Friday morning both me and my Russian roommate were up shortly after 6:00. He was heading off to the 7:00 service at the Russian cathedral where I'd been last night, while I was headed to the Holy Sepulchre. I knew the first service of the day was scheduled for 8:30, but I also knew that I should be at least an hour early. When I arrived at the square in front of the main entrance to the church, there were police everywhere, some in riot gear. There were also barricades set up in the square, keeping an aisle clear to the door along one side of the square. At 7:30, there were less than a hundred people waiting. This number grew, slowly at first, but by 8:15 the square was packed and the police had moved the barricades behind us, preventing any more people from entering the square. This is what I'd expected, since the same thing had occurred the day before. I was very eager to get into the church, since I had dressed for church, and not for standing in a square in what had become overnight very chilly weather. I was also on the verge of falling asleep on my feet. The press of bodies would probably have kept me from hitting the ground, but I didn't want to put it to the test. At 8:30, one of the bells above us began tolling once every few minutes. I figured they'd be opening the doors of the church soon, but it was not to be. At 9:00, an honour guard of police, monks, and four fez-wearing men bearing iron-tipped staves appeared, accompanying the Patriarch of Jerusalem to the entrance. There was a knocking at the door and then a wooden ladder was procured, and a man climbed up and inserted an ancient key in the lock. The door was opened and the dignitaries processed in. They didn't stay long, and once they had cleared the area the police began allowing people to enter the church. I really should have gone to the Russian cathedral, since once inside I discovered that the main sanctuary was closed off. Lesson learned - for the evening service I did just that.
After walking through the church, I made my way out again, being channeled towards the souq in the Old City by police barriers. When I heard the magic word "Coffee?" I gave my very emphatic assent. Once refreshed, I continued to the Patriarchate, hoping today to receive an official stamp in my notebook. The young man at the main gate was fluent in Greek, Arabic, and English, and probably Hebrew as well. He informed me that Aristarchos the secretary was too busy today to see me and stamp my book. I figured there was no sense in arguing the point even though it contradicted what I'd been told the day before.
The weather continued to be quite chilly with brief periods of rain, although at times the sun shone through, striking the tops of the walls without warming the narrow streets below. I walked through the crowded narrow streets of the Old Town towards the Jaffa Gate. Near the gate, the Franciscans operate the Christian Information Centre. In addition to the other services they offer, they will also issue a certificate of pilgrimage when requested. The Austrian priest was very interested in the details of my journey, as were the two English-speaking ladies in line behind me. One of them had done the Camino last year, and understood the radical change of life returning home from pilgrimage presents. After having my photo taken, I headed back to the hostel.
It was strangely quiet as I walked along Jaffa Street. As I discovered the day before, the trams have stopped running until Sunday due to the end of Passover and the Sabbath. There weren't many pedestrians, and all the shops on the street were shut. In my exhaustion and anticipation, it seemed as if the city was already participating in the great Sabbath of Christ. That didn't stop me from purchasing some juice, bread, and hummus from a small "super"market I spotted on a side street. I breakfasted on that, and after putting a load of laundry in the machine at the hostel I promptly went to sleep.
When I woke up a few hours later, I collected my laundry and wrote an update. Then it was time to head to church. I returned to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity for the evening service, but I discovered that the Lamentations aren't sung in the Russian tradition. I'm not exactly sure what was being read within the general framework of Orthros, but my guess is that it was Psalm 118 (in the LXX, Ps 119 in the Hebrew numbering). There were two bishops officiating, along with several monastics and perhaps a dozen priests. The service was a little shorter than the evening before, but it also began an hour and a half later. It was 11:00 when I finally returned to the hostel. After a small meal, I crashed hard. With no early morning service, I figured I could afford to sleep in a little on Saturday and still get a place in line for the Service of Holy Fire which begins at 2:00 pm. Five hours in advance should be sufficient!