The Journey South

Good morning dear friends! The time has come for our three-day retreat in Galilee to come to an end. Today we headed south to Jerusalem for the final days of our pilgrimage. It has been quite the experience so far up in the north of Israel, but like Jesus after the Transfiguration, we now set our eyes to Jerusalem and all that we will experience as we walk with Jesus in the final days of his earthly pilgrimage.

Like the three magi leaving Bethlehem by another road, we left Nazareth by another road. Instead of taking the main highway that weaves through the Jordan River Valley, we traveled through the heart of the West Bank to visit three different Palestinian towns that Jesus would have passed through on his way to and from Jerusalem.

First stop, Burqin; the site where Jesus healed the ten lepers.

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

Set atop a hill in Burqin, is a little Greek Orthodox church that commemorates the healing of the lepers. Tradition says that the ten lepers were set aside from the community and put into a large cistern. They were fed with water and food, that was lowered down through the opening of the cistern. Imagine that they heard that Jesus was coming by and cries of mercy were coming up from the cistern. Then somehow they were removed from the cistern and healed. Of course we know that only one came back, a Samaritan, to praise God for his mercy and love. As further proof of God’s mercy towards us, he didn’t take away the healing from those who didn’t return. Like grace, it is a gift given to us and the proper response to any acts of mercy is praise.

The first Christians came into the cistern to venerate the place of healing. In the 4th Century, when Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother came to visit the site she ordered the wall of the cistern knocked down and built a church around it. It is considered the 4th oldest Christian church in the world.

The pilgrims entering the grounds of the church at Burqin.
A view out over the village of Burqin.
A sign describing the church.
The entrance into the church.
The iconostasis with the altar behind the icons.
Two of the icons on display for veneration.
The double-headed eagle; a common symbol in Orthodox churches.
A rare look at the altar behind the iconostasis.
Fr. David and Paul Ware in the cistern where the lepers were and where the first Christians venerated the site.
The small altar in the cistern that was likely hewn by early Christians before the church was built.
The bishop’s chair.
A large icon of the healing of the ten lepers.
There was a miracle on this site that involved a boy who was stuck speechless after denouncing his teacher when he was left behind for being bad. An angel appeared and told the boy that he would remain speechless until the teacher forgave him. When the teacher returned the boy wrote down what had happened and when the teacher forgave him, his speech returned.

From Burqin we continued on the road less traveled by pilgrims to our next Nablus; the location of Jacob’s Well. It is deep well hewn of solid rock that has been associated in religious tradition with Jacob for roughly two millennia.

For Christians this is the site where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman by the well.

But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. John 4:4-6 (NRSV)

On the current site of the well is a very large and beautifully decorated Greek Orthodox church. We entered the church and descended a set of stairs that led down to the well. There we read the gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and prayed that we might vessels of the life-giving water of Jesus Christ. One of our pilgrims, Grace Moyer, lowered the bucket down to get water from the deep well. She then began to raise it up and was met with resistance, so another pilgrim Theo Moyse Peck helped her out. While we are by the well, we met the current bishop Justinian, and we heard the story of the previous bishop was brutally murdered by a settler. Some settlers in the area believe they should possess Jacob’s Well and not the Christians. Justinian is an excellent iconographer and wrote an icon depicting the bishop before his death.

The entrance to the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Church in Nablus.
The front door to the church.
A large mosaic out front of the door.
The Iconostasis.
The stairs leading down to Jacob’s Well.
Jacob’s Well.
The altar behind the well.
Fr. David leading us in prayer.
A closer view of the iconostasis.
The main copula of the church.
A painting of the sacrifice of Issac.
One of the icons on display.
A painting of the Transfiguration.
The bishop’s chair.
The icon that Bishop Justinian wrote for his predecessor who was murdered by a settler.
A sleeping kitty.

After spending some time in the church soaking in the smells of incense and gazing upon the beautiful icons we boarded the bus for our next stop, a special treat from Iyad because he loves us so much.

Not far from the church we stopped at a sweet shop for kenafeh, a cheese stuffed shredded wheat pastry soaked in a sweet sugar-based syrup. It was delicious! So good, I had a second serving!!!

Making the shredded wheat that becomes the pastry for the kenafeh.
The shredded wheat after being warmed on the stone.
The shredded wheat cooling.
The finished product of shredded wheat filled with cheese.

After having dessert first, we boarded the bus to head to the next town on our journey south, Taybeh.

Our first stop in Taybeh was at the Taybeh Brewery, a Palestinian family run business. Begun in 1994, it was the first microbrewery in Palestine. The second generation of the family were educated in the America but came home to help with the family. As a brewery in the West Bank they face a number of issues just to breed their beer. There is the issue of water; since beer is 95% water they pay extra for using more water than normal families. There are no ports in Palestine so they pay almost twice as much to import the hops as it changes hands from Israeli ports to Palestinian truck drivers. They also pay extra to export their beer to many different European countries, and it is available in the US; specifically the Boston area where the children went to school. We were able to sample some of their beers and they were delicious.

Taybeh Brewery in the village of Taybeh.
The water tank at Taybeh Brewery.
The daughter of the owner, who went to Harvard and came back to help with the family business, giving us a tour.
The rest of their operation.
Fr. David and Bob Mosebach talking with the son, who was also educated at Harvard and at UC-Davis, and is the master brewer.

From the brewery we traveled a few minutes to where we had lunch. After another excellent meal we headed to our last stop in Taybeh, the ruins 4th Century church of Saint George.

It is believed that Jesus came to this area after raising Lazarus:

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples. John 11:54 (NRSV)

Taybeh was known as Ephraim in the time of Jesus and was renamed Taybeh, meaning beautiful or delicious, by Salah-ad-Din when he conquered the area during the Crusades. The church is still occasionally used today, especially for the feast day of Saint George. This site is also a place where animal sacrifices are still offered, in lieu of cash, with the meat going to the needy families of the town.

Iyad leading us up to the ruins of the Church of Saint George.
Entering the church. Notice the chains, the crosses and hand print in blood.
A 4th Century baptismal font; you can tell it is 4th Century by the rounded edged cross design that was typical of the time.
I honestly have no idea what this is. It kind of looks like a tabernacle, but with a chimney. Is this for burnt offerings?
Iyad reading us about Jesus going off to Ephraim, or Taybeh today, to lie low after raising Lazarus on the Sabbath.
The blood from a recent animal sacrifice.
Another view of the door where the animal would hang to be offered.
The chains hold the animal in place.
A look out at the Judean Wilderness from the church.
A panoramic view from the church. Click to enlarge.
Iyad’s mother was from Taybeh and buried in the cemetery next to the church. An elderly woman, whose name in English is Grace, saw Iyad lead us up to the church, so she rushed out to give us sweets and to give Iyad a present. Our Grace, Grace Moyer, went out to meet and greet her. Another example of the radical hospitality we have experienced in the Holy Land.

Being in Taybeh means we were close to Jerusalem, so we boarded the bus to head back to Saint George’s to rest for tomorrow so that we can join the congregation at Saint George’s Cathedral for Sunday Mass. So until then dear friends, the peace of the Lord be always with you.

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