For me, today started before dawn. I woke up at 5 am, (11 pm on the East Coast) and I could tell that I wouldn’t be going back to sleep. The birds were starting to chirp and I could see hints of light winking through the curtain. I went out on our balcony and saw this:
The night before I had looked out the window but it was dark. And I knew the sea was there. But knowing and seeing are not the same. And this seeing confirmed in me that I had arrived, really arrived in the land of Jesus Christ.
After breakfast we took the bus from Tiberius to Nazareth, about a half hour to the southwest. Nazareth is where Jesus grew up, but just like in the Bible, there is very little left there about his childhood. There is, however, quite a bit about his Mom
We first went to a Greek Orthodox Church built over the site where the women of the town of Nazareth went for water. As a girl and woman, Mary would have walked to this spot for water from the spring twice each day.
The Greek Orthodox rituals have evolved rather differently from the Roman Catholic. However, from the multitude of icons of the saints and Mary when you walked through the door, you could very much tell that this church was a Christian church! One thing that stuck out as different in a good way to me was the candles. Here are a few pictures of them:
You could buy a candle from a vendor there to light and stick in the sand.
Next on the agenda was a walk down a cobblestone path between short stone buildings. All the buildings here are stone or concrete. We passed carpenter’s shops and a bakery. As we got closer to where old Nazareth would have been, we came upon the Nazareth market. It was a tight twist of vendors and awnings, women in scarves and men selling scarves. I found the produce sellers the most fascinating:
The whole walk we took, cobblestones and buildings and vendors and all, was the same walk that Mary would have taken. Except in her time, there were no buildings or vendors or even cobblestones! Only Roman paths were paved. The paths that the Jews took were dirt. The path we walked was the way that Mary would have walked to go home. So, at the end of our walk, we ended up….at her home!
Today, above her home is built a beautiful Franciscan church. We celebrated Mass there, in the upper level. There were so many icons to see! I love a church with icons for Mass, since it means you can get distracted during the homily but still be thinking about Jesus! More beautiful than the icons, though was the ceiling:
The ceiling is direct and strong, with a powerful message to deliver, just like Mary. George, our guide, told us that the peak is modeled after the lily flower. Christians who are native to the Holy Land see the lily as a symbol for Mary. The flower is open with its face to the sunlight, just like Mary was open with her heart towards the Lord. The lily flower opens downward and into the church. That is because it points to a greater mystery that lies below.
In Mary’s home, we know that the angel Gabriel appeared to her and asked her to say “Yes” to a very difficult question. In a time and a place where saying this yes could have gotten her ostracized or even killed. Here, women who become pregnant here by a man who is not their husband are judged harshly, even to this day. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in her home and asked her to be Jesus’ mom, Mary said: “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Her answer was direct, strong, and open to the Lord. Just like her, just like the lily flower.
I think the whole progression of the morning caught up to me during Mass. Mama Mary is like my adoptive mother, my other mom, the woman who I want to be like when I grow up and the one who I look to when I have run out of people to hug. And, over the course of just a few hours, I had experienced just a small taste of her life. I walked the road she walked. I drank the water she drank. I stood in the doorway to her childhood home!
It made me love her and admire her so much more. I knelt after communion and prayed, “Yes Lord, yes Lord. Whatever it is, I say yes to you. Help me say yes to you.”
Outside on the front of the church, you can see the words in Latin: “Verbum caro factum est habitavum nobis.” Or “The Word became flesh here and dwelt among us.”
And I know the Word did become flesh.
And this is where it happened:
Christians are not welcome in this land. You can see from the sign that there is Islamic resistance to Christianity, but there is also systematic suppression of the Christian population by the government. In Israel, Christians (who are often ethnically Arab) must pay a higher tax rate than Jews and they are not allowed to have a passport or vote. If they vacation out of the country and outstay their visa, their visa number in Israel will be offered to a Jewish immigrant who wants to move to Israel and they will not be allowed back in the country. As a result of this combination of economic and societal persecution, the Christian population in the Holy Land has dwindled from 65% in 1966 to less than 1% today. Today Israel is 60% Muslim, 40% Jewish, and less than 1% Christian.
How devastating is that? The land of our Savior is being slowly emptied of anyone who believes in Him.
No one is immune to persecution though, and who knew that better than Jesus?
After Nazareth, we went up to a precipice (or cliff) outside of the village of Nazareth. You may remember this one from the Bible, when Jesus preached in the synagogue in his hometown and they were so mad at him for his bluntness that they ran him out of town?
Not only did they run him out of town, they took him all the way to this cliff, but before they could throw him off, he passed between the crowds. He just left! We will always be faced with persecutors; that won’t change. It’s how we stand up in spite of the pressure to give in that matters.
Next, I could honestly do a whole separate blog on the courses and courses of dishes of deliciousness that is this our food here. Instead, you can have a picture of one of the plates of desserts from dinner at an eclectic local restaurant where we had dinner: