Yesterday we began our day with a walking tour of our neighborhood, which included visits to St. George's Cathedral and St. George's College. The cathedral is the center of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and every Sunday they conduct masses in both Arabic and English. The whole Cathedral Close is a very beautiful and tranquil setting - a little bit of England tucked into Jerusalem.
Eventually we found our way to the Old City of Jerusalem, having walked down Nablus Road to Damascus Gate, where we were able to view the Roman Cardo from the 1st century.
Our today guide, Canon Iyad Qumri, did a brief talk on the cardo covering the different periods of history here in Jerusalem, distinguishing between the characteristics of the Roman, Byzantine and Crusader structures. So much history has happened here in Jerusalem, and it has been fascinating to again peel the past "like an onion," constantly discovering new layers of meaning.
For the afternoon, we spent time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as it is called by the West, and the Church of the Resurrection, as it is called by the East. This church marks the spot of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Especially rewarding for me was our visit to the Arab Orthodox Church, which is part of the Church of the Resurrection, with its churches commemorating St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, as well as the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus after the resurrection.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an amazing place. Partly because of what it commemorates, partly because of its architectural history, and partly because of the living history of people, both past and present who have adorned its stone walkways. Yet again we saw pilgrims spreading burial shrouds over the anointing stone, we saw pilgrims venerating the stone of Calvary, and we witnessed the different Christian denominations conducting their various worship services. No other place in the world is quite like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - a place where chaos actually can become holy and even peaceful.
And of course no visit to the Old City is complete without some shopping in the multitude of shops. Our pilgrims were given some free time to shop and explore the many winding paths of the Old City's four quarters - Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian.
Before dinner, we had the opportunity to meet with a local Muslim scholar and academic, Dr. Abdul Ruhman. He presented a short introduction to the religion of Islam for the pilgrims, after which we had a time for questions and answers. We will also have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Jewish and Christian communities while here in Jerusalem. Even though the majority of our pilgrimage will focus on Christian faith, history and spirituality, we also are interested in the interfaith and political issues facing Jerusalem, Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East. Such issues cannot be ignored if we are to be responsible pilgrims.
It was a full day, and today will be another full day. Stay tuned to hear more about our time at the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as well as the Mount of Olives. This is what we are preparing for this morning.