My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Bus called Hope: Introduction to Jerusalem contd.

Church of the Agony
We soon have to move on from the Dominus Flevit, regretting that there is no time to see inside. That is such a great shame. This happens a few times during our pilgrimage, where in the interests of seeing as much as possible we have no time to linger. At least it gives us all a very good reason and motivation to return to this most Holy of Lands. And we can appreciate the splendid view across the Kidron Valley from the terrace below the church. Some say the view is even better from inside framed by the altar window.
Church of the Agony
We now make our way to the Church of All Nations, or the Church of the Agony, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Someone says that the former name refers to the fact that many different nations contributed to its building costs – this is in fact so – donations came from many different countries for the building of the chapel between 1919 and 1934. But the name is also a reference to the fact that it is here where all the nations of the world shall be judged, according to the prophecy in the Book of Joel ch. 3 v. 2. Within the church is a bare rock upon which, according to tradition, Jesus prayed before he was arrested on the night of what we now call Maundy Thursday. The church was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed the little Dominus Flevit church which we have just seen, and I think we shall see more of his work later into the pilgrimage. I am sorry to say I am first of all struck by the scaffolding and the noise of the repairs going on within, which somewhat spoil the experience for me. The extremely busy main road doesn’t help. In this general chaos I also regret that I miss the “stone of agony” itself. I’m not sure how I manage to do that! I’m afraid that I really do not like loud noise of any sort and I have to escape fairly quickly to the peace of the small garden just outside the church.

Here there are eight eight extremely old olive trees. There is some dispute as to their ages, although since these trees have the capacity to regenerate from very small stumps it is quite possible that some part at least of them may have been around in Jesus’ time. I like to think so. Carbon dating by the University of California suggests that some wood may be 2300 years old. The girth of the largest tree is more than 18 feet!

In the Garden of Gethsemane
We are all beginning to wilt and flag a little, but there is one more church to see before lunch, and this is probably for me the favorite of the morning, because I really love sculptures. Outside the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu (cock crow in Latin) our next destination, there is a beautiful sculpture commemorating this site where St Peter is said to have denied Jesus after his master’s arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. The sculpture shows Peter by the fire where he is keeping warm, and nearby is a flight of ancient stone steps which Jesus would surely have trod in his time.

Peter denying he knows Jesus
There are brief moments like this where I can find a place for quiet reflection and stand in awe and wonder – to think we are standing where so much of the gospel story was played out all those many years ago. Of course many of the commemorative sites are modern, but we can still feel the sense of sacredness in the atmospheric surroundings and the ground upon which we walk, in spite of the crowds which sometimes get in the way. And who are we to talk with 128 of us!!

Church of St Peter on its steep hillside

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