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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 November 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2015 15 to the Holy Land not even approach the entry point because it would be considered provocative. The tranquil and imposing mosque had Greek inscriptions on the walls. In the synagogue there was a cacophonous combination of horns blowing and chanting of prayers while worshippers swayed rhythmically and ritualistically. There were many armed soldiers inside the synagogue. I felt unsafe knowing this was where tensions turn into conflict. I later read this was the site of a massacre of Muslim pilgrims in 1994 by an Israeli soldier. Fortunately my ignorance of recent history had allowed me to agree to my guide's proposal to visit. My understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has forever been coloured. My West Bank highlight was the Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem, the world's oldest Christian church. Persian invaders in the seventh century spared this church because of an icon of the Three Magi in Persian dress. Its imposing structure has basically been the same since Constantine built it, with various additions made with successive invaders. The main church and the Nativity Cave below it are Greek Orthodox, with Roman Catholic and Armenian chapels in the same building. Back in the 'safety' of Jerusalem that afternoon. I enjoyed the heavenly Middle Eastern flavours of my outdoor dinner with plenty of feta and olive oil. The elegant neighbourhood I stayed in, just outside the Old City walls, consisted of a mixture of European and Mediterranean faces with occasional African faces on the streets. Such a fascinating mix of Orthodox Jews in their garb as well as secularly-dressed people was in contrast to the Old City, where one sees Arabs with headscarves and ghoutras, all manner of Jews and a mix of Christian clergymen. A young red-haired man wearing a kippah approached me and said 'Shalom' and continued to speak in Hebrew. I said "I can't speak Hebrew". "So English is better, yes? Do you want to help the Nation?" he asked. My inside thought was "yes, I want to help but this is not my nation ...". My thoughts turned to Lesvos and the misery I had witnessed there. I revisited the Church of the Anastasis at dawn and at dusk. At these times the church was devoid of noisy tourists and hauntingly mystical in the dim light. I also revisited the Wailing Wall while further exploring the Jewish quarter. I was stopped at the entry security checkpoint as I was carrying two hand-made ceremonial Bedouin 'daggers' in my bag which I had purchased that morning for my son and nephew and forgotten about. Needless to say I was asked for my passport, and the daggers and all my possessions were taken away (icons, holy oil, holy water and the candles I had lit in the Holy Sepulchre). I was told to come back to collect them all once I was finished at the Wailing Wall. I wondered which of all the objects they thought was most dangerous. Through a second lot of security I climbed the plateau within the Old Town to visit the Dome of the Rock - the famous golden-domed mosque on the purported site of the ascension of Mohammed to Paradise - on the site of the original Jewish Temple. There is a sign and a rabbi there to warn ignorant Jews of the grave sin they will commit if they ascend the Temple Mount. The building complex was spectacular. I was allowed limited time as a non-Muslim to visit and the interior of the main mosque was out of bounds to me. Also, fortunately for the Muslim holy area here, my Christian holy items remained in the hands of the armed Israeli security staff and did not 'defile' the Muslim holy space. I also wondered how this place must have appeared before the Temple was last destroyed. Apparently, it was three times the height of the Dome of the Rock which now stands in its place. There was no sign of anything Jewish here despite the city now being in Israeli hands. I exited through the chaotic Muslim quarter and felt conspicuously out of place. What a city and what a country. I was impressed with the visible and FEATURE palpable connection to Hellenism. The presence of the Orthodox Patriarchate cannot be understated. The modern Greek presence is overt. Scratching the surface and understanding the history of the region brings to light the various periods of Hellenic influence - antiquity; the Hellenistic period with the kingdoms that ruled here following Alexander the Great's conquests; the Roman era (in these parts the Roman Empire was Greek speaking and Hellenic in its outlook); the indisputably Greek Byzantine era (a plethora of buildings remain from this period); and the subsequent influence of the ancient and Christian Greek culture on the ensuing Muslim empires - all point to this as one of the common ongoing threads in the intricate history of this Holy Land. Put simply, western civilisation's basis in the combination of the Greco-Roman and the Judaeo-Christian worlds can be perfectly appreciated here. It is living history. It is one place we all must visit, experience and make a pilgrimage to at least once in our lifetimes. I hope to revisit the Holy Land with my family. Anyone with a Greek heritage will feel proud of the influence of our civilisation and culture on the whole modern world and anyone with a Christian faith will feel spiritually renewed. There is a part of the Church of the Anastasis which is the omphalos - the presumed navel, or centre, of the world. I have no doubt that one can properly appreciate humanity's complex story at this very place. Our Hellenic flags flying proudly.
7 November 2015