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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 November 2015
14 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM A Hellenic journey DR ARTHUR KOKKINIAS I recently spent a few days in the Holy Land. Two months earlier, I had visited Greece with my family and had witnessed first hand the misery of refugees who were clogging the main arterials of Lesvos. The experience was enough to make one lose faith in humanity. Unexpectedly, the Holy Land experience was spiritually uplifting. I say unexpectedly as I was expecting a 'fake', tourist-driven experience like so many others I have had elsewhere. It was anything but fake. On my first day I visited a number of the Christian holy sites of Jerusalem with Gil, my personal Jewish guide. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem 'owns' the majority of the sites that Christians come to visit here. In fact, the Patriarchate owns more than half of the Old City of Jerusalem. Until last month the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, leased its land from the Patriarchate. The majority of Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine also belong to this Church, the hierarchy of which is ethnically Greek. The world's most holy site to all Christians is the Church of the Anastasis, or the Holy Sepulchre. It contains the Tomb of Christ and Golgotha. It is jointly administered by the Greeks, Roman Catholics and Armenians but we have the lion's share of the church and only our Patriarchal flag flies above it. In fact, the flags of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and occasionally Cyprus, are to be seen everywhere in Jerusalem. I visited a number of Orthodox churches including Panagia's Tomb, St Stephen's church (the first martyr) as well as Gethsemane and the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. From this latter vantage point one can take in the city's breathtaking beauty. In the Old City itself, I walked the dark, stone, alley-like streets which were barely wide enough for carts to pass. The smell of spices and perspiration intertwined. There was a long line to enter the Tomb of We ate St Peter's fish and Middle Eastern mezedes at Tiberius, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The restaurant's owner, a Tunisian Jew, sat with us and told me his story. The food was delicious - like being at a Greek restaurant. The background music sounded Greek. Yossi mentioned that Glykeria and Dalaras are popular in Israel. The following day I set off with this rather anxiety-provoking arrangement of an Arab taxi driver from Jerusalem taking me to a checkpoint for a Palestinian guide from the West Bank (the latter are not allowed to cross into Israel) to pick me up so I could visit Bethlehem. When I arrived, the guide negotiated to take me to Hebron as well, saying it would be an opportunity not to be missed and would be safe, and then to the Judean desert to visit two of the many Greek monasteries, before visiting Bethlehem (where I had only intended to go). The idea of seeing these desert monasteries was too tempting to refuse. Hebron was frightening. I felt unsafe in this The Holy Sepulchre in the Church of the Anastasis. Christ where I would have waited an hour, but because I was Greek Gil persuaded me to jump the queue and introduce myself in Greek to the priest guarding the Tomb. I protested and said it was inappropriate. He reminded me we were not in Australia. The friendly priest immediately let me in. Clearly Greeks have priority here. Opposite the Tomb, under another immense dome, is the grand Greek Orthodox katholikon (the main cathedral church of Jerusalem). Pilgrims, visibly moved by the significance of where we stood, surrounded me. On my second day, I visited northern Israel with Yossi, another knowledgeable Jewish guide. This is the area of the Annunciation and Christ's younger years in Nazareth. I visited Cana - the site of His first miracle - and the Sea of Galilee, where most of His miracles and teachings occurred. There are three claimed sites of Christ's baptism (with the Orthodox one most likely to be the historically accurate one, according to Yossi). Orthodox churches and monasteries abound. A picture-perfect view of the Church of The Twelve Apostles, considered one of the most beautiful in the region, was to be had from The Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. Yossi, despite his Jewish faith, had a phenomenal understanding of Christianity and a detailed knowledge of both Testaments. He had been part of a university group which had mapped out the physical path Jesus walked based on the Scriptures. Pilgrims can walk this long path today. He showed me some little-known parts and linked for me Hebrew, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine histories. predominantly Muslim city with an enclave of religious Jewish settlers living in a walled compound. My guide said he always listened to the news the night before to make sure it was safe to bring tourists like me there. I thought to myself, what if we WERE the news? He also said his friends in Hebron would have alerted him if there was a problem. He told me all of this as we arrived. There I visited the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs). Originally built by Herod, it was then altered by the Byzantine Greeks and subsequently added to by the Crusaders. The Arabs eventually converted it into a mosque. It is now three-quarters mosque and one-quarter synagogue! There are two separate armed entry points. I faced a barrage of questions despite being with my Palestinian guide at the mosque entry. No questions were asked of me upon entering the synagogue ... presumably because I looked like a Jewish pilgrim. I was sent alone to the synagogue as my guide could Nativity Church, Bethlehem. Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron. Nativity cave - the site of Christ’s birth.
7 November 2015