I write this from the Sea of Galilee where the weather is wet and a little dreary. The lush green hills look more like the English Lake district rather than the Middle East.
Yesterday, in Nazareth, was bright and sunny as we visited Christ Church Anglican parish for the Eucharist and then on to the magnificent Catholic basilica of the Annunciation for the daily censing of the altar and recital of the Angelus. Later that day we visited the atmospheric Greek Orthodox Church of Mary’s Well. We are staying at the German Benedictine Pilgrim House and later this week we will celebrate Christmas with the Armenian Orthodox in Bethlehem (they use a different calendar to the West).
Here in Israel and Palestine the Christian communities which were the majority in the 5th century and made up 12% of the population in 1850 have now dwindled to a minuscule 2% with young educated Christians leaving for Canada, the USA and other Western countries. Those who are left are open, friendly and generous as they welcome us to pray with them, for them and use their churches for worship.
This region is the historical home of our Christian faith. These cities – Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Jericho and of course Jerusalem itself – are the places we grew up with as we read the stories of the Bible. But of course this region is also the historical home of other faiths too. Jewish and Muslim children heard of Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem in their faith stories when they were growing up. The words of Psalm 87:5 can be said by many peoples of many faiths – this is indeed a Holy Land for many of us.
Our ecumenical experience here with Christians of other churches reminds us that our root is the one Jesus Christ and not Canterbury, Rome, Constantinople or the Deep South.
Our faith experiences here remind us that our humanity has but one God and we are all God’s children.
Ghassan our guide sends his love to the cathedral 2014 Holy Land pilgrims.