In this final part, I’d like to discuss the Christian things that I experienced in Israel. I didn’t see very much, just the Old City, Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives.
The Christian population
Within Israel and the Palestinian Territories has declined significantly over the last 20 years or so. According to Reuters, the Christian “the Christian population has slumped to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995. (http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-52021120101007). In 1920, the Christian population was 10% of the population of Palestine, but now it is 1%. The reasons cited are the Arab-Israeli conflict, the economic conditions caused by that and, to a lesser degree, Muslim fundamentalism, which has spread to the area. There has also been a decline in the Christian population in the entire Middle East, which was once 20% Christian down to 5% and Falling. (Reuters)
And while the economy on the West Bank has improved somewhat, it is still pretty depressed as the tourist trade has not picked up since the Intifadas. The guide I had in Bethlehem used to escort up to 5000 people a day in Bethlehem but that has slowed to a trickle except during the week of Christmas.
Jerusalem is of course, the birthplace of Christianity. Jesus’ ministry and the events leading up to his Crucifixion and Resurrection occurred there. So there is a lot to see. Some of the sites are the “traditional” site of various occurrences, but not the “proven” sites. In some cases, I have a hard time believing that certain significant events took place there.
During my tour of the Old City, we did stop a few sites which were Christian, mainly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But we also walked on the Via Dolorosa, which is the some of the path the Jesus walked, carrying his cross to His Crucifixion. The first nine Stations of the Cross are along the entire Via Dolorosa. If I remember right, we stopped at Station 6, the encounter between Jesus and Veronica.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This site was “discovered” by Helena, the mother of Constantine. She traveled to Jerusalem to build Churches over the holy sites.
On this site, she “discovered” Jesus’ cross and thus named the site Golgotha, the Hill of Calvary, where He was to have been crucified. Also located on the site, is the tomb in which he rose from on the third day. The church is home to six denominations, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodoxy Churches. They fight over every square inch of the Church. They have separate altars, chapels and each controls a different part of this Church. There is also the stone of the anointing, which is supposed to be the place where Jesus was prepared for placing in the Tomb. The site is home to the 10th through 14th Stations of the Cross.
I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. The church is pretty ornate inside and again there is a Greek Orthodox portion and a Catholic portion. The manger area is located in
the Greek Orthodox chapel, underneath the altar area. You access the manger from a stairway. It was very crowded down there with about 100 people in a very small area. On one end is an altar, and the other end a star where the baby Jesus is said to have been born. People kneel down to the star and kiss it as a sign of reverence.
The Mount of Olives
I visited a number of the sites on the Mount of Olives. First stop was the Church of the Ascension,
the traditional site of where Jesus ascended back into Heaven after His resurrection.
There is a small domed chapel on the site and inside is supposed to be the imprint of Jesus’ footprint. They only have one footprint. The other footprint is now located in the Dome of the Rock Mosque.
Next we stopped at the church of the Pater Noster, “Our Father,” The Lord’s Prayer. Here is the spot where Jesus gave the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. On the walls inside and outside of the Church is the Lord’s Prayer in 62 different languages. There is also a 1st century cave and grotto.
Then, I went to the Church of the Dominus Flevit a church actually built in 1955, but over the site where it is said that Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and wept. (Luke 19:39-42) There are great views from this site. There is also a 1st century BC Jewish tomb on the site and a number of ossuary boxes were found.
Next was the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. In addition to having some of the oldest olive trees in the world ( one said to be 2000 years old), the Church is built over the site where Jesus is said to have suffered the Atonement.
On the altar of the Church is the “Rock of Agony” where Jesus prayed and bled from every pore.
Final stop on the Mount of Olives was the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. This church contains the purposed burial place of Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Just to conclude, this was a wonderful trip for me. I cannot wait to go back again and explore more. This place is the place we talk about every week in Church, we study the scriptures about what happened there and it was a real honor to visit.