Mt. Olives & Bethlehem

Holy Land Journal: Mount of Olives & Bethlehem

Zack Shavin takes us to the Mount of Olives: Pater Noster where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, Palm Sunday Road, Ascension chapel, then Bethlehem Nativity Manger, and Ein Karem Visitation church & birthplace of John the Baptist, and Wailing Wall


Mount of Olives from the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem

Mount of Olives from the Kidron valley

After a great night’s sleep in our Jerusalem hotel and great breakfast buffet we were off bright and early to the Mount of Olives where where Jesus entered Jerusalem along the Palm Sunday Road and where he spent a lot time. Here Jesus taught his disciples how to pray the Our Father- the Lord’s Prayer, wept over the future destruction of Jerusalem, was arrested at Gethsemane after the Last Supper, and the place of his Ascension.

Pater Noster: Jesus  teaches  Lord’s Prayer

Pater Noster church on Mount of Olives where Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer

Pater Noster: Jesus teaches Our Father

From our hotel we drove along the Mount of Olives ridge, stopping first at the Carmelite church of Pater Noster – into an underground cave, we remembered Jesus’ teaching the Lord’s Prayer- Our Father – in this intimate place and read the Scriptures and viewed the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew and Aramaic and the other languages of the world. Zack Shavin, our guide, explained that the Hebrew for prayer comes from a root meaning essence or essential. In praying we ask God to reveal to us our real purpose in this life – what gift has been given us to serve a greater purpose. Prayer is not so much a list of requests from God, but rather a sincere desire to know what God wants from us. But we need to be listening!

Mount of Olives: Ascension of Jesus

Crusader Chapel of the Ascension of Jesus on Mount of Olives

Ascension chapel on the Mount of Olives

We then gathered outside the grotto and remembered the Ascension of Jesus and read the story from Acts. We remembered the painful confusion of that experience – and yet the great act of trust Jesus has in us – “look not heavenward” — get on with it! Jesus had given us the keys to God’s reign, he had announced and embraced the Reign of God. It was after the Ascension that the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost.

Palm Sunday Road: Jesus enters Jerusalem

Palm Sunday Road on Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Palm Sunday Road

Zack led us down the Mount of Olives following the Palm Sunday Road in the footsteps of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the Holy City. There was a great view from the overlook and a short way down to the tear-drop church of Dominus Flevit, where we remembered the story of Jesus weeping over this city – Betty proclaimed the story – inside the altar had Jesus as a Mother Hen. From the overlook we could see the Temple Mount and the city walls – this messianic city and mountain of the end of days! Fr. Bob challenged us to look at the walls of our hearts Jesus might be weeping over as we enter this phase of our pilgrimage. There was a powerful feeling of being on the holy mountain where Jesus spent many nights camping.

Zack oriented us to the different areas of the Holy City – then continued our Palm Sunday Road walk down the Mount of Olives passing Gethsemane where Jesus prayed alone and was arrested by the Roman soldiers after the Last Supper.

Wailing (Western) Wall remnant  of Temple

Western Wall remnant of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem

Western Wall

We drove around the old walled city, looking back at the messianic Mount of Olives. We stopped at the Dung Gate and then went to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall to pray – a 2000 year old remnant from the Temple!  Zack Shavin explained that the name Western Wall if because it is part of the western retainer wall around Mount Moriah that helped support the massive 1500′ X 900′ Temple Mount platform that King Herod built over Mount Moriah. There is also a southern, northern, and eastern retainer wall. The name Wailing Wall is from the Jewish tradition to come to the Wall to lament the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by Titus the Roman in the year 70 A.C. Jewish people traditionally come to this spot because it is closest to where the Holy of Holies was. Today the golden dome Mosque of Omar or Dome of the Rock stands over the spot where the Temple stood and only Moslems are allowed to pray there.

Ein Karem: John the Baptist village

Ein Karem birthplace of John the Baptist in the Judean Hills

Ein Karem: John the Baptist birthplace

On to Ein Karem- hometown of John the Baptist – a suburb of Jerusalem today. We entered the village – the skies were sunny – and walked to the Church of John the Baptist commemorating the birth place of John the Baptist. Zack explained about Zachariah and his job as a priest in the Temple; about the route Zachariah would walk through the Judean hills to his Temple duties in Jerusalem. It would take about 1.5 hours to cover the distance.

Zachariah the priest

Birth grotto of John the Baptist in Ein Karem

Birth spot of John

Zack also explained that all of the Jewish priests are direct descendants from Aaron, brother of Moses. Anyone can study to be a rabbi but a Jew can only be born a priest. In Hebrew the word for priest is Cohen or Kohen and anyone carrying that family name today is from the priestly line. Today, the role of the Jewish priesthood is to bless the congregation with the biblical Priestly Benediction during prayer services.

Incense Offering & naming of John
The Bible says that Zachariah was offering in the Temple when John the Baptist was born. Zack explained that it was considered to be the preferred offering in the Temple and that a priest could only have the privilege of making the offering once in a lifetime. It was therefore a sign to Zachariah that he was going to father a very special child- just as John the Baptist turned out to be. He accordingly named him John because God had put it in his heart that John’s life was to be dedicated to teaching and bringing the message of God’s grace to his people. Zack added that Hebrew names have special meanings and reflect the special nature of the newborn child. Parents often wait for a sign from heaven – like Zachariah did – before giving the name.

Visitation: Elizabeth & Canticle of Mary

Ein Karem: Church of the Visitation of Mary to Elisabeth

Ein Karem Visitation church

We then climbed the western hill in Ein Karem to the Church of Visitation passing the Spring of Mary.  Zack explained that Ein Karem means “spring of the vineyard” -sign of God’s blessing.  At the top of the hill is the Church of the Visitation built over the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and where Mary came to visit her cousin. We proclaimed the readings of Hannah & Samuel and the Luke story of the Visitation. We were near the Tomb of Samuel and listened to Hannah’s (another old, sterile woman) prayer which is reflected in the Magnificat, Mary’s Song or Canticle, echoing Isaiah’s messianic call. Zack explained that Zechariah means “God remembering”; Elizabeth is “fullness” echoing the covenant oath, and John means “God showing favor – grace”. We reflected on the story – Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, proclaiming a new presence of God to sterile Israel (Elizabeth), whose very womb leapt with the mercy and compassion of God – a new exodus, creating a new people with a new covenant. When have our hearts leapt for the presence of God in each other?

Shepherd’s Field & Rachel’s Tomb

Bethlehem: Shepherd's Field

Bethlehem: Shepherd’s Field

We continued towards Bethlehem, Zack Shavin explained the ancient Patriarch’s Road across the top of the mountains.  Zack talked about Rachel’s Tomb and then pointed out Herod’s Tomb. Efram our Christian host, escorted us and prayed the Our Father in the original Aramaic. We first went to Shepherds Field- the story of Ruth and Boaz – faithfulness, gleaning the fields – great grand-mother of King David. We did some shopping – mainly for olive wood while Zack arranged a traditional Passover Seder meal  – both Zach and Fr. Bob explained different elements and symbols of this meal of freedom. We ate lamb and chicken – reflecting on Passover and Eucharist – Jesus’ Last Supper.

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem: Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem: Nativity church

We then drove to Bethlehem’s Manager Square and the Nativity church – it was basically empty! Our guide explained the ancient Church – the site was saved in 135 AD by Hadrian even as he tried to eradicate it – why it was saved from Moslem destruction because of the Magi icon outside (they thought they were like them) – we went down to the cave of St. Jerome, near the birth site – we celebrated the birth of Jesus with Word & Eucharist

Bernice proclaimed the Word of God – we reflected on the Lukan story of Jesus’ birth – the great symbolism of this House of Bread – Christmas carols – “O Come let us adore him!” The sword of cynicism can kill the innocence in us – the awesome mystery of a God Who gives Himself to us and becomes one of us – powerful and difficult to explain. Leaving we discussed how this is where Jerome translated the Greek Septuagint into the Vulgate, Latin, the common language of people.

Birthspot & Manger of Jesus

Bethlehem: Grotto of the Nativity where Jesus was born

Bethlehem: Nativity Grotto

Zack explained more about the history of this church and place – we had no wait to go downstairs into the Grotto of the Nativity to reverence the traditional silver star marking where Jesus was born – there was no one else there – wow! The chapel of the Manger nearby – time for reflection on the mystery of God’s love – then upstairs in the 6th century Byzantine Church, the oldest in the Holy Land – we saw the ancient mosaics – it was peaceful and prayerful in Bethlehem. We returned to our hotel for dinner- some went over to downtown Jerusalem – Ben Yehuda street at night – we had celebrated Christmas – the self-giving of our God in Jesus, as he became one of us!

Contact Zack Shavin
Have you enjoyed reading this Holy Land Pilgrimage Journal Day 7 about the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ein Karem? Would you like to personally experience Israel and the Holy Land? Contact Zack Shavin, veteran guide & biblical archaeologist at Land of Israel Tours and get started planning today!