We had a very full morning today. We started with a tour of some of the churches on the Mt. of Olives. Our first stop was at the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension. This in on top of the Mt. of Olives and has a big bell tower that you see very prominently from the city. This church was built as part of a convent. The sisters wanted to be close to the place where Jesus ascended to heaven which is marked by the mosque I visited earlier.
While visiting the grounds of the church I got another surprise having to do with John the Baptist. It turns out that there is a story that his head was buried on the Mt. of Olives. It was later revealed in a dream to some saint in the Middle Ages where his head was buried. We were able to visit the chapel that is built over the place where John’s head was supposedly found. It was nice to visit another church dedicated to my patron. I keep running into references to him on this pilgrimage when I least expect it.
Also near the top of the Mt. of Olives is the Church of the Pater Noster which I mentioned previously. This is the church built over the spot where Jesus taught the apostles the Our Father (Pater Noster). This time I got to go inside the church. They have many tiled panels depicting the Our Father in something like 142 different languages. By far the highlight of our visit here was when we all chanted the Pater Noster together as part of our reflection. St. Luke tells us that the apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray” and in response he taught them the Our Father. As I struggle in my own prayer life I often envision this scene in my mind. Lord, teach me how to pray.
Following the route Jesus took on Palm Sunday, we headed down the Mt. of Olives to the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene. If you remember my pictures of the skyline of the Mt. of Olives, this is the church with the bright golden onion-shaped domes. These two Russian churches are only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that is why we were on this Russian theme today. The church was very beautiful inside with some lovely art depicting St. Mary Magdalene. It reminded me of our trip to Galilee where we visited the ruins of Magdala. Like so many others, she left Galilee and followed Jesus here to Jerusalem. Her church on the Mt. of Olives is a witness to her great faith.
Having reached the bottom of the Mt. of Olives, we got back on our bus and headed over to what is known as “The Shrine of the Book.” It is here that the original Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. You might remember my discussion of them from when we visited Qumran. The other neat thing at this place is a large outdoor model of what Jerusalem would have looked like in AD 66 right before it was destroyed. It really helps to see what things would have looked like at the time of Jesus. This completed our whirlwind morning tour and we had just enough time to get back for lunch and get ready for an afternoon of classes. I think we’re starting to wear out.