Archive for September 16th, 2008

The Hardest Pilgrimage of All

September 16, 2008

I have stated – not tongue in cheek – that “I am an ignorant man,” and I have also added that “I am a man still in need of a Savior.” These things do not change on a pilgrimage but become only clearer. The most difficult of all pilgrimages is the pilgrimage to the heart and finding there, not only the treasuries of paradise, but also all the garbage stuffed there over the decades. At times I am a fool, and like the childish boy who sat in the front of class. Other times – well – there are other times.

The Great Pilgrimage is our journey from glory to glory into the image of Christ and this is marked by sin and confession, forgiveness and the restoration that is the Father’s great mercy.

The strange politics of the Holy Land, marked by Jew, Palestinian Arab and Christian, Druze, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox are not merely the left-overs of history the flotsam and jetsam of a land that has had too much religion. It is the collection of centuries, gathered by mankind, not only in his search for God but in his hatred of his brother. And the hearts of people here are no different than the hearts of people everywhere. I have been here long enough to see that I am not a pure-hearted pilgrim, but just another sinner on the bus, with as much nonsense in my soul as the next.

And yet the pilgrimage goes on, for we have no other help than God and we, if we wish to truly live, can only come running to Him. It is strangely fitting that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by many groups – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, etc. It is strangely fitting because our sins have brought us to the silliness in which we stand. None of this lessens the truth as proclaimed – but it underscores the confusion among Christians and the fact that there truly is only one Sepulchre, even as there is only One God. And all of us put our hope in Him.

Tomorrow they take us up on the Temple Mount. There are strict rules which govern such a visit – not all of which delight me as an Orthodox Christian – but the Christians who live in this land constantly bear the burden of restrictions. Thus I will try to refrain from complaining.

There cannot, it seems, be one sign that says, “The Pilgrimage to the Heart” – 30 shekels. The price of admission to that Holy Place usually costs so much more, and I don’t think I have enough to visit that place very long. Please pray that this poor sinner, distracted with his own shadow and his own sin, find the way to make the Great Pilgrimage, wherever it occurs.

We leave Saturday and get home sometime Sunday. That likely means that some regularity will return to the blog. I have much to do when I return home. I have writing to finish and my parish work.

The Borders of the Grace of God

September 16, 2008

Today, walking and weaving our way through the streets of Old Jerusalem, shops on each side of the alley, the smells of a rich mixture of spices and a thousand other things, shop-keepers calling with eagerness to the “foreigners” passing by – we were on a free morning, and there were gifts to be found.

We came across another pilgrim, separate from our group, who took us to a greater gift. In the environs of the Holy Sepulchre Church, there are two small chapels that are used for the local Arab Christian congregation. That chapel’s treasure is quietly situated in a corner of the rear of the Church. No sign announces its presence. It is an icon of the Mother of God – indeed – the icon which hung at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that spoke to St. Mary of Egypt, when, as a young harlot, she was unable to cross the threshhold of the Church. That moment led to her conversion and her immediate entrance into the trans-Jordan desert.

Everything here, things that have filled the stories of Scripture and the lives of the saints who have populated this area, are amazingly proximate. Nothing is a terribly great distance. The desert is only a hill away from Jerusalem.

But winding through alley ways and shops, we found the Icon of the Mother of God through which God showed mercy on Mary of Egypt. It stood at the border of the grace of God. God’s grace, of course, has no border, except the stoney heart that refuses Him hospitality. But He knocks on that stoney door with great persistence.

I knelt before the icon and prayed for our stoney hearts – the many places in our lives that have created borders for grace. St. Mary of Egypt pray to God for us!