Apr 10, 2015

April 9: First Day in Jerusalem

It was around 9:00 on Wednesday evening when I walked into the lobby of the Abraham Hostel on Davidka Square in Jerusalem. An older gentleman I'd met in the hostel in Haifa had recommended ‎it, and it's part of the independent Israeli hostel organisation ILH. I hadn't made an advance booking, since I just wasn't sure when I'd be arriving. As it turns out, this worked to my advantage.

This year, the Jewish Passover began with the western Easter weekend and concludes with the Orthodox Pascha weekend. All 260 beds in the hostel were booked because of this confluence of holy days. However, one guest had decided he wanted to move on earlier than he'd originally planned. It's against the hostel's policy to issue refunds -- once booked‎, the bed is yours! Thankfully, the staff members are allowed to use their judgment, so Alexei got his refund, I got a place to sleep, and the hostel got their money. Win win win.

Once I'd made my way to the dorm room and started to unpack, I struck up a conversation with one of the other people in the room. He's working on his M.Sc. in solid state physics in Germany, but had come to Israel to participate in a massive Scout hike along the Israel National Trail. We got to talking, and before I knew it, it was past midnight. (I was so utterly exhausted that the lateness off the hour simply didn't make any difference.) We'd started off talking equipment and preparations for a long solo trek, and he was very interested in my gear. Before long, though, the conversation drifted into theology. He's a non-observant Jew, but I was surprised at how much he knew about Christianity. I eventually turned off my light at 1:30, after setting my alarm for 7:00.

At breakfast Thursday morning I met two other people in town for Pascha, both Serbian.   After chatting for a bit, I headed upstairs to pack up.   Arriving as I did without a reservation, I needed to change rooms, which involved checking out and leaving my luggage in the hostel's storage room. After I got all that sorted, I headed off to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on foot -- the final segment of my pilgrimage. The hostel is advertised as being a twenty minute walk from the Old City, but it took me a bit longer than that. I'm tired! By the time I got to the church, the morning service was over and the police were removing the barricades. I spent the next several hours inside the conglomeration of sanctuaries which makes up the Holy Sepulchre complex. Breakfast had consisted of nothing but tomatoes, cucmbers, and coffee, so I eventually left the church in search of nourishment. Falafel and hummus were not far off.

I spent the next hour or so wandering the streets of the Christian Quarter. I finally found the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It's not far from the Holy Sepulchre, but I got turned around a few times. The first monk I spoke to had ‎lived in Windsor (Ontario) for several years. I explained that I had come to Jerusalem on foot, and asked about a stamp for my little notebook. He told me to come back the next day (Great and Holy Friday) and the secretary, Aristarchos, would help me.

Back to the hostel then, where I moved in to my new room and met one of my new roommates. ‎He's from Moscow, and is in Jerusalem for Holy Week. It was touching to see how delighted he was to learn that I'm also Orthodox. After talking a bit, we both stretched out for a rest before the evening service. He was headed to the Russian monastery on the Mount of Olives, while I'd decided to go back to the Holy Sepulchre. While I slept, all the weariness and pain of the past seven months had settled into my bones. Asking at the front desk, I learned that a single tram ticket costs seven shekels (about $2.25 Canadian). Since the tramline runs straight along Jaffa Street between the hostel and the Jaffa Gate, I decided I'd done enough walking. It was only after I'd purchased my dated ticket that I realised the trams had stopped running for the day. (sigh) Hobbling along, I happened to glance up a side street about halfway to my destination and said to myself, "That has to be a Russian church." I arrived half an hour before the service started and sat in an out of the way corner until it did. The pain and exhaustion remained with me for the next three and a half hours, but they soon became irrelevant.  (Well, the last forty-five minutes were a little rough.) My knowledge of Old Church Slavonic is pretty limited but this is the nineteenth year I've attended the Service of the Twelve Gospels, so I knew what was going on. The 15th Antiphon of this particular service is heart-rending in its beauty. I wrote a bit about what it means to me last year, which can be found here:
http://phool4xc.blogspot.com/2014/04/great-and-holy-friday.html
The austerity and beauty and joy and sorrow of this service is beyond my descriptive powers to convey. "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth."

1 comment:

  1. That quote sums it up perfectly! Hope the pain and tiredness are easing. After I arrived into Rome I was very sick. I slept alot over the following days. Listen to your body and go easy on yourself.

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