Friday, July 01, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 2

The UK's border security and passport control officers were going to be on strike from 6 pm on June 29, so Mark hastily took me to the train in Coventry. I figured that I'd better get a hotel near Heathrow in the event that there were delays getting out of the country. However, everything ran smoothly. My plane took off on time and arrived about 20-30 mins late because the plane had to avoid Greek airspace.

The last time I was in Israel was 1994, and I was amazed at how beautiful Ben Gurion airport is now. However, I have to say that I miss the way Israel used to look. There was something more appealing to me about Israel when it looked like a frontier, when it was struggling to grow up and become prosperous.

I met Bob Hurst (a member of my group) just outside the airport and we shared a "sherut" (shared taxi) into Jerusalem. We were the next to last people to make it to our destination, and it deposited us outside the Scottish Church and Guest House about 90 mins later. And, as it turns out, only Jonathan Miller had made it there ahead of us.

Bob went off to eat with friends and I walked down Emek Refa'im into a neighborhood known as the German Colony. There were a number of restaurants offering pizza, hamburgers, and even waffles. I finally found one that seemed a little more Middle Eastern and ate there.

When I returned to the guest house, Jonathan was up and about, and soon after that Steve Jones and Ed Hurley arrived from their side trip to Egypt.

The next morning we were on our way by 8.30 or 9. Our first visit was to a Syrian Orthodox Church where the priest - Fr. Simon - claimed that it was the site of the Last Supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I was there on my first visit to Israel in 1985. During my 1985 trip I heard the priest read an account of the Last Supper in Aramaic on Maundy Thur. It gave me chills to hear the story of the Last Supper read in the language that Jesus would have spoken in a location that was at least somewhat close to where the Last Supper would have taken place.

Excavations beneath the Syrian church show that a 1rst c. house stood on the same location. So perhaps it was where Jesus and the disciples shared bread and wine.

After the Syrian church we visited the Copts. A Coptic Christian told us about the persecution of the Coptic Church in Egypt which has increased since the revolution. The Mubarak regime (in spite of its many faults) protected the Copts, but now they are facing increased violence.

We finished the day with a visit to Tantur Ecumenical Institute between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, just on the Israeli side of the security fence, where we chatted with the directory, Timothy Lowe, an Orthodox priest. Fr Timothy is worth a visit all by himself. He grew up as an evangelical Protestant in Nebraska, then came to this part of the world when he was 19 to convert Jews and Muslims. He stayed on the learn Hebrew and Arabic and got interested in the early church. That interest led him to Eastern Orthodoxy. We talked about whether or not different religions are perceiving the same divine reality or different realities in spite of how wildly different they appear. Fr Timothy emphatically believes that there is only one transcendent reality. He said that it only gets complex when we speak. It's simpler if we just remain silent. True, I think. Reminds me what Wittgenstein said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

It's now Saturday afternoon about 4.45 pm, the waning hours of the Sabbath. Jonathan took us to the morning service at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem. There appeared to be several different sects of Orthodox Jews there this morning. I tried to read along in Jonathan's Torah during the reading of the Torah and afterward in his prayer book, but I could only catch a few words and phrases here and there. It's been far too long since I studied Hebrew and the readings and prayers went much too quickly.

After the service we went to the Israel Museum for lunch and to see the exhibits.