nor the nightlife. Some months ago I realized that major life changes are in my future. Jerusalem is my pilgrimage. It has confirmed my faith and made me all the more confident in my decision.
Since my childhood I have heard many spiritual and downright breathless tales of visits to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church includes within its walls the last 5 Stations of the Cross:
10..........The site where Jesus is stripped of His garments
11 & 12...The site of Christ's crucifixion and death on the cross
13...........Where His body was removed from the cross and prepared for burial
That's my preface. Read about the place. It's amazing.
A friend of mine told me that he had heard that, through the centuries, there have been times when pilgrims have been allowed to stay within the church after it had been locked and secured for the evening, allowing for an an exceptional opportunity for prayer and worship. It requires permission from a whole lot of religious folks who don't always get along. I had contact leads from US officials, and other recommendations from religious mucky-mucks. I was told that approval was a slam dunk. When I arrived here, I learned that was not the case. I was told "It can't be done".
For a week I appeared at the Church twice a day... each time requesting permission and each time being refused. After a week of requesting, the Franciscan priest near the entrance rolled his eyes and said "Be back here at 5:00 tonight. No promises. We'll see."
OK, here we go. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered the most holy Christian site on the face of the planet. Every Christian in the world would, once in his life, like to stand and worship where Christ was crucified and died, and pray at the tomb from which he rose. There is no chance of getting to view the tomb without a lengthy wait and some level of security.
The small tomb, of course, is decorated with priceless collections of gold, icons, lamps etc. There's a priest eyeballing the waiting throng for suspicious characters. There's also a priest inside keeping the process moving... no dawdling, keep moving, don't touch that, etc. No bags, backpack or purses are allowed. There is usually a line of pilgrims from all over the world, hundreds deep, waiting to spend 10 seconds in the tomb. It was my hope that my overnight visit would allow me to horn in on the Carmelite nuns' ever-present nighttime vigil to allow myself a reasonable amount of time to complete a prayer.
When I appeared at 5:00, Makmoud (the young Palestinian doorkeeper whose family through the generations has been given the responsibility of locking and unlocking the Church) escorted me to meet what seemed to be the Friar-on-duty. He had a New York accent.
So you want to stay the night?
We close the doors at 7. Be here at 6:45 and sit on that bench. That will tell the police that you'll be staying. Bring a bottle of water, something to eat, and dress warmly. We'll let you out when we reopen at 4 in the morning.
That was pretty straightforward, so I did as he said. I was there on time. The friar came over and sat with me and waited while the Israeli police cleared the church.
Here are the rules. First, no singing. The acoustics here sometimes tempt people to break into song. Second, no sleeping. Third, don't light any candles. The Greeks (the Greek Orthodox priests) will be here at 11:00 for a mass. When you see them starting to gather, leave the tomb. Otherwise, you have the tomb for four hours, 7 to 11. The Greeks will be out of here by 1:00. After that, you will be the only one in the church. The priests will all begin reappearing at about 3:00. Go where you want to go. Pray where you want to pray. Touch what you want to touch. Take all the photos you want. Just don't break anything.
(I couldn't believe what he was saying.)
And the nuns?
Not tonight. It's all yours.
Don't you have any paperwork? Do you want my name?
(My head was actually thumping with excitement.)
I won't share (and I'm not capable of sharing) what happened during those 4 hours or the hours at Golgotha (Calvary). I will tell you that many of you and your children were included in my prayers. Even you, Odie.
I do miss blogging and look forward to battling the dark forces again when I return after Christmas.
Happy Hanukkah and Shalom
Posted by Anonymous at 8:25 AM