After the amazing experience that was Easter of 2011, the absolute highlight of my entire expedition, I still wanted to bring you the essence of this amazing city. As you all know, Jerusalem is the focal point for three of the world’s biggest religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
I started my morning at the Western Wall, the Jewish core of the city. There were thousands of people here from all around the world that came to pray at this location. The wall is split down the middle with a barrier for a male and female section of worship. The wall faces the Temple Mount, the holiest of sites in the Jewish religion.
The Dome of the Rock is built directly over the Temple Mount and is the Islamic centre of the city. The Jewish religion regards it as the place that god chose the divine presence to rest and also the spot where god gathered dust to create the first man, Adam.
Sunni Muslims regard the Temple Mount as the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem, ascent to heaven and the third most holy of sites in the Islamic faith.
As I made my way through these two locations, the security was intense. It was the same as if I was boarding an airplane with x-ray machines and metal detectors. As I entered the Dome of the Rock area, a man in front of me was pulled aside and rigorously questioned about contents of his bag. He was asked if he had a Bible or any other religious articles with him. I was not sticking around to see the result, I just made my way out of there quietly. As I captured the images of the Dome of the Rock you see below, I heard a male voice screaming in Arabic. I looked over and a man was running towards me waiving his hand in the air. I swallowed hard and wondered what I did wrong as the man ran right by me and towards a man and woman walking behind me. I finally heard him screaming in English… “No holding hands!”
After all the excitement and security of the morning, I made my way to the Christian quarter which was much more relaxed. The security that was present for the Holy light ceremony was completely gone and there were very few police left in the area. I sat down at a Greek restaurant and enjoyed a Greek/Arabic hybrid lunch of grilled chicken filet and humus.
The Christian quarter was still buzzing with pilgrims as there were Easter Sunday liturgies happening all day. I managed to see the Patriarch’s precession making its way to the church and I joined in right behind them. The goal was to make our way into Christ’s tomb in an orderly fashion. This was made impossible by many of the pilgrims from Eastern Europe. For once it was the Greeks that were waiting patiently and acting civilized. I was informed later that the pilgrims from Serbia and Georgia were out of control. I felt the wrath of some of these old women myself as I tried to line up to enter the tomb. The hooligans pushed and shoved so much that old ladies at the front were being crushed and knocked to the ground. It was a despicable display in the literal house of God. I could not believe my eyes and I found myself yelling at a few of the women causing the chaos. I really had to calm myself down and respect where I was. I really could not believe the disrespect and childishness of these “worshipers”.
Ok, my rant is over. The next item I want to explain is something I found amazing. Over the years, many other Christian denominations have tried to receive the Holy Light and they have never once been successful. In the year 1579, the Armenian patriarch and church paid the Ottomans to allow the Armenians into the church to receive the light and keep the Greeks outside. The Ottomans controlled the city at that time. As the Greek Orthodox patriarch stood by the front door in sadness from being expelled from the church, a lightning bolt struck the column next to him and lit the candles he was holding! The column still holds the scar and you will see it in the images below. Pilgrims kiss and touch the columns and fill it with notes to God.
Easter Monday was a quiet morning for me. I spent it writing my blog entry on the Holy Light. After I was done, I wanted to make my way to the office of the Patriarch in order to thank him for his blessing and for getting me so close to the ceremony.
As I arrived, there was a large group of religious figures and delegates from all around the world gathered in the main hall. Again, there were eastern European women pushing and shoving to get close to the Patriarch. Today, I was very relaxed and let them in front of me, again holding my tongue. As I finally made my way to the Patriarch he recognized me and said “Pateras!” I kissed his hand and thanked him for his blessing. I told him that I wrote about my experience and had managed to get some beautiful images. He then said to me “stay for lunch!” The weekend kept getting better and better.
As I sat down to lunch with all of these people, I was seated literally right in front of the Patriarch and had a great conversation with him. Sitting at the table were the Patriarch, the Archbishops of Georgia and Russia, the Ambassador of Greece, the Deputy Consul General of Greece and Andrew Pateras!
The Patriarch was one of the most humble, gentle and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He even invited me back to Jerusalem for the Holy Light and Easter to be his guest.
It was the most memorable Eater weekend of my life. After the fantastic meal, I made my way back to my hotel, picked up my bags and headed to the Mount of Olives. It is the last image you see below and a great spot overlooking the entire old city.