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April 19, 2009April 19, 2009  0 comments  Jesus


Saturday Night - April 18th.

The crowds swelled and pilgrims came from all over the world to join in the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire Ceremony. The festivities occurred at the sacred Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the believed site of Jesus's crucifixion, buriel and resurrection by many - located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Church was built on the orders of Emperor Constantine in 325, and has attracted a steady stream of pilgrims since its construction with the exception of a few periods in history. Control of the grounds and interior is sharply divided between Catholics and various Orthodox denominations, in a tenuous status quo that often degenerates into physical violence between monks, and has prevented much-needed structural repairs.

Considered a miracle that occurs annually on Holy Saturday - the day after Orthodox Easter Sunday when at precisely 2 pm local time, a sun beam believed to shine through the windown in the ceiling of the Church lights a lamp placed inside the tomb of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theofilos III entered the tomb structure of Jesus at the Church and after the lighting of the lamp, he lights a few candles with the holy fire and passes them to worshippers in the Church. The fire then spreads rapidly amongst the church-goers. An olive lamp is expected to bring the flame to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where street celebrations are also held.

Traditionally, the pilgrims were expected to bring back the fire to their own communities in Eastern Europe and Russia.


January 24, 2010January 24, 2010  0 comments  Events

There is a chill in the air as a winter rain sets in over the Jordan Valley. However, for Suheila, a 40 year old Christian from Tel Aviv/Jaffa and her four year old daughter Naala, it's well worth it for a chance at attending a joyous and spiritually uplifting ceremony. Suheila and Naala were two of the estimated 10,000 faithful who turned out for the Feast of Epiphany celebrations on January 18 this year along the banks of the River Jordan.


"It makes us feel holier and closer to Jesus," Suheila explains as Naala shyly turns away, wondering what all the fuss is about. "We used to go into the water to be baptized," she told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.. However, given the crowds that came for the festival, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, citing safety concerns had instead set up vats of water from the river where people could bathe themselves or simply wash their hands and feet.


"Pilgrims visiting on other days are allowed into the water," Lydia Weitzman, the Foreign Press Adviser for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism assured us. "The Ministry has invested millions of shekels to build a deck and to make the water safe for baptism," she continued.


On the Jordanian side of the river, a smaller area has been erected and some of the faithful there, dressed in white did brave the frigid waters for a chance to be baptized in the same river where Jesus was baptized 2,000 years ago. For the believer and Christian pilgrim to the Holy Land, there is no place which has more spiritual resonance for a baptism.


The site is known in Arabic as Qasr El Yahud. Recognized as a holy place since the fourth century A.D, this is the site, according The New Testament where Jesus was baptized for the first time by John the Baptist, thereby allowing him to have Revelation. It is considered to be the third holiest site in Israel for Christians and is rapidly becoming a regular stop for Christian pilgrims all year round.


Most Christian pilgrims have never heard of Qasr El Yahud. Rather, they tend to visit the more famous Yardenit, the more commonly used location for baptism in the Holy Land, south of Tiberias. However, most biblical scholars believe that Qasr El Yahud is the true baptismal site and the place where it is most holy to receive a baptism. The fact that it is so much closer to Jerusalem (around a forty minute ride) and the holy sites there only makes it all the more tempting for pilgrims to visit.


The area had lain in ruins for years, being visited by only a handful of pilgrims who knew of its significance, before the Israeli Ministry of Tourism decided to make a capital investment, pouring some eight million shekels (about $2.15 million) into the site with an additional two million shekels allocated for adding the finishing touches to area.


Qasr El Yahud

The site is expected to open with regular visiting hours once renovations are complete, perhaps as early as April, 2010 according to Yael Zilberstein, a representative of the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration. In the interim, tour groups can arrange for visits by calling the Israel Nature and Parks Authority at 02-654-1255. Once it is open regularly of course, the site is expected to be visited by significantly more pilgrims as opposed to only special occasions, such as the Feast of Epiphany celebrations.


On the day of the Feast of the Epiphany, three groups of churches, the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian churches each gathered in their respective chapels to celebrate the event. The largest and most recognized event is that of the Greek Orthodox Church. The day began inside the chapel, where the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III offered his blessings to each of the priests in his order who sang prayers in Latin. The final benediction was offered by the Patriarch himself and after that, the faithful gathered in a long procession down a windy road heading toward the ultimate destination, the River Jordan.

Saadidan, a lay leader of the local Orthodox Church in Jericho led the joyous parade, twirling his baton with a group of drummers and singers behind him. Asked about his feelings on the occasion, he was out of breath and smiled, saying only that he was "very happy" to be there.


Saaladan, lay leader from Jericho

Adrian, a Romanian priest who had come from Bucharest for the celebrations had a similar reaction, simply smiling and pointing to the sky, as if to say, "this is the place where God came to earth." He explained that he'd come every year for the event and that being here, at the edge of the Jordan River reminded him of what it means to be a Christian.

Of course, the festivities are not without some controversy. The area of Qasr El Yahud is situated within the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, just a few kilometers away from Jericho. When asked about coordination with the Palestinian Authority, Ms. Weitzman expressed her hope that the newly renovated site would offer a "bridge for peace," allowing people of "all faiths to come together."


Doves being released by Greek Patriarch

Watching the doves of peace released by Theophilos III at the conclusion of the ceremony and seeing the smile on young Naala's face as they flutter in the breeze, we can only pray that Ms. Weitzman's words will indeed prove prophetic.




August 16, 2011August 16, 2011  0 comments  Events

On August 18 and 19 the Greek Orthodox Church will celebrate the annual Feast of the Transfiguration, which celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus that is traditionally thought to have occurred at Mount Tabor in the Galilee. The Catholic Church celebrated the holiday earlier this month on August 6 with a festive mass at the Church of the Transfiguration at Mt. Tabor.


After revealing to his disciples that he would be condemned to death in Jerusalem, Jesus climbed up Mount Tabor in the Galilee along with Peter, James and John and there he was transfigured.


"And his face did shine as the sun; and his garments became white as snow". Matthew 16:21


The transfiguration is one of the most significant events in Christian thought. There Jesus was seen with a radiancy and he spoke with Moses and Elijah, both of whom appeared at his side, and he was proclaimed God's son.


"This is my beloved son - hear him". (Matthew 17:5). (These same words were proclaimed at his baptism in the Jordan. (Matthew 3:17))


During this feast a night vigil occurs in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the most unique experience associated with the holiday. Arab Christians camp in the woods surrounding the church and spend the night there, during which time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated outside the church. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated inside the Church  on the 19th.


To commemorate Jesus's climb up the mountain, some pilgrims will ascend Mount Tabor by foot.


"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain . . and he was transfiured before them...(Mark 9:2)


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April 12, 2011April 12, 2011  0 comments  Museum

A little known, off the beaten path, museum focusing on the historic Christian  presence in the Holy Land brings a new dimension and rich diversity to the Jerusalem cultural scene.  The Wujoud museum, situated within the walls of the Old City, in the Christian Quarter has slowly been making its presence known in this multi-cultural city and cradle of faith.  With so many cultural offerings in Jerusalem, there has yet to be a place specifically focused on the Christian presence in the Old City, which is what the new Wujoud museum offers. 


Wujoud, which means existence, is set within a 650 year old building owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, situated in the heart of the Christian Quarter. Built during the Marmeluke period, the building was recently renovated and includes lovely verandas and view points, including a setting overlooking one of the Old City's ancient dry pools, Hezekiah's pool.  After two years of rehabilitation the center opened in May 2010 and has welcomed groups from all denominations. 


Wujoud Founder Nora Kort

Wujoud Founder Nora Kort with a personalized bread stamp


Founder Nora Kort, who started the organization over 20 years ago, explained to Travelujah that the mission of the museum is to showcase the Christian communities presence  in the Holy Land and how it has remained a part and parcel of the fabric of the city.  


"The fact that Christians have been here since ancient times is often overlooked", explained museum founder Nora Kort, herself a member of the Greek Orthodox  community.


Nora personally meets groups at the museum and speaks about the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The center offers light breakfasts and lunches that are prepared by local Christian womens groups.


"We are working to bring beauty and life into the Old City.  The 'living stones' are more important than the 'dead' stones.", she said referring to Christians who lived here long ago. 


"People can come here to meet people and listen to shared stories." 


The mission of the center is to be a cultural meeting point in the Old City, not just for Christians but for all denominations.


"Culture brings peace and reconciliation amongst people", Nora says, " Humanity transends all borders."


The Wujoud Cultural Center and museum can be visited by appointment. The facility can fit 120 people and the cultural center can seat up to 70 people. Meals can be prearranged. 


Wujoud Cultural Center


For further information contact nkort1@bezeqint.net




Side Bar 


On April 26 at 7 pm, Travelujah is offering a special night tour of the ancient streets of the Christian Quarter including a night visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Jewish Quarter and more. Participants will get an inside look at the Christian community of the Old City including,  get a ‘behind the scenes' look at the new Wujoud Cultural Center and Museum situated in the Christian Quarter. The focus of the museum, which is the only one of its kind within the walls of the Old City, is to tell the story of Christians in the Holy Land. The museum is set within a historic 650 year old building owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and overlooks one of the Old City's dry pools, Hezekiahs pool.  Wujoud organization founder, Nora Kort, a member of the local Greek Orthodox community, will provide a tour of the museum as well as a lecture on the Christian community of the Holy Land.

Register in advance at info@travelujah.com Cost 100 shekel.

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Elisa Moed is the CEO of Travelujah.

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