Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
Friday’s journey included a political reminder earlier in the day and ended with a powerful spiritual confirmation later.
We left the guest house in Nazareth at 7:30 a.m. and headed as far north as the Israeli border permitted. It took us to the borders of Lebanon and Syria, two countries without diplomatic relations with Israel. Our path would include the Golan Heights, which was Syrian property until taken over by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. It remains Israel-occupied land.
Our first stop was at Caesarea Philippi at the base of Mt. Hermon and the site of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River. As a result, the area is more fertile than most of the Israel we had seen so far.
Driving from there through the Golan Heights, we were told that minefields that had been placed during the 1967 war had to be cleared by using cows. We stopped to look into Syria from a distance, always under the watchful eye of Israeli security. Bishara, our guide, said anyone with an Israel stamp on his passport would not be allowed to enter either Lebanon or Syria. We weren’t thinking of going there anyway. We were instructed to never take pictures of any Israeli security facilities. We also stopped at a wonderful fruit and vegetable market inhabited by the beautiful Druze people.
This is where Jesus brought disciples Peter, James and John to be witnesses to his Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-13). We were gifted with a beautiful meditation by Fr. Kamal, who first explained why the transfiguration was necessary – certainly leaving no doubt among the disciples that he was the Son of God – then said that the encounter of the human with the divine is our transfiguration. His example was Eucharist where he said we become what we receive, the body and blood of Christ. Fr. Kamal’s paraphrase of Luke 9:28-35: “This is my son. Listen to Him.”
The Church of the Transfiguration is the centerpiece of the site, located 500 meters above the valley. To get there, we parked our bus at the foot of the hill, and were driven – rapidly – up the twisting road that included a series of hairpin curves – in smaller vans. We then drove back for our final night in Nazareth.
Saturday will take us to Jericho, the Judean wilderness, the Mount of Temptation, and Bethany before return to Jerusalem, which will be our headquarters for the final week of our pilgrimage. As we return there, we continue to ask everyone to
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6