Holy Land –  Experiencing the ‘be happy attitudes’ on the Mt of Beatitudes

Standing on the Mount of the beatitudes, on the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Gennesaret I celebrated the Eucharist with 46 pilgrims. This was one of the most moving and emotional moments of my life. It is extremely humbling to be preaching the very spot that Jesus himself preached. I was overcome with emotion as I began the celebration of the Eucharist becoming painfully aware of my own unworthiness yet also recognising how blessed I am to be called to serve in his vineyard.

The actual location of the Sermon on the Mount is not certain (Matthew 5:1-7:28), but the present site has been commemorated for more than 1600 years. This hillcrest of Eremos (a Greek word meaning solitary or uninhabited) offers an enchanting vista of the northern part of the lake, the cliffs of the Golan Heights on the opposite side and also the surrounding villages. The cragginess of this hill meant it was left uncultivated and enabled Jesus to gather large crowds around him without causing damage to the farmers.

The 4th-century pilgrim Egeria (a nun) records a tradition that may go back to the Jewish-Christians of Capernaum. She tells of a cave in the hillside at the Seven Springs, near Tabgha, “upon which the Lord ascended when he taught the Beatitudes”.

Eremos’ highest point is 58 metres (190 ft) below sea level, which is approximately 155 metres (509 ft) above the surface of the lake. The Mount of Beatitudes is also understood to be the place where Jesus met his apostles after his Resurrection and commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).

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‘can-a’ wedding have no wine?

Cana in Galilee is celebrated as the scene of Jesus’ first miracle. In the Gospel of John it is the place of the first two public miracles Of Jesus in Galilee; the changing of water into wine and the remote healing of an official’s son 32km away in Capernaum.

Jesus and his disciples turned up at a wedding feast when the wine ran out and so Mary turned to her Son to save the couple from embarrassment (John 2: 1-11). “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” he responded. “My hour has not yet come.” But she persisted and her Son turned six stone water jars holding more than 550 liters of water (equivalent to more than 730 bottles) into fine wine. One such stone jar can be seen in the crypt of the Church. This small stone cistern was found fitted into a flagstone floor.

Cana’s actual location is uncertain, with at least three other possible candidates. One possible site for Cana, preferred by many modern scholars, is the ruined village of Khirbet Kana (Khirbet Qana meaning “the ruins of Cana”)), 12km northwest of Nazareth. But the commemoration of the miracle of the wine is traditionally fixed at Kefer-Kenna (also known as Kefr Kana and Kfar-Cana), about 5km north-east of Nazareth on the road to Tiberias. It is here, by tradition, that the Franciscans, relying on the testimony of early pilgrims including St Jerome, established themselves in 1641.

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Monastery of St Catherine – Mt Sinai

Holy Land – Why the Egypt leg of the trip is a terrible idea

This article comes with a statutory warning. It is not sugar coated and does not seek to convince those who romanticize or over spiritualize such a pilgrimage. So if you don’t have the stomach for the truth I suggest you stop reading here.

Let’s begin with the bare truth about Indian pilgrims/tourist (and of course I am generalizing)

Indian tourists or for that matter pilgrims have long been bitten by the bug to ‘see all’ and experience little. A good tour for many Indians is one where you have maxed the number of sites to see rather than the experience of being there, taking it all in. So tour operators have no choice but to sell what Indian pilgrims want, for if their itinerary has one pilgrim spot less they lose out to competition that are willing to sell a lie. So tour operators sell you the whole shebang as part of the Holy Land tour; Egypt included.

For   those who do little research before buying into a pilgrim trip here is a little ‘fun’ fact, your Egyptian part of the pilgrimage comprises five of the thirteen days. Now here is the catch. The tour operators sell you a thirteen day package by land. When you look carefully the first and last day are travel day to the airport and day thirteen is sold as ‘a day’ when in reality you arrive in Mumbai at six am. So the first thing you need to do is study the itinerary being sold to you.

Having said that, the ‘thirteen days’ dedicates five days to Egypt, that’s more than one third of your trip. So what is it that gets Indian pilgrims all excited about buying into this leg of the journey? As I said earlier, Indian pilgrims want to see more, so when they hear that they are traveling to one more country, that for them is the clincher even if that country is a hole in the wall ( with no disrespect to Egypt in particular).

So read on if you really want to understand why going to Egypt as part of the Holy Land pilgrimage is a terrible idea.

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The Holy Land – Christmas day on the 9th Of November

Yesterday was Christmas day for me, we reached Bethlehem. The city takes its name from the fertile land that once made this now politically walled city, a bread basket. For Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’ Like the shepherds and kings who paid homage to the Lord, every pilgrim to the Church must out of default bend low as the enter the Church.

Over the centuries, the entrance to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity has twice been made smaller. The purpose in the last case was to keep marauders from entering the basilica on horseback. It’s now referred to as the “Door of Humility,” because visitors must bend down to enter and so we did.

The door of Humility

Your guides will tell you that this is the first Church in the world but that is certainly not true as  Armenia  by then,had become the first country to establish Christianity as its state religion way back as 310 AD.

In 325 AD the Roman pagan Emperor, Constantine converted to Christianity and with him the entire Roman world. A religion persecuted for three centuries was now free to propagate its faith under royal patronage. By the year 327 he sent his mother Helena on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and it is to her that is attributed the recovery of many relics and sites in the Holy Land

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PRETENCE V/S PIETY: ‘The Widows Mite’ by James Tissot (1886 – 1894)

 Jacques Joseph Tissot, later anglicized as James Tissot, was born in 1836 near the busy port of Nantes, France to a prosperous draper. At the age of 17, he embarked upon his artistic mission which spanned three successful periods. In the first phase in Paris (1859-1870), he enjoyed great success as a high-society painter. He lived among rich aristocrats near the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. His leisured, well-secured life was soon skewered by the struggles of the French Revolution.

The fall of the Second Empire in 1870 and the bloody Franco Prussian war in 1871 compelled him to flee to London. Here, from 1871 to 1882, his career soared for the second time. However his successful eleven year sojourn ended in an emotional disaster. In 1882, his dearly loved mistress, Kathleen Newton died of consumption.

While working on a series of paintings themed, ‘The Woman of Paris’, James Tissot visited the Church of St. Sulpice in order to sketch the portrait of a choir singer. Here he encountered God in a vision as he saw Christ tending to the broken-hearted and the down trodden. This was his route to Damascus; his Metanoia! The encounter renewed his faith and shifted his artistic focus.

He took off on a research trip to Holy Land, beginning his ten year campaign to illustrate the New Testament. The result was ‘The Life of Christ’ popularly also known as ‘the Tissot Bible.’ It is a monumental series of 350 water coloured imagery displaying profuse observations with lucid realism.

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