The fourth of five blog posts about our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land (see part 1 here)
PART 4 – Nazareth, Cana, and Galilee
Note: to see the images in this post in a full size lightbox, simply click any image.
The Byzantine (Greek Orthodox) Church has a significant presence in the Holy Land, which includes guardianship over the most significant sites there – the Holy Sepulchre and the Shrine of Golgotha, and also the largest and most central sanctuary in the Church of the Resurrection, directly opposite the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre itself. It was there on the morning of our first Sunday in the Old City that we attended the Holy Liturgy.
The sanctuary is Byzantine in every sense – huge and elaborate, with a high, frescoed ceiling and a stone-pillared icon screen. Near the back of the church is a small, short pillar with an unusually carved top resembling a human navel. This marks the navel of the world, a symbol of the great Light and Life that originated in this spot and spread over the world. A very large, silver-covered icon of the Madonna and Child adorns one of the sanctuary walls. She is definitely not “Mary,” the maiden of Nazareth found too commonly in Western art, but rather the Empress of Heaven in all her power and majesty. As I stood before her offering my prayers, the huge bells began tolling their call to prayer, filling the church and my head with their soft booming. It was a “Byzantine moment.”
Soon after the Liturgy began, a flock of very serious looking black-robed Byzantine nuns entered, and a few local pigeons flew in to perch on high and observe the worship. Finally Bishop Hesychius made his entrance, flanked by his fez-topped security guards. At the end of the service he seemed pleased – or at least willing – to offer his blessing and the blessed bread to we two “orange monks” who bowed before him.