12 May 2015

Day Twelve - Searching for Context

Day Twelve – Searching for Context

The day begins overcast, but glory (as my sisters would call it when they were kids) is seeping through. The time here at TIberias has been quite nice and I now understand why Israeli families like to come up here – mild weather, beautiful scenery, and water. We will leave this, however to go inland – to Nazareth and Cana.

Our first stop is at “Mary’s Well”, or as the guide called it on my first tour here, “an ancient water source.” That it most certainly was, and we can speculate on whether or not Mary would have used it. The well sits deep within the Greek Orthodox Church, where we literally walk into the Divine Liturgy just to go down to the well. I guess that this happens all the time and I guess that they don’t mind (at least I hope so.)  One goes down a flight of stars into a hallway that leads to the ancient water source, I mean, well. Lining the walls are some beautiful Byzantine tiles. I looked forward to seeing them again.

I think that many pilgrims (or should I say, many tour guides) miss the layered context of the sites that they want to see. The true place is often set in the architecture of faith. It’s like the incisions of crosses in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the footsteps worn into the steps at Canterbury, or these beautiful cedars, dating from the Byzantine period, here at the Church of the Annunciation. One of the collateral moments of beauty comes when we leave the lower levels of the well, and climb back into the light of the Greek Orthodox church. I am reminded of the reminiscences of Basil Spence Pennington when he visits Mt. Athos. He tells how the monks would twist up the chandeliers of the church and at the Sanctus in the Divine Liturgy let them go, so that their spinning granted a sort of other-worldly vision. Or, as the Lutheran Liturgy says, “give us a foretaste of the feast to come.”

Next we visit the Anglican church in Nazareth, Christ Church. We are not the only tour group there. The former Bishop of Oxford is leading one group and there is another group from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. A good half of the congregation is English-speaking Anglicans, and the other half is Arabic-speaking Anglicans. It makes for a veritable Pentecost – and we are all speaking in tongues. After the Eucharist we are treated to tea and cakes and a great deal of hospitality. We meet a man who lives in Nazareth and in Arlington Virginia, he is an epidemiologist, and a pleasant host. The Anglican Communion has retained some the better parts of its imperial past – namely the familiarity and interest that all of its constituent parts seem to have in one another. Arthur leaves all his Jordanian Dinar in the offering plate. “It’s in their diocese,” he explains.

The big story in town is the interpretation of the Annunciation at the Church of the Annunciation built and managed (like all Holy Land sites) by the Franciscans. Like the Church at Kefer-Nahum, this church is also built over a ruin – namely the house/place where the annunciation is said to have happened.  It is preserved in the lower level of the church.

Again the tour ignores the context of faith that is built around the site – beautiful Byzantine mosaic floors, and remaining walls painted in faith. You have to look, and you can find this stuff. It’s humbling. The church above is a bit overdone, with Madonnae contributed from many nations. (The one from the US is absolutely hideous.) The Stations of the Cross are very interesting, porcelain somewhat in the style of Paterino. All in all, it’s just too much stuff.

One interesting place that survives my “taste test” is the plaza that surrounds the Baptistery, and is elevated over the remains of the ancient town. It is pure seventies modernism, but reads very well – elegant and inviting. It surrounds the pilgrims with the story and invites them to walk into it.

We go across the street to a little church that is the “house of Joseph” Here is preserved an ancient mikveh, which was later used by Christians as a Baptistery. I guess that Joseph needs his due as well. What is interesting to me is that it is not so much the “house of Joseph, as it is an ancient site of faith used in the Christian context.

Our last stop is in Cana, and yes, there is a church, and yes, there is a water jar, and yes there are the surrounding shops filled with olive wood, icons, thuribles with bells (I want one), and wine – naturally. We go back to TIberias with as much context as we can handle, and the Spirit comes to visit as we put our heads down for a nap.

Post Scriptum

I forgot a very important moment. While in the Church at Cana, and at all the significant places at which we stopped, there was a reading from the Scriptures and a prayer. Here at Cana, Andrew Nunn asked that Arthur and I read the account of the Wedding at Cana.

It was a very moving moment.

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