Israel Day 7: A Mountain Top Experience Beyond Words

Today we said goodbye to Jerusalem … I hope to return some day with my wife, children, and other pilgrims. I have found this to be a very powerful experience to help build upon my faith. I have learned a lot that fills my head, and I have had many moments that stirred my heart.

We left Jerusalem early this morning. We had a very early wakeup call so we could board the bus for our ride north. Nothing in Israel is very far away, so even our “long” day on the bus wasn’t too bad. Just a couple of hours that passed very fast. Our tour guide and Marcellino did a great job of filling the time with information and commentary about the places we were passing.

Along our way, we entered the Palestinian territory. Our tour guide is named Bader. He is a Palestinian Christian who now lives in Jerusalem with his wife. He is absolutely wonderful. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the faith, scripture, history, the entire area we’ve traveled in, and the sites we have visited. Having him along has been a blessing.

Bader shared with us a lot of background and history on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, how it has impacted the people, and so on. It is very eye opening. As with any issue, it is much more complex than you’ll ever hear on the news.

As we entered Palestine, we had to stop and the Israeli border security team boarded our bus and had a quick look around. A few of us were asked to produce our passports. I was one of the chosen few.

Just a little ways into Palestine, we stopped at a little roadside market for a bathroom break. There was this tank was sitting there. It is a remnant from one of the wars, but I’m not sure which one.

Our first pilgrimage stop for today was up on Mount Tabor. In Luke 9:28-36, we hear about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain. There, they are joined bye Elijah and Moses. If you don’t know the story, you should read it. It is a great story! That happened on Mt. Tabor. We were there!

Mt. Tabor is about 1900 feet high, and stands all alone jutting up above the Jezreel Valley. It is quite beautiful. The top of the mount is not huge, so wherever the encounter with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah happened, I was pretty close to it.

Our tour bus took us part of the way up, then we had to transfer to smaller passenger vans to go up the switchbacks to the top. Dramamine was a good idea today.

Once you get to the top, there is an Orthodox church and a Catholic church: the Church of the Transfiguration. Right in front of the church are the ruins of an old Byzantine monastery from the 4-6th century. This monetary was destroyed and all of its monks were killed. As I approached the church and walked through these ruins, I was struck by both the beauty and the solemnity of this place. Although there were clearly horrific days, I felt a sense of peace walking through.

We had mass in the lower chapel of this magnificent church. This was the highlight of my day today. Although this is a fairly new church, it is classic in design and really beautiful. It may be the most beautiful church I’ve seen so far in Israel.

I also had the great privilege of assisting at mass at this very Holy place.

Here is a panoramic view from the top of Mount Tabor. Just gorgeous!

I tried to get a picture from the other side as well, but couldn’t find a good vantage point. This shot is from about half-way down the mountain from inside the van.

The van ride down was actually kind of fun, as long as you really trust the driver not to run off the road. I saw a couple of cyclists making their way up to the top, too. I was thinking this would be a really great mountain to climb by bike! Oh well, no bicycling on this trip.

After safely returning to the bottom, we made our way to Nazareth. Again, I was expecting some quiet town before I came to Israel. It is not a little country town any more. We ate lunch and then walked our way up to the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Along the walk, I ran across this very cute little girl playing among the pigeons. We need to be like Children to truly understand the love that God has for us. This little one was toddling around having a great time, just being with the birds. I sure wish we were all so easily entertained. It also made me miss my children. My two daughters are college aged now, but I could imagine both of them when I watched this little one.

We had another simple pita sandwich for lunch. Filling and tasty.

The annunciation is the term used to describe when Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive Jesus. You can read that story in Luke 1:26-56. This Basilica was built over the place where the Annunciation occurred at Mary’s house in Nazareth.

The Basilica of the Annunciation is huge. Back in Jesus’ day, Nazareth was a very small little town. This Basilica is large enough to enclose the ruins of the entire town from that time. The architecture is modern. I liked some aspects of it, and I was not quite as sure about others.

The part I liked the most was that the lower chapel altar sanctuary is built inside Mary’s house. I found that to be quite moving.

One other interesting feature: the dome of this church is a Lilly, upside down, facing down into the sanctuary space. The architect wanted you to realize that the roots would be up in heaven. All things originate with God.

Several countries contributed murals of Mary to the side walls of the church. Here is the one from Mexico and the one from Japan. The Japanese one is a mosaic and the shawl is made of pearls. It was the most expensive one in the church. I was very disappointed with the image created by the United States. Frankly, it was ugly and looked like something from The Transformers. In fact, it was so ugly, I forgot to take a picture of the United States one.

You can see more runis of Nazareth under the protection of a roof here:

Our last stop for today was at Cana. This church is built on top of ruins that are believed to be the location of the Wedding Feast in John 2 where Jesus turns water into wine. Although it can not be absolutely proven that this is that location, it is likely the right place and it has been Tradition since about 400 AD.

We had a very nice blessing of married couples from our group. It was beautiful. Tony and Debbie from our parish were one of those couples. They were really cute together and I really enjoyed being part of their blessing.

Below this church, you can see the ruins of ancient Cana and one of the jars that was used for ceremonial washings. This is the kind of jar that was used by Jesus in His miracle, and could possibly be one of them. Most people probably think of a big pottery jar. This is more like a basin or tank.

Today was a great day. I’m looking forward to our day tomorrow. Time for bed.

– Deacon Matt

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