Bishop Paul leads pilgrimage to Holy Land
CHICAGO, IL [MW Diocese Communications] — His Grace, Bishop Paul led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from May 26 through June 5, 2019, visiting the many holy sites and shrines associated with the life of our Lord.
His Eminence, Archbishop Theophanes of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, accompanied Bishop Paul and those traveling with him for most of their journey. Having lived in the Holy Land for over 55 years, Bishop Theophanes provided a wealth of information based on his vast biblical knowledge and experience.
The pilgrimage began in the region of the Sea of Galilee. They visited the remains of Saint Peter’s house, where Jesus healed the apostle’s mother-in-law, and the remains of the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus taught. They also visited the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Twelve Apostles in Tiberias, the Mount of Beatitudes, and the site of the feeding of the 5,000 in Tabgha, where Archbishop Theophanes re-enacted the blessing of the five loaves. They also visited Magdala, the village of Saint Mary Magdalene. Relevant selections from the Epistles and Gospels were read at each site.
On their second day, Bishop Paul and the pilgrims visited the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration at the summit of Mount Tabor, on which Jesus was transfigured before the Apostles Peter, James and John. In Cana, they visited the Church of Saint George, which marks the site where Jesus performed His first miracle at the wedding feast, before visiting the Carmelite Monastery of El-Muhraqa, where Tradition holds that the Prophet Elias defeated the pagan god Baal, and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, where the Virgin Mary received the news from the Archangel Gabriel that she with was with child. They also visited the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, built on the site of the Virgin’s home.
En route to Jerusalem, Bishop Paul and the pilgrims made their way through the Jordan Valley to the site of Jesus’ Baptism, where they stepped into the river’s waters. At the Monastery of Saint Gerasimos they prayed at the cave below the main church, in which the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and the infant Jesus took refuge on their flight into Egypt. At virtually every stop along their journey, bells were rung to announce their arrival, as is customary in greeting visiting hierarchs.
At the Monastery of Saint Elisha, Bishop Paul and the pilgrims saw what Tradition holds is the sycamore tree Zacchaeus ascended to see our Lord, before visiting the monastery and church dedicated to Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, built on the site of their home. The entrance to Lazarus’ tomb was about 500 feet away. In Bethlehem, the group venerated the site of Jesus’ birth — the Church of the Nativity — which Archbishop Theophanes noted is the world’s oldest active church. There they venerated the site of our Lord’s birth, marked by a large brass star, while reading the Nativity Gospel. They also venerated relics of the Holy Innocents.
A highlight of the pilgrimage was the group’s visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, where they venerated the large rock slab upon which Tradition holds Jesus’ body was anointed after He was taken down from the cross. They also venerated many ancient icons and relics and read from the Gospels in numerous chapels, many of which are not readily accessible to the general public.
On the Mount of Olives, site of Jesus’ Ascension, Bishop Paul and the clergy pilgrims celebrated the Sunday Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Monastery and Chapel of the Ascension [Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia], after which they descended the steep slope to the bottom of the Mount of Olives and visited the Russian Orthodox Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene next to the Garden of Gethsemane with its iconic golden cupolas. There they venerated the relics of the new Martyr Elizabeth. Among the other sites visited were the Basilica of Agony, built on the site of the rock on which Jesus prayed on the eve of His crucifixion; the Upper Room, site of the Mystical Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; the Lower Room, containing the Tomb of King David; and the Wailing Wall.
The pilgrims also visited Masada — an ancient fortress in southern Israel’s Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea which served as the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans — en route to the Dead Sea.
The highlight of the pilgrimage was the groups audience with His Beatitude, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, where they visited the Patriarch’s chapel, and beautiful gardens. His Beatitude and Bishop Paul, who greeted the Patriarch on behalf of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, exchanged gifts, and each pilgrim was given a commemorative coin and icon as mementos of their visit.
“I am most grateful to His Beatitude, Patriarch Theophilus, for blessing our visits to these sites and for giving us Archbishop Theophanes as a guide,” said Bishop Paul. “His Eminence opened many doorways for us. Because of him, we as a group, were able to venerate such sites as the Nativity of our Lord and the Holy Sepulcher without having to wait long. At all of these sites, I read the Gospel relative to the sites we were visiting. Our entire group was grateful for the assistance of Archbishop Theophanes to make our pilgrimage a prayerful one.”
From the Patriarchal residence, Archbishop Theophanes led Bishop Paul and the pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa — the Way of the Cross — pointing out the most significant sites associated with our Lord’s ascent to Golgotha, including the Praetorium, where Jesus was sentenced by Pontius Pilate; the prison in which Jesus was held; the spot on which Jesus fell under the heavy weight of the cross before being assisted by Simon of Cyrene carried the cross; and associated events. They then made their way to the Greek Orthodox Church at the base of the Mount of Olives, which marks the site of the tomb of the Virgin Mary. They also visited Jacob’s well, located beneath the altar of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Samaritan Woman.
“We encourage everyone to consider making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as it has been an amazing experience on so many levels - spiritual, humbling, life-changing are just a few descriptors,” said one of the pilgrims at the conclusion of the pilgrimage. “And the rewards of traveling with his Grace, Bishop Paul can’t be overstated.”