Monday, August 20, 2012


Annunciation Icon Leading to Nazareth Well (Jane's photo)
US Contribution (Greene photo)
For me, our time in Nazareth was incredibly powerful.  We visited four sites in the city itself, including churches and archeological sites under churches.  In Jesus' day, Nazareth was a small city of a few hundred people who lived in caves, much like the inhabitants of Bethlehem.  Based on traditional sites and graffiti that has been found inscribed on the outsides of the caves, some consensus exists as to the location of Mary’s house.  A site for Joseph’s original house is also posited.  Both are found under Roman Catholic churches run by the Franciscans, who at various times have bought property of Holy Land sites, and see themselves as its custodians.  For the most part, they seem to be doing a good job.  The two churches are part of the same complex.  The first church is a huge basilica filled with artistic impressions of the annunciation from around the world.  While some are gorgeous, the US contribution came at an unfortunate time in the 60’s.  The basilica’s tower is built as a huge lighthouse, symbolizing the light coming into the world.  For a while, a light actually shone out of the tower in a circular pattern, imitating a lighthouse.  Like many short-term good ideas, the concept hasn’t worn well and for whatever reason the light no longer shines. 

Mary and Joseph's Engagement (Jane's photo)
The St. Joseph church is much simpler, but has three very profound stained glass windows behind three basement altars near the ruins of Joseph’s house.  The first window portrays Joseph’s death, with a young adult Jesus and Mary at his side.  The second shows Mary and Joseph’s engagement, with a religious leader between them.  The third depicts Joseph sleeping and receiving word from the angel in a dream to take Mary as his wife.  While the windows aren’t particularly noteworthy from an artistic standpoint, I found them quite thought provoking and moving.

Less than a mile up the hill from the Roman Catholic Churches is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.  The church is at the site of the spring that has provided water for Nazareth since the first century.  The Orthodox Church believes that the Annunciation took place while Mary was drawing water.  The spring is still flowing.  On the left hand side of the church is an archway with a short corridor that leads to the spring. A tap is set up to allow us to drink from it and fill a water bottle.  Over the arch is a beautiful icon of the Annunciation with “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women” written in Arabic, Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, French and English.   For me, standing at this spot where the Mary said “yes” to God and allowed all humanity to experience the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ was probably the single most moving piece of the trip.  I wouldn’t have necessarily expected it, but of all the incredible experiences on the trip, the Church of the Annunciation is the one that connected with me on a deep and transformational level.
Joseph Carrying Jesus (Jane Photo)

The icons in the church were beautiful, and two merit mention.  The one showed the holy family on a journey.  While a lad leads the donkey, Joseph has Jesus riding on his shoulders, much like every other father carries their one-year old while they walk.  The other showed Mary’s mother, Anna, with Mary as an infant.  
St. Anna and Infant Mary (Jane's photo)
We stayed in Nazareth with a French religious order, the Sisters of Nazareth.  In recent years, they found an ancient tomb underneath their building, as well as a first-century residence.  When they opened a stone above the tomb, before they knew what it was, the smell of incense wafted up to them.  Besides the tomb itself, the excavation revealed the stone that was rolled in front of Jewish tombs.  Unlike some depictions, the stone was probably only 3-4 feet tall, and could easily be moved by two women.  When the women going to Jesus tomb ask, “Who will roll it away for us?” they probably recognize that they could do it if necessary, but would rather have someone stronger do it for them.

Stone to roll before the tomb opening (Jane photo)
Nazareth itself is a majority Moslem city in Israel proper, and is much more modern and Western than East Jerusalem or the West Bank city of Bethlehem.   Our last night there, we went out for some delicious ice cream.  On the way home, we saw about a hundred Moslem men line up in a town square for prayers.  In response to the recorded calls from the minaret, the men stood, kneeled, and prostrated themselves.  After watching them, we passed the entrance to the Roman Catholic Basilica.  An Italian priest was leading about fifty people, including two guitarists and someone playing what looked like an Italian mandolin, in song.  They sang in English, Italian, Latin and Polish, and many of the songs were from Taize.  At one point, people from various countries were all singing together in the middle of the street in a four-part round.   Some of the music I had learned in Russia from the youth group at St. Catherine’s church in St. Petersburg.

No comments:

Post a Comment