Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shabbat followed by a Trip to Jericho

Posted by Colleen but improved and added to by Eric (and we are all thankful for this, trust me.)

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Greetings everyone! I hope you all had a chance to read the Poster Contest Blog. We are looking forward to some great entries. We have heard from a few of you and look forward to seeing your posters.

Friday was Shabbat on which Jews all over the world sit down with their families and friends to eat and celebrate the day of rest. The Shabbat meal is a time when Jewish families and friends share highlights from the week and sing table songs, called zimerot. Of all the Jewish holidays, Shabbat is considered the most important of all -- even more important than Yom Kippur or the other High Holidays -- since it is explicitly commanded by the LORD in the Ten Commandments. Every Friday, at around 3-4pm, shops begin to close, which is why we were without a meal our first Friday night in Jerusalem. The observant Jews don't drive, ride in busses or taxies. On most days, the greeting is, “Shalom.” However, on Shabbat, you say, “Shabbat Shalom.” For us, we met with the students and faculty of JUC. We read and sang through the Seder, then had a wonderful meal. (Seder means order or sequence.) The evening began by remembering the Sabbath followed by blessing the wine which was a yummy Israeli grape juice sans fermentation : ), blessing the bread—a sweet pull-apart loaf of bread (that didn’t last long on our table.) Next was the lighting of the candles, done by the “lady” at the table. Then there were blessings for the moms, dads then the children. After a blessing of the meal we ate.

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The Shabbat Seder bread. Students ready to eat Shabbat Seder. Notice how young they are. Eric is the oldest student at JUC this semester, by 4 years.
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Celine and Lillian enjoying a meal in their room in our flat. All ready for dinner.

For a sample of a Shabbat Seder you can go to this link and click on the Shabbat Seder Guide below the picture of the girl with candles. Not all Seders are the same and especially a Christian Seder and a Jewish Seder but they are all very similar considering that we have in common the Torah which gives the account of creation and when the Lord rested.

As believers in Jesus as Messiah we read in John; 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not..

 NOTE: in Hebrew the phrase “OK” is “be seder”. Seder literally means “order”, and be means “in” so be seder is literally “in order” that is, “it’s OK”.

Jericho and Eastern Churches

Interactive Map Updated live maps. 
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Saturday morning, Eric and I took off with his class mates in a large bus for a field study in Jericho with his History of the Eastern Church class. Our day was filled looking at several Monasteries originally built around the 4th century AD, that are today in varied conditions. The often once (and sometimes currently) austere monasteries were originally built with money that was either inherited by the founders or given as a royal gift to them. Later writers of this period often spoke of the area around Jerusalem as being overcrowded because of the vast number of Christians.  Historians thought of this as legend intended to boost Christianity to make it look more expansive than it was.  It wasn’t until 1967 when Israel gained control of this part of the land and excavations could begin that we learned that there really were 4,000 monasteries that blanked this area, and the volume of Christians was fact, not myth.  The numerous monasteries remained until the Muslims destroyed them in their 7th century invasion of the land.  Many were later rebuilt by the Crusaders, then abandoned again in the 14th century when the Turkish dynasty gained control.

We  began our tour near Jericho on the outskirts of Jerusalem, with the ruins of the first Judean area monastery built by the monk Euthymius around 350.


The remains of Euthymius monastery.

He chose this spot because of the plain area—it provided constant wind in the summer and a water reservoir. The 100 cu meter cistern he built in 400AD is still intact. This was the first of 4,000 monasteries that would eventually be built during the Byzantine era around Jerusalem, and probably the second oldest monastery in all Israel. At the time, the Bedouins of the area were very hostile to Christianity but because Euthymius healed the chief’s son, he was given protection. This monastery was on the path from Jericho to Jerusalem and at one time 1,000 monks lived there.

The Hills between Jerusalem and JerichoAs you travel east from Jerusalem you descend into the Jordan river valley, going from green to brown very quickly.  (Sidebar: generally speaking in this land, the further west, north and higher in elevation the more rain, the further east, south and lower elevation the less). Jerusalem receives 24 inches of rain a year, just 10 miles east, and 2,500 feet lower, Jericho receives less than 2 inches.  As a reference point, farming of any kind to sustain life requires a minimum of 12 inches, areas with less than this were always, until modern times, strictly herding communities (today with modern greenhouses and pumped water, this division is sometimes diminished).  You immediately see the distinction as you travel east and down in elevation toward the small oasis of Jericho itself, leaving the trees behind descending into the very arid, desert like conditions with sparsely distributed shanties, seeing more herds of goats and sheep and even the occasional camel.

The next monastery was in Jericho No. 3.  There have been three Jerichos throughout the ages.  Jericho 3, the newest, and southern most Jericho was built around 350, it is sometimes known as Eusebius (the Bishop of Palestine in 314) Jericho. Jericho No. 2 is Herodian Jericho, built by Herod the great, who died in 4BC.  Everyone who was rank lived or vacationed here at this little oasis spot.  It was destroyed by Vespasian in 68, two years prior to Jerusalem’s destruction.  Jericho No. 1 was the Jericho of Joshua’s day which was there as early as 9,000 BC – Adam and Eve must have vacationed at this one!  Each of the three Jerichos are very close together, within a mile or two.

So, our second monastery, in Jericho #3, is a thriving, rebuilt and wonderfully refreshing oasis. Arabs, Jews and Christians alike travel here for refreshment and leisurely getaways. It has been rebuilt over the remains of the monastery built by one of Euthymius’ students, Gerasimos.  The Eastern Orthodox church today believes, with Gerasimos, in “doing the Gospel.” Thus the beautiful building’s, and surrounding garden were built by the local people, providing much needed money to help the very poor locals. It was exciting to see Arabs working alongside the Christian monks. There are many people in Israel that have devoted their lives to bring Jews, Christians and Arabs together.

DSC_0080 The lovely Colleen outside Gerasimos monastery.
DSC_0089 The “Holy of Holies” inside the typically ornate Greek Orthodox monastery of Gerasimos.
DSC_0085 This trip we went “with Petra” not “to Petra”.

Vestibule of Gerasimos.
Eric’s teacher, named Petra is facing this way, standing in front of the painting of Gerasimos.

This is what one writer says about about the monastery:


St Gerasimos monastery is no ordinary monastery of contemplation. It encloses expansive grounds which house a large array of farm animals and a great many crops, most of which are tended by the Abbott himself. These grounds exist solely for the benefit of the Palestinian community. Every year, hundreds are fed through the efforts of the Abbott, either with spiritual advice or food. For this reason, he is particularly beloved of them.

Eastern Monasteries are always built over crypts containing the bones of martyrs and/or the monastery's founder. This crypt contains the bones of over 5,000 martyrs killed by the invading Muslims in the 700’s.  Eastern Orthodoxy believes that the Holy Spirit remains in the bones of believers after a person’s death, thus making them holy.  Ezekiel’s reference to the dry bones coming to life is a passage that in their interpretation addresses this concept.  This crypt was actually a cave, and holds special value for the church because it was, according to them, the place in which Mary and Joseph stayed one night while fleeing Herod’s destruction of the babies “on the way to Egypt”.  (Never mind that Jericho is 2 days journey out of the way, the exact opposite direction of Egypt).


The story of Gerasimos is colorful.  Shortly after forming the monastery, a lion approached the saint and the Holy Spirit told Gerasimos not to be afraid.  He approached the lion and discovered a thorn in his paw. After removing it, the lion was forever in his debt, and would actually lead the camels down to the Jordan river to fetch the water.  The lion, aptly named Jordan, was a friend to Gerasimos for many years until one day he returned from the river without the camels, and was accused of having eaten them.  After many years a band of Arabs on their return from Egypt passed by the monastery and the camels upon which they were riding were recognized as having been the same, Jordan was exonerated.


DSC_0108 Eric looking at Gerasimos.

Note: If you ever find yourself in an Orthodox church and don’t know in which church you are, you can tell by looking at the picture two to the left of the “holy of holies”.  The “holy of holies” is the ornate central location where the priest prays.  To its immediate left is always a picture of Mary, and to the left of that…. is the picture of the saint that created the monastery, in this case, Gerasimos.


The Ethiopian Monastery

From there we drove to the center of Jericho to visit the Ethiopian Monastery. In the modern era, everyone wanted to rebuild Jericho because of the many historical events that occurred here (think “Zaccheus was a wee little man …”). In the 1920s, under British mandate, the Ethiopians, the poorest of all the Eastern (and I would daresay, Western) churches, got their plot. They began a very simple building program but are constantly rebuilding and improving. They named their church Gabriel after the angel.

DSC_0152 DSC_0154 Gabriel Church of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Ethiopian Orthodox Nun.


The Romanian Monastery


While the Ethiopian monastery was beautiful in its simplicity, we were completely awed when we arrived at the Romanian Monastery, just 5 minutes away. You drive through some very scary and poor parts of town and arrive at the Monastery which looks nice but plain from the outside. But as you enter the courtyard you can’t help but be impressed by its beauty. Their attention to detail is inspiring.
Inside the church, the walls are covered with recently finished beautiful paintings that represent what you would have seen it in the 4th century.  [Note: We have included many photos of these, please take some time to look at them in detail, they are amazing.]  We spent several minutes looking at the various paintings depicting what seems to be the entire story of the Bible, and thought we were finished.  Then, to our amazement, we went down a flight of (extremely steep, almost ladder like) stairs  to the basement with an entire new set of paintings. 

Surrounding the church is a multi-level building housing the monks and nuns and their frequent guests—with an awesome rooftop view of the area -- truly an amazing experience.

Iconography: Is it Idolatrous?

Those of us from Western (and especially Protestant) traditions tend to look at the ornate settings of the Eastern Church with suspicion, even disdain. “That money could have gone to spread the gospel” we might say, or even, “those people are worshiping their paintings.” If you have similar sentiments you would be called in ancient times an Iconoclast (“icon-smasher”), such arguments have been made since at-least the year 450,  and while officially the argument was officially settled in 846, you may still wonder. I would invite you to at-least consider the Eastern Orthodox position on these matters (those who support the use of Icons in the church are called Iconodules).

The Eastern church argues first of all that this is not a form of idolatry. Quite the contrary, these are symbols which are designed to lead the veneration not toward the object, but toward the person represented by the object, and ultimately to Christ. The are revered and venerated, but not worshipped.  Two pieces of wood that come together to form a cross, for example are venerated because they remind us of the sacrifice of Christ, but taken apart, the pieces of wood become nothing, and are good for firewood.

Second, the Orthodox church argues that these are part of the teaching of the church.  When you step into one of these churches you quickly see what they mean.  Many, if not all, the stories of the Bible are portrayed in living, vivid color that bring the great stories of our faith to life.  These are “opened books to remind us of God.”

Finally, not only are these not idolatrous, not only are they helpful, they are actually essential. These icons are a safeguard to a full and proper doctrine of the incarnation of Christ.  While God’s eternal nature cannot be presented in material objects, the incarnation of Christ is not adequately represented otherwise.  They would say you misrepresent or undermine the reality of the physical nature of Christ without pictures of Him.  They do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, “who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.” 

Hmm… food for thought?


Click each of the pictures below to see in detail.

Each of the paintings represents some story of the Bible, some character trait of Christ, one of the Apostles or an early (or recent) Church saint.

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Entering the courtyard of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Son and Holy Spirit are facing the Father on the left side.
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Christ is the center of everything, and the room is designed to lift your eyes heaven ward. More heavenly expressions.
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Many depictions of Christ in various functions and expressions. The entire downstairs … more Bible stories. Most of these are devoted to David, a favorite captain of the faith.
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A modern bishop of the Romanian Church. Details from the picture on the left.  Pictures within pictures.
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View from the roof.  No that’s not a crazed mad-man about to jump, just a curious student. Now that’s a picture to behold.
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Notice the mountains in the back. Some of the most amazing Bougainvilleas.


The Coptic  Monastery

The Coptic (Egyptian) Monastery was next on our tour. When the Coptics purchased the property in the 1940’s it was thought that it was the home of Zaccheus in which Jesus dined. When they began to excavate it they made a wonderful discovery.  It was actually much older, formerly the home of someone important from the Hasmonean dynasty (200 BC), and also the location of an early, perhaps 1st century church.  They found marked burials of early 4th century saints.

This monastery is so poorly funded  however that unlike the other monasteries we visited, this one only has one monk. The men living on the premises are Egyptians who have come to help. To bring in funds, they raise produce—tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, beans, etc. We spent about an hour helping them harvest the day’s produce. The snap beans that Eric and I were picking were about 8” long. Their greenhouses were impressive and truly brought to mind, “land flowing with milk and honey.” Easy to imagine the produce spoke about in Exodus that was found in Canaan.

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Uncovered floor mosaic from 4th century. This simple building really could have been Zaccheus’ house. It certainly was an important place at one time.
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Amazing nursery. I’m really not picking tomatoes, just posing.  We really did pick the most amazing Snap Peas (sorry no pics). Look at that, they grow tires here too.


The Mount of  Temptation

The last monastery we visited was our favorite. We had to drive to the edge of Jericho to the side of a large cliff. Looking up you can see how the monastery was built off the side of this cliff. This Greek monastery is believed to have been built over the rock Jesus stood when tempted by Satan. To get to it, you climb practically straight up for about 10-15 minutes. We only thought the climb to Eric’s school was crazy steep. This was amazing. When you enter the monastery you still have several flights of stairs to scale before reaching the main floor. But once there, it is the coolest thing. The monastery extends into the mountain’s caves with rooms for the monks built off the side of the cliff. You certainly can’t be afraid of heights to fulfill God’s calling to serve at this place. Looking out off the balcony, you can imagine Satan showing Jesus all the nations of the world he so foolishly promised Jesus if he would jump for the angels to catch him.

This is where were headed.

Click to enlarge so you can see the monastery on the cliffs.
DSC_0297 About half way up the Mountain of Temptation
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Some of the monks leaving for the day. Can you see the bus from here…
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Here’s a blow up picture of the bus in case you can’t find it. Perspective…
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Priest “hanging out”. Same guy, zoomed out.
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From inside, you can see that part of the monastery is built into the rocks. To the left (the part sticking out of the mountain) is man-made the part to the right, God-made.
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Chapel inside.  Again, carved into the mountain. Photo taken while standing on the balcony.
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A view of the world from the Mount of Temptation monastery balcony. Seeing the world through the cross.  Isn’t that how we should always view it?



In visiting all these holy places, I thought back to something I said in one of the first blogs. I wondered, looking at the sepulchre within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- itself an an Eastern Church -- if we worship the beautiful shrines rather than the man, Jesus Christ, himself. I wasn’t questioning whether the money could have been better spent but wondered about the object of our worship. After hearing the nuns and monks speak of their homes (monasteries), and retell the stories that are painted on the walls, I realized that these beautiful places are clearly their expression of love and devotion to Jesus Christ. It is almost like they can’t give enough. Could the money have been used to feed the poor? Probably, but as Jesus said, “Man can’t live by bread alone.” However, because someone has to build these structures, many of the poor living in the area have been able to provide for their families because of the jobs these different churches provide. The monks and nuns live very simple lives. These buildings are what they want to leave for generations to come – a little picture of heaven.

The following day, Eric took Tally on a tour of Old City for another of his field studies. They climbed through tunnels, scaled walls and walked among excavations that most people don’t even know are there. I’ll let them tell you more about that. For all you ladies that have been through the Beth Moore studies, you will be thrilled to know that Tally and Eric stood on the 15 steps of ascension that led to the temple. Beth spoke of these in her Stepping Up study. They were large and it is thought to be the very steps that Paul stood on as a seminary student and who, 2000 years later, my Eric stood on as a seminary student. Some believe that Jesus preached from these very steps.

Visiting a Church in Jerusalem

Celine, Lillian and I visited a church and met a wonderful lady named Haya Benhayim. She and her husband moved from New York to Israel in 1963. They were the first Messianic Jews to return to the Promised Land. In 2004, they wrote a book called Bound for the Promised Land. She is trying to get a 5th printing but told me it was available at Jews for Jesus. You can read their review of it at this link. To order the book, go to this link.



Nanny said...

Eric, What have you done with Colleen and who is that skinny chick in those pictures named Mary Kay?
WOW, I feel like I have been on a wonderful journey with you. I knew I should have paid more attention in Sunday School.
Susan (Colleen's Mom)

Kathleen said...

Wow! I'm glad I got a chance to go through all of that. So interesting and just - at moments so awe-some to know the history of where you are putting your feet. It puts my heart in my throat. Wow!

Tonight in our bed time reading, we were at the place where Jesus is riding the donkey down the Mount of Olives. Kaitlyn and I were discussing that I think you guys probably have seen that there. I couldn't remember if I saw a picture or not but if not - is this some place you could take a picture of for her?

I'll have to bring the girls on here tomorrow to see all the pictures. Thanks for taking the time to write all this out and get all the pics up. It's a lot to read but really very interesting.

BTW, they are working on their pictures for your contest :) We should be sending them soon.

Edy said...

You are the best teachers! Everything is so interesting (thank you for all the photos, too). I especially appreciate your insights and reflection on visiting the beautiful structures and what they mean to the people. In fact, I found that summary quite moving. The Lord bless you; and thank you, again!

Tina said...

Okay, I have to say, is it like you guys won the lottery and you are all on an extended vacation? This is so awesome. I can't even imagine in this short amount of time, that you would even want to come back at all:(
Truly, what an incredible opportunity and HUGE BLESSING that all of you are getting to experience this. Most can only imagine that they would get to walk where you are getting to walk. Thanks for allowing the rest of us to feel like we are there with you. I really feel so moved by this. We love you and miss you!

Eric Robishaw said...

Is it like an extended vacation?

In many ways, yes, except I get tested over the material. The prof made the point to call our trips, "field studies" not "field trips". Field trips are when you go to see the fire truck in 2nd grade, these are "field studies" because we're tested over what we see and learn.

This is better actually than a vacation. We absolutely don't deserve this opportunity. Hopefully we can give back a portion of what we learn for years to come.


caroline said...

In the picture with the caption, "some of the monks leaving for the day", is the second monk form the left actually holding a cell phone?!!! That is so cool! It's something you wouldn't expect.

Eric Robishaw said...

is the second monk form the left actually holding a cell phone?

YES , looks like a Nokia when I zoom in on the full resolution picture.

Good find.

Actually, I've got several pictures of monks with cell phones.

I'll post a blog later that's nothing but things you wouldn't expect to see.

Carole L Robishaw said...

I feel like I'm in school, only this is much better.
Eric you always have been good at teaching and explaining. I'd love to be ale to say you inherited the gene from me, but I think you are much better than I am. I loved the pic of the monastery on the cliff, but the one of the view thru the cross was what stirred me the most.

Douglas said...

A very insightful and empathetic look at Christian churches in Palestine. Great job!