Some 3,000 local Armenians, pilgrims, representatives of various Christian denominations, tourists and police packed St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City here today for the Maundy Thursday ritual of the washing of the feet rite in advance of Eastern Orthodox Easter. The ceremony, based on John 13:1-17, recalls Jesus washing the feet of His 12 Apostles just before they ate the Last Supper. The New Testament passage in turn echoes Hebrew Bible passages of foot washing such as Genesis 18:4.
“I’m honored to be here today. This is beyond history. I’ve never had the experience of awe like this. I cannot compare it with anywhere in Europe or America or the Middle East,” Salpi Garavaryan, 43, told Travelujah. Born in Beirut, Garavaryan fled Lebanon’s Civil War in 1989 and settled in the United States.
“When I go back to Los Angeles, I’ll tell all my Christian friends to come to the Holy Land.”
The 50-minute sublime and solemn service began with a baritone male choir chanting that for this reporter at times resembled Ashkenazi cantorial music, Gregorian chants and the muezzin’s call to prayer. With a chorus of hallelujahs, Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian washed the feet 12 bishops and priests, some of whom had come on pilgrimage from Armenia, Canada and the United States.
Maundy Thursday – Washing of the Feet Ceremony, photo courtesy Gil Zohar for Travelujah
This January Manoogian was elected the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem after a two-day conclave. He replaced Archbishop Torkom Manoogian (no relation) who passed away in October.
St. James, also known in French as St. Jacques and as Saint Jacob Armenian Cathedral, is the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The landmark incorporates the traditional site of the tombs of Jesus’ brother James, known as St. James the Minor, who was the first bishop of Jerusalem. According to Catholic tradition, St. James the Greater (one of Jesus’ 12 Apostles) – who was executed in the first century by King Herod Agrippa I – is buried at the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Armenians however believe the Apostle’s head is entombed at the Jerusalem cathedral that bears his name.
Built on the remains of a 5th-century Georgian church, St. James’ present structure is one of the few remaining Crusader cathedrals to have survived almost intact.
Armenians celebrate the traditional wishing of the feet ceremony (photo: Gil Zohar, courtesy Travelujah)
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Gil Zohar is a licensed tour guide and a regular contributor to Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah. Gil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.