In the past few days, I’ve had a few other experiences that haven’t fit into a particular blog narrative but are worth mentioning in passing.
|Steelers' Nation in Jerusalem|
Last week, we had an afternoon free. We walked through the Christian Quarter of the Old City and saw shops filled with icons, gold, mother-of-pearl, olive wood and various other souvenirs. One local shopkeeper greeted us with a “Howdy, y’all” in a southern accent (although he was clearly not originally American) He had the only “Roll Tide” shop in the Holy Land and showed us an article with his photo in Southern Living. A number of shops sold t-shirts bearing any number of American logos in Hebrew lettering, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From there I went to Vespers at St. James Church in the Armenian Quarter. The church is beautiful, with dozens of candleholders hanging from the ceiling and new carpets on the floor over marble floors. All of the pillars had blue/green ceramic tile mosaics about three feet high, and the church smelled of incense. St. James’ body is buried in a side chapel (I assume James of Jerusalem, but I need to confirm that). About thirty seminarians filed in just before the service began. About half of them stopped in the sacristy to get gold deacons stoles to wear draped over their left shoulder. The gold shone over their black cassocks. Then the priests entered. Armenian priests wear black hoods with large cowls the wave in and out as they walk, almost like the hood of a cobra. Whenever the priests moved from one place in the church to another, they stopped and appeared to bow to every other priest in the church. Most of the service was chanted, with the two choirs of seminarians on either side of the church alternating many of the prayers or psalms. Two deacons vested in white and gold carried large thuribles with bells on them in their right hands, so, as they vigorously censed throughout the entire church at various appointed times, the ringing provided a counterpoint to the chanting. In their left hand they carried an incense boat with a candle sticking out of the front. The gospel was read from a stand in the center of the church with appropriate draping, after the book was brought there with great ceremony and reverence. The church did not have an iconostas, as a Greek or Russian Orthodox church might, but above the main altar and the two side altars were about a dozen levels of shelves holding glistening gold and silver chalices, patens and monstrances. (No photos, of course, were allowed to be taken of vespers and Jane had the camera, anyway.)
After vespers, I went down to the Jewish Quarter and re-visited the Western Wall. I had hesitated to take a Bible or Book of Common Prayer with me, but I wanted to read some psalms there. Few people were there in the late afternoon, however, and I found racks of prayer books from a wide range of Jewish traditions that were available for anyone to use who came to the wall. The gentlemen there helped me find one that had English translations underneath the Hebrew, so I took it to the wall and prayed some in both languages. Praying the psalms in Hebrew as they have been prayed in that place for three thousand years was a powerful experience. I must admit that I almost instinctively made a sign of the cross as I was leaving, but I did catch myself in time.