Feb. 17, Friday: Bethlehem – Ein Karem
This morning we drive to Bethlehem to visit the place of birth of our Lord, The Basilica of the Nativity. We will visit the Grotto of Nativity and the Church of St. Catherine where the Midnight Mass is celebrated and the Caves of St. Joseph and St. Jerome underneath the church. Visit
Shepherd’s Fields, where the Angels appeared to the shepherds who were watching over their flocks during the night. Lunch at Tent Restaurant in Bethlehem. This afternoon drive to nearby village of Ein – Karem to visit the birth place of St. John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation Where Mary came to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth and proclaimed the “Magnificat.” (Divine Liturgy at St. Jerome in the Nativity Church)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isa 9:6
The first thing I noticed when we entered Bethlehem from Jerusalem was how drastically the quality of life changed. The two cities are so close that you could have thrown a stone between them, but a tall wall exists separating them now and when we moved past the armed guards and the checkpoint the between Israeli controlled land and Palestinian controlled land, the difference was immediately evident.
We proceeded to a Christian co-op which was organized to help support the local residents of Bethlehem. We were warmly received and were each gifted a “pilgrim’s cross,” a large central cross with four smaller crosses above the arms of the cross, symbolizing Jerusalem and the spreading of the faith to four corners of the world. Following this we proceeded to the Church of the Nativity, the Church commemorating the traditional location of the Birth of our Lord. Originally commissioned in 327 by Constantine the Great and his mother Helen, and undergoing revisions through a new basilica built by Emperor Justinian 565, the Church has undergone many changes to say the least. Today it is a shared spot of veneration between the Armenians, Greek Orthodox and Catholics. Amazingly, the Orthodox Church still functions pastorally, with the Holy Mysteries being celebrated from the time of Justinian- the height of Byzantine Christianity!
Our Lord “condescended” or bent-down to come among us through His birth as a human baby- naked, cold, vulnerable and dependent upon His creatures. To enter this Holy Cave, one must also stoop down, become small, and realize our smallness in relation to the incredible mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. With this in mind we entered through the narrow cave entrance and proceeded to the spot of veneration, touching the very ground of the cave floor. Within this place we sang Бог Предвічней, God Eternal, in honor of the visit of the God-man to our world for our salvation.
There are many routes up the mountain to God. All the world religions propose a “way of life” or “ethos” by which to live in order to get closer to God. Christianity alone makes the claim that God become man and dwelt among us. It is the Lord Himself who reached down to us and carried us up the mountain to His Father, to dwell in His kingdom forever!
We celebrate Divine Liturgy in a cave beneath this beautiful Church where St. Jerome spent thirty years living and working. St. Jerome translated the Vulgate, the translation of the Scriptures from the Greek into Latin. This reflection from one of the pilgrims:
Celebrating Liturgy at the cave of St Jerome brought out special warm feelings. The cave was white-washed, small and enclosed and made me feel like I was in a safe place. The Liturgy celebration felt very intimate and there was a calmness even with all of us in such a small space. I felt a lot of love and peace.