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  The pool of Bethesda, where Christ healed the paralytic lying in his bed for 38 years, is located north of the old Hebrew Temple and opposite to the pool of Siloam in the holy city of Jerusalem. The Gospel reminding us of the miracle our Lord performed with the paralytic near the water of Bethesda, is also read during the services of the blessing of the water.

 Bethesda is Hebrew name composed of two words, “beth” meaning “house”, and  “hesda” or “kindness, charity” or the “House of the merciful waters.” The name of this place was probably attributed to the waters gathered here in pools, known for their healing effects for bodily infirmities.

The pool of bethesda_orthodoxword

 In Latin, this place was called “the Fountain of the sheep” as was near the place where the sheep sacrificed in the Jewish Temple, were washed.

 Its newest name does not appear in the Old Testament, this place been called the “Upper Pool” which is believed to be the northern basin from Bethesda. In the times before to the reign of king Herod, the waters of Bethesda met the needs of the temple.

The pool of bethesda_orthodoxword

Near the pool of Bethesda, there was a public bath where the miracle mentioned in today’s Gospel took place, and a treatment center. Over one part of the pool of Bethesda, a Byzantine basilica was built and the Crusaders will later erect a small chapel and a large basilica dedicated to St Anna.

The ruins of the two pools of Bethesda, located northwest of Jerusalem can be seen today, on the right side after passing through the gate of St. Stephen (known as “the Lion Gate” due to its two ancient figures -two lions- attached to it).

The Pool of Bethesda in the Holy Scripture!

In the Old Testament the pool of “Bethesda” is known as the “Upper Poole”, possibly referring to the north part of the public bath.

 King Achaz, preparing for war, checked the location near the water basin, in view of a possible siege. “Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Achaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.” (Isaiah 7, 3).

The pool of bethesda_orthodoxword

“And the king of Assyria sent Tartan from Lachish and Rabshakeh of Rabsaris with great hosts of army into Jerusalem and arriving, they stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool which is located near the road that goes the Launderer’s Field.” (IV Kings 18, 17).

The pool of bethesda_orthodoxword

“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the Sabbath. “ (John 5:1-9)

t goes the Launderer's Field.” (IV Kings 18, 17).

The Pool of Bethesda throughout history!

During the time of the First Temple of Jerusalem, the water tanks form Bethesda provided the necessary water for the Temple. The first fountain was built as a dent in the stone, which collected the rainwater and from this pool, the water was directed to the temple through an open channel.

In the third century BC, in the time of the Second Temple, the Bethesda fountain was rebuilt to provide more water for the needs of the temple. At this time, the site was divided into two pools and separated by a dam built from stones.

The pool of Bethesda_orthodoxword

Beginning with years 150-70 BC, the place was expanded and turned into a treatment center.

Following the excavations from 1956, the archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of some buildings considered to be the ancient treatment center.

During the Romanian occupation, the Pool of Bethesda has lost its former importance. Thus, when Herod the Great built a new system of aqueducts, the pool of Bethesda remained deserted.

Before the fifth century, the place has been used as a public bath, because the waters remained here, although very few, were renowned for their healing power.

The miracles of our Saviour took place at Bethesda, in the Roman times.  St. John the Evangelist in his Gospel reminds us that the pool of Bethesda had five porches. These porches were later (1956) uncovered by the archaeologists.

The pool of Bethesda_orthodoxword

In the year 44 BC, Herod Agrippa built near Bethesda a new wall, which stopped the water supply for the pool. Few years later, the Romans built near it a pagan temple, dedicated to the god Asclepius, a Greek hero – the god of medicine and healing, and to the Egyptian god Serappis.

In the Byzantine times, the Pool of Bethesda became a center of Christian pilgrimage. During the years 422-458, when Juvenal was elected the patriarch of Jerusalem, a great Byzantine church was erected over the pool of Bethesda. This stony structure was supported by seven arches, built over the central pier of the pool.

The pool of Bethesda_orthodoxword

This Byzantine cathedral was dedicated to Our Lady from Probatha, or of “bathing”, as it appears in the famous mosaic map dating from the sixth century, and preserved until today in the Church in Madaba. The Basilica was destroyed in 1010.

During the Crusader’ period, after conquering the Holy City in 1099, it was desired that the great basilicas may be rebuilt, but this work required great effort and expense. Thus, a humble new chapel it will be added only. This was the time when the place became a monastery.

By the year 1140, a new and magnificent basilica will be built, and was dedicated to St. Anna, the mother of the Theotokos.

The pool of Bethesda_orthodoxword

The fountain at Bethesda was excavated by archeologists in 1956.

Where does one’ weakliness begin?

In the imagination of the haughty mind!

 

 

 Thus the mind thinks that it is better not to guide itself after the commandments of God, but by its own wisdom or better said by its passions. But sin leads man right to its consequences, just as you wound draw yourself knowingly into a bar fence.

A weak mind is also revealed in those who do not wish to come to the confession and repentance of their sins; how then, can they expect healing from their illness… The doctors can help, but the mind can only be healed by God.

If man would suit his actions after the commandments of God, which are also the commandments of nature, and will not confuse evil for good, then man would prevent all nuisance and trouble, but on the contrary, he crushes his head in them and then he walks away mournfully.

My brother, let yourself be guided by the godly counsel, because a naughty mind will one day crush… and may not be anyone to help tie it.

 

 

(Father Arsenie Boca, Living Words)

 

Slander and gossip reveal man the condition of his heart

 Defamation and dishonor are directed towards us like a test to the heart to uncover what’s hidden within – whether gentleness or anger – because a man when insulted reveals his inner self.

 If meekness rests in your soul, you’ll easily endure the slander, but if your heart is filled with wrath, enmity and desire for revenge will awaken  within you like a fire, or you will answer to defamation by another defamation. Thus, slander and gossip can teach man to know his heart and to correct its condition.

 Christ, the Son of God, the only one without sin, endured all defamation to show us the way to follow Him. It was in this way, that all the saints and apostles followed and in it you’ll find the support for your patience.

(St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, On the Passions)

Please also see:

In Consolation of a Certain Brother 
Made the Victim of Slander

http://gnisios.narod.ru/tzslander.html

The prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me (us) ” is worth a hundred drachmas, one Elder used to say but “Glory to God for everything” is worth a thousand.

 One father once said that “sorrows and pains cleanse and polish a man’ soul; there is nothing greater than these, even the prayer of Jesus”.

 Elder Tikhon used to tell us that the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us” is worth a hundred drachmas, while “Glory to God” is worth a thousand (drachmas).

 By this he meant that praising God is more valuable than anything, because many times people say the Jesus Prayer when they’re in need of something, but when someone (been) in distress glorifies God, he is a great ascetic.

(Archimandrite Ioannikios, in the Athonite Paterikon)

Everything is acquired through prayer, the Elder used to say. You’re now approaching the first step, yet you haven’t claimed it but just getting close. You have to pass through the door and by no effort of our own one can enter but only through the mercy of God. Therefore we must first ask: “The door of compassion open to me oh Lord, thy unworthy servant!”

 When you are sad or grieve cry out, “Lord, spare me, save me, and have mercy on Thy servant!” At any time and whatever you may do, whether sitting, walking or working, say wholeheartedly “Lord, have mercy!”

 When you’re in great pain and feel that cannot endure, run to the Lord, His Holy Mother, St. Nicholas and your patron saint, and the pain will ease.

 In various misfortunes the Elder counseled us on praying: “Lord, I believe that I endure whatever I deserved to receive. But you oh Lord in Thy great mercy, forgive me and have compassion on me” – and repeat these words until you feel peace in your soul.

The Elder wound say, ‘There are people, who never cry out to God, they do not pray. But when melancholy enters their soul, the mind is filled with grief and the heart with anguish.  In this dire condition, man feels that no one can listen or help him, or can understand his pain’.

Then man turns to God and cry out sobbingly: “Lord, have mercy on me,” and the Lord hears him, but at first man feels this grace scarcely, then more intensely until he gets relief.

(Elder/ Staret Nektarios of Optina)

– Some had great love for God and quickly ascended the heights, as it was with the martyrs. Others climb more slowly in zigzag, having a weak will. Some others are even weaker, but have hope. Those who obey, the (physically) ill… will receive the same crown.

– The goal is the same for all: the ecstasy of divine love; but some climb faster, others more slowly.

– Sometimes man can do everything easy, other times he is bored, lazy, weaken, sad, or cold at heart. But do not get discouraged for there are many twists and zigzags.

– Strive to return to prayer, for only though prayer we are led towards the right path.

– Prayer brings to the soul the True Love. Prayer is the mother of all virtues. Through prayer, our cross seems easy to bear.

– Only through prayer, man can win the divine love and the love of his neighbor; and through love our path is light.

– Only through holy prayer, one can claim the (spiritual) heights. By prayer we come to the love the Apostle Paul spoke of: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” or “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”.

– Tribulations work out patience.

– The work of the mind and pure prayer require patience for they are not easy to achieve. So do not get discouraged when you pray, but strive as the Canaanite woman who asked until she received (“O woman, great is your faith”). Let us also follow the example of the widow that insisted much before the unjust judge and because of this, he granted her request. How much more our Lord will hear His righteous who day and night cry out to Him in prayer?

– In any stage you may be do not get discouraged, pray even if you feel compulsion and the Lord will visit you with His mercy: “Let it be to you according to your faith”.

– God is calling us to be steadfast in prayer.

– The enemy will run like a wild ass from the man who has tasted the sweetness of prayer.

(Elder Cleopas of Romania). 

The other disciples had already seen the prints of nails in Jesus’ side. Thus, they had no need to say the words of Thomas; but even seeing this, they still couldn’t reach a firm belief in the Resurrection.

The title “Lord” often articulated in the New Testament, and then in the first Christian centuries, refers particularly to Christ. It means the Supreme Lord, the attribute of the One Unique God. Seeing Him truly risen, Thomas recognizes Him as the One True God; One Who rules over all creation and is not overtaken by anything. He is the One God, the Master of all and therefore God of all, Who can not be conquered by death.

By crying, “My Lord and my God,” Thomas also expresses an emotional relationship of human love: “You are my Lord!” Thus, Thomas finds the ultimate foundation of his existence.

In general, man is seeking for the absolute, for a foundation that does not depend of mortal things. We’re not solely satisfied by a relationship with things that cannot grant us eternal life, cannot give us the infinite. There must be Someone Who can give sense to the human person and the things in the world we depend on, and in Whom everything finds meaning.

In Christ we were showed this very foundation and the intangible was made accessible to us. By saying “My Lord and my God,” Thomas declares that he has found the Absolute, that ultimate foundation for his life. Through His Resurrection, Christ had shown us that He can give life even to the weak flesh, and through His precious body, God is united with all men. He united our mortal body with the eternal.

(Father Dumitru Stăniloae, Commentary to St. Cyril of Alexandria’ homily on the Gospel of John)

You could offer good counsel to others only after you grew in its fulfillment so the measure of your perfection (which you were raised to, by practicing what was commanded to you) may radiate forth to others.

If you instruct others on what you were thought too early, you’d lunge its importance, as it might not be proper for their current state, then you’ll risk not to be understood by others.

You’ll be able to enlighten others with your word, when you grew in its fulfillment; this will transcend from the measure of your perfection after you had been practicing what it was commanded to you. But only after they too were raised at the measure to accomplish that teaching.

Thus Christ could preach powerful words, but forbade others to further teach before they could live the word. 

 

(Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, Commentary at St. Varsanufius and St. John’ spiritual letters; Philocalia)

Biblical Palestine is not only a land of Christian pilgrimages but also of great religious processions. The processions are mainly related to our Savior’s life on earth and to the great feasts of the church throughout the year.

The Orthodox processions are more numerous, rooted in the Gospel and the Holy Tradition. In this sense, they are not simple rituals or religious demonstrations but an important part of the intimate life of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land.

The road to Calvary – Via Dolorosa or Via Cruxes – constantly reminds man of the measure of God’s love for him. This love is seen, more than ever, on Great (Passion) Friday, when many faithful walk the narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem in the footsteps of our Savior.

Via Dolorosa – follows the crowded streets of Jerusalem, from the Monastery “Ecce Homo”, ending at the Holy Sepulcher or the Church of the Resurrection. According to the Christian tradition, this is the path that Jesus followed from the Roman courtroom proceedings to His crucifixion and His burial.

Via Dolorosa remains in the memory of thousands of faithful pilgrims of the holy places over the two millennia of Christianity. Its tradition is rooted deep in history. Once the Christian Emperor Constantine the Great (mid-fourth century) provided Christianity freedom of worship, nothing could stop the love and desire of Christians to walk in the footsteps of the God-Man, Jesus Christ – who gave His life for the world.

In the Byzantine times, the pilgrims followed almost an identical way, but without making the 14 stops that have remained in the Church tradition. Over the centuries, the way from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has changed several times (with small differences).

By the early eighth century, the road to Calvary trajectory was changed: From the Garden of Gethsemane, the pilgrims were headed to Mount Zion, surrounding the Temple Mount, then to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

For most of the pilgrims the exact path that Christ followed is of little importance, given the inner meaning that this is the place where the salvation of human race began, despite the crowds and the shops all around it seeking to distract the pilgrims.

 The first procession starts on Palm Sunday morning around 08.00 from Bethany to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Orthodox clergy from many countries, and thousands of pilgrims caring palms in their hands, are walking about 6 km from the village of Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus) to the holy city of Jerusalem.  The procession is lead by a bishop riding on an ass, just as Jesus did on His glorious entry into Jerusalem.

The convoy of the faithful enters Jerusalem through the gate called St. Stephen’s gate of traditionally the sheep gate, following the way of the cross to Golgotha, and stops in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then the Divine Liturgy is officiated in the Great Church of the Resurrection.

 The second procession takes place in the evening of Holy Thursday. The procession begins at Praetorium, where our Saviour was judged and sentenced to death by Pilate. Over the cave where our Saviour was chained and stoned a small Orthodox Chapel was built. The Cave and the Chapel are called “Praetorium.” It is the place where on Thursday afternoon, thousands of pilgrims, many priests and bishops gathered to start the services for our Lord’ Holy Passion. The first five Gospels are read here.

Starting with the sixth Gospel, the convoy of clergy and pilgrims, with lighted candles in their hands, proceed to Calvary.  On the way, the priests make 14 stops, according to the tradition. At each stop, the bishop clothed in black, reads the rest of the Gospels. The last two Gospels are read before Calvary and in front of the Holy Sepulcher, where the procession ends.

Further, other clergy led by a metropolitan, begin the service of the 12 Gospels Matins in the Church of the Resurrection, near Holy Sepulcher. Thus the Holy Passion service is repeated once again in the church ending after midnight.

 The third procession takes place in Jerusalem, on Great and Holy Friday. On Friday morning the crowd of pilgrims lead by about 12 bishops and clergy gathered at the Church of the Praetorium, for the liturgy of the “Royal Hours.”

After this service ends, the people, the priests and the bishops start to walk in great procession from the Praetorium to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Many bishops clothed in (dark) robes of mourning lead the procession, as they carry a large wooden cross, which retains some of the original wood from the Holy Cross of our Lord, while the other clerics hold the Holy Gospel, icons and censers.

The faithful hold lit candles in their hands. The procession stops in many places where, according to the tradition, our Lord fell under the heaviness of the cross. People kneel and the bishops read the Holy Passion Gospels. After the procession enters the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the cross is placed over the rock of Golgotha, the place where our Lord was crucified. Here the Gospels of our Lord’s crucifixion are read.

Part of the clergy stand guarding the Holy Cross, until all the people have venerate it. The procession of our Savior’s crucifixion ends with a moving sermon, delivered by a metropolitan. It’s a service of great spiritual challenge, bringing tears to many eyes, a taste of the great and saving passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The 14 stops of Via Dolorosa

The Garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord has spent Holy Thursday or His last night in freedom is covered by eight olive trees, almost forgotten by time, as a witness to the blood shed by Christ in prayer. The Church of Agony or the Church of All Nations, where our Savior is depicted torn by pain, was erected over the Garden of Gethsemane. From this place one can see St. Stephen’s Gate or the Lions Gate, through which Christ entered Jerusalem, in His way to Golgotha.

Ghetsimani

Via Dolorosa – starts at the ruins of the ancient Roman fortress Antonia, at the Gate of Archdeacon Stefan located in the Muslim Quarter and continues for about one kilometer to Calvary or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the road that Jesus Christ walked caring the heavy cross on His back to open our way to salvation.

Following the tradition of the Church in Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa is divided into 14 stops, each marking a special event. The first 9 stops occur at different points of the city, while the last five stops take place inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All 14 stops are marked by a sign with inscriptions written in English, Hebrew and Arabic,

1. The judgment place of Pontius Pilate where Christ was judged and sentenced to death

Over the ruins of ancient city Antonia, where Christ was scourged, a church was erected called “The Flogging Chapel.” In this place once named Gavatta – “paved with stones”, Pilate used to hear and judge the matters of the people of Israel. This place was situated at a distance of approximately 300 meters west of the Lions Gate.

The place retains a number of original stones of the courtroom or Lithostratos. The “squares and triangles” engraved on he floor were made by the Roman soldiers. It reminds us how the Roman soldiers cast lots for Christ’s clothes.

2. The Praetorium – placing the heavy cross on our Lord shoulders, Who start His way to Calvary

In the Praetorium, the Jews condemned the Son of God to death crying out “Crucify him, Crucify him.” Within walking distance of this place there is a Catholic Church called “Ecce Homo!” – “Behold the Man”, which brings to mind the words by which Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd. Over the cave where our Lord was thrown with His feet and hands chained, a small Orthodox Chapel was built.

From the Praetorium, Via Dolorosa continues trough the Valley of Tyropeon crossing the ancient city of Jerusalem. The arch called “Ecce Homo”, reminds us how our Saviour was crowned with thorns and pushed to the Cross. The Arch is the remaining of a gate built by Emperor Hadrian, its current name being given in the sixteenth century.

3. The first fall of Christ under the heavy cross.

The third stop is at the crossing streets emerging from the Lions and the Damascus Gates. The tradition records that in this place Christ fell under the heaviness of the wooden cross for the first time. The polish chapel raised in this place marks this painful moment. From here, walking towards the left on Damascus Street, one can get to the middle of Holy City, where Christ met His Mother.

4. The meeting of Christ with His grieving Mother.

The Christian tradition says that the Virgin Mary – theTheotokos met her Son, bowed under Cross. In this holy place a small Armenian chapel was built. The mosaic depicting this scene is the work of polish artist Zieliensky.

The church raised here still preserves the original mosaic floor dating from the fifth century.

5. Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross of our Lord

The fifth station, the place where Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Christ in caring His cross, is marked by a Franciscan chapel. Then the road to Calvary curbs to the right, reminding us how Veronica’s veil become of the first iconographic depiction of our Savior.

6. The meeting of our Lord with Veronica – wiping His face with her veil.

From the Franciscan chapel one can walk down the narrow street, paved with large stones that seem forgotten by time, to arrive at the Church of St. Veronica. This church retains many of the original features of an ancient church – the Monastery of St. Cosmos. Restored by Barluzzi, in 1953, the church preserves a series of arcs from the church built by the Crusaders. A crypt under the church is dedicated to the holy image of Christ.

The face printed on Veronica’ veil is considered to be the first icon of Christ, not made with hands, but by the love of a virgin.

Veronica’s name is thought to come from the Latin words “vera + icon”, which means “true icon”. From this church, the road continues on though the bazaar, where the seventh, eighth and ninth stops are marked.

7. The second fall of our Savior under the cross.

The seventh stop is the place where our Lord falls for the second time, weakened by the heaviness of the cross. The Franciscan chapel raised here reminds us how Christ suffered as a man even for those who did not understand His infinite love for humanity. In the ancient times, the city of Jerusalem ended here.

 

8. The Lord greets the women wailing for Him

At the eighth stop of Golgotha, Christ comforted His Mother, the myrrh-bearing women and all faithful women weeping for him. The place is marked by the Church of St. Charalambos barring an inscription on outside walls in Greek, NIKA.

Strengthening the women, Christ tells them not to weep for him but for themselves and their children, meaning for the sins of the world: “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children. “A Latin cross, inscribed in the wall of the Greek monastery remind us of this moment.

9. The third fall of our Saviour

Within the walking distance from the eighth stop, the ninth stop reminds us of the third falling of Christ under the weight of the Cross. In the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church, it is said that the three falls of Jesus represent the three days He spent in the tomb.

The following stops are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, from its courtyard to the tomb.

 

10. Golgotha – the place where our Lord is stripped of his garments

Reaching Calvary, located in the ancient times outside the city but today in the heart of Jerusalem, the heart of the pilgrim is overtaken by profound feelings. The huge white tile rock where the cross of Christ was placed so He may be crucified on it is now found in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Here Jesus was stripped of his clothes and nailed to the Cross.

Many tears are shed approaching the door that hides behind it the holiest place on Earth. It’s the place where salvation began, the place where death was defeated, where love conquered all.

11.  The nailing of our Saviour to the Cross

Stepping into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, everything is touching, the stones wiped by the tears and prayers of many faithful; the mosaics of rare beauty, the candles with scarce light. The Stone of the Anointing lays just in front of us, but the pilgrim will go first to the upper room to worship at the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross in the presence of His mother.  A huge mosaic depicting this painful scene of the Love crucified.

12. The Crucifixion -His death on the Cross

Near the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, it’s the Stone of Mountain Calvary, where the cross was placed, and Christ lifted up in the view of all. A Greek Orthodox altar was built above the rock of Calvary or Golgotha. Every pilgrim can reach and touch by hand the place where the cross was erected.

 

13. Our Lord Descent from the Cross – the Stone of Anointing

After Christ death, and after crushing the legs and the two thieves, the three bodies were taken down from the cross. Christ’s body was placed on a stone to be anointed and covered in a shroud, according to Jewish custom, before being placed in the tomb. The rectangular stone of the Anointing, washed by countless tears and prayers, is always fragrant and covered in myrrh; the many lamps that hang over this stone are a symbol of watchfulness, that we may remember to always keep the lamp of our hearts on, awaiting the Bridegroom.

14. Christ burial and Resurrection

After worshiping the Stone of Anointing, the pilgrim walks to the Holy Sepulcher – where a small chapel was raised over the place where our Savior’s body was laid. This is the holiest place of Christianity, sheltering both the Tomb and the miracle of the Resurrection. The Holy Sepulcher is divided into two rooms: the first – the chamber of the angel that proclaimed to the mirth barring women the Resurrection of Christ and, the second room that carried once the life-giving body of Christ.

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