During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land in September, I had an occasion that has become unforgettable. I had been in the Church of the Annunciation (Roman Catholic) which contains the home in which Mary lived when she was greeted by the angel Gabriel. Orthodox tradition holds that there was also a greeting at the well – and the Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel contains that holy site.
Our pilgrimage had visited inside the Catholic shrine (very quietly for Mass was being offered). I stepped out to the front “porch” of the Church. There were many pilgrims from various countries standing about in the very large courtyard. One of them was an elderly man, standing with a group of pilgrims who wore buttons that read, “Polski.” That is simply to say they were pilgrims from Poland.
I noticed that this man was looking at me – staring would be more accurate. I looked down a couple of times, but he never broke his gaze. Our eyes met and I walked over to him. I do not speak Polish – only a little (very little) broken Russian. But I took a chance and greeted him. He smiled. I told him in my poor Russian that I was an Orthodox priest from America.
Tears came to his eyes. The smile remained. I was dressed in my cassock wearing my gold cross (which I blessed at every shrine I visited). This kind-eyed man reached over and lifted my cross to his lips. He kissed it, and I gave him a blessing (in Slavonic).
His polite reply, complete with tears was: “Znamie Bog!” (“God is with us”). Indeed He was with us that day on the porch in Nazareth. The Christchild uniting two believers with few words between us. The pilgrim’s smile and tears spoke volumes. I will never know his story or his name – but I will remember that God is with us!