Nazareth & Galilee

Holy Land Journal: Nazareth & Galilee

Zack Shavin talks about the wedding at Cana, Mary and the Annunciation in Nazareth, Jesus at the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum, the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish where he fed the multitude at Tabgha, Mount of Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.


Cana wedding church in Galilee

Cana wedding church in where Jesus converted water into wine

The sun was shining as we awoke on the Sea of Galilee – we had our first Israeli breakfast buffet – cheese, fish, vegetables, breads, and strong coffee. Morning prayer on the bus, about the Root of Jesse sprouting, which Sr. Georgette read – the realization was sinking in that we were really here in the Holy Land, now that some had a good night’s sleep. On the way to Nazareth, we saw the Sea of Galilee.  Our guide, Zack Shavin, explained the Galilee means “rolling hills”

Cana:  Marriage renewal
We drove to Cana – a small Arab town – we entered the renovated Church. Lois read the John Gospel story of the miracle at Cana in Galilee, reflecting on his version of Jesus’ first miracle, announcing the reign of God at the request of Mary, the faithful people. This is about transformation of life by God – faith turning water into wine – then Paul & Jackie and Raymondo & Maria renewed their marriage vows (“I still believe in the miracle which brought you into my life”) – we celebrated the sanctification and consecration to each other – how the two sides of male and female create the wholeness God’s wants. The pain of absent and lost spouses was tangibly felt also.

“Third Day” of Creation: New life breaks out
Zack explained that the third day of the miracle in Cana reflected the Third Day in the Creation story. On that day God separated between the water of the seas (the medium of physical change in the world) and the dry land (symbolizing permanence). Zack explained that in essence by separating the two God created the potential for new life to break out. That up until then everything God created was inanimate. Indeed, the first life life breaks out and that is why God said on the Third Day “it was good” two times!  And so the tradition to get married on the Third Life as a double blessing and new life breaks out in the lives of a couple and the potential for bringing new life into the world through having children.

Biblical marriage means “holiness”
Zack explained that in Hebrew word for marriage is Kiddushin and means “holiness”. It is THE sacred act and where we can most easily find God – in its lived reality of self-giving – and the issue of the third day of creation, when the possibility of life is present – “be holy as I am holy”: the great biblical theme and command.

Nazareth: Where Jesus grew up
We drove into Nazareth, where Jesus was conceived and grew up. Zack Shavin explained that the Hebrew word for Nazareth – “Netzer” is taken from Isaiah 11:1 and means “sprout” – the sprouts of the olive trees, symbolic of the Messiah anointed with the oil of the olive. The new shoot of the olive tree – speaks of new life, eternal life, from ancient source – it speaks of hope, protection and the future – it also means “crown prince” – the builder of the future.

Church of the Annunciation

Nazareth: Annunciation Church where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary

Nazareth: Church of the Annunciation

We entered the Church of Annunciation and saw the ancient grotto – all that is left of the family home of Mary and her parents Anne & Joachim. Here we celebrated the Eucharist of the Annunciation – Mary proclaimed the Word of God about the Annunciation. We reflected on the Scripture of God’s promise and His asking Mary’s permission to become flesh and break into human history in a significantly new way. The powerful presence and echo of her “YES” filled our hearts. Sr. Mary renewed her vows as a BVM Sister. “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this place…!” Our responsibility to help God become enfleshed in our world. After Communion, we spoke the names of our parents amidst this assembly – they were present with us!

Then we had some brief quiet time in the Fiat Grotto – those seven small steps – just imaging that small teenage girl. Wow! We quietly toured the upper church, with its icons of Mary of Nazareth from around the world, reflecting different cultures – the USA version seemed strange – like she was dressed in aluminum wrap. Outside the church we saw the excavations that revealed the street level of Nazareth from Jesus’ time- evidence of a small simple village. In the courtyard, Zack explained the unusual dome roof the church – shaped like an inverted Lily flower – Old Testament Jewish symbol of purity, originally found on an ancient Jewish coin predating Christ and used on the modern shekel coin.

St. Joseph: Holy Family & holy living
Next door, at the Church of St. Joseph built over the carpentry shop and home where according to ancient tradition the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus resided. Zack Shavin talked about Holy Family living in the Bible – that parents, as partners with God in creating and nurturing God’s children, reflect the behavior of God. By keeping the first commandment in the Bible – to “be fruitful and multiply”, by raising a family, we as parents have the opportunity to play out God’s love for us, to teach our own children about Holy living through self sacrifice, unconditional love, personal example, and dedication., and self sacrifice. That in this fashion we build strong community, society, and a better world.

Mary’s mikve: Jewish ritual immersion pool

Nazareth St. Joseph church: Jewish ritual bath (mikve) beneath home of Holy Family

Nazareth St. Joseph church: Jewish ritual bath (mikve) beneath home of Holy Family

We descended to the excavations in the crypt of the Church of St. Joseph. Saw the water cistern and ancient Jewish ritual bath – Mikve – cut out of solid rock. Zack explained that the Hebrew word “mikve” means “gathering of the waters”, echoing a return to and immersion in the harmony, purity and integrity of Eden. Mary, Jesus and Joseph would have ritually bathed there – it seems as though they were a reasonably well off family. Zach shared a bit about Jewish ritual washing and the woman’s purification rites.

Mary & womanhood in the Bible
Zach Shavin then talked about the role of family and having kids – how kids bring our self-giving – then he commented about what Mary and the special role of women in the Bible. Zack explained about the Hebrew language and its symbolic nature – how there are different roles for men and women in the biblical view – how Judaism is a home-based religion and the woman is Queen of the home. He explained how the same root word is used for mercy and a woman’s womb – compassion/loving kindness being the fiber of women. How God betroths us with righteousness and justice, with mercy and loving kindness – both men and women are created in God’s image and we need both to understand and be human, but that women have a higher spiritual plane – how Mary of Nazareth is a biblical symbol of this.

St. Gabriel church: Mary’s Spring

Nazareth St Gabriel church built over the Spring of Mary

Nazareth St. Gabriel church built over the Spring of Mary

Then we walked thru the old town, past the carpentry area, till we reached St. Gabriel’s – the Greek Orthodox site of the Annunciation built over the village spring- the Spring of Mary, where Mary and Jesus would have come regularly to draw fresh spring water. Before leaving the church we we read the scriptures in the courtyard and remembered how Jesus proclaimed the Isaiah vision of the messiah in the local synagogue and was thrown out of the synagogue; how his hometown friends rejected him and he never performed miracles there nor felt at home there during his public ministry – their familiarity with him blocked their faith.

Nazareth market
Zack then took us on stroll through the old town of Nazareth with winding alleyways, cobblestone streets, the colorful open air market with fresh produce, coffee roasting shop, and street vendors.

We woke up to a beautiful day by the Sea of Galilee. Today we are off to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ three year public ministry around the Sea of Galilee after leaving his parents and family home in Nazareth.

Capernaum:  Town of Jesus

Capernaum: Fr.Bob Colaresi's group that Zack Shavin guided

Capernaum: Fr. Bob Colaresi’s group that Zack Shavin guided

There were few other buses as we arrived at Capernaum. Today it’s an impressive archaeological site. Zack Shavin explained that the name means “consolation” in Hebrew and beautifully echoes Jesus’ ministry of consolation to the Jewish people and Gentile world in the region. That Jesus came here from Nazareth and used it as his headquarters and home during his public ministry – the last three years of his life. He said that it was much larger than the little village of Nazareth in Jesus’ day; more cosmopolitan and open. It was a prosperous town with a fishing industry, millstone making, and probably even boat building and repair.

House of Peter’s mother-in-low
First to the traditional site of Peter’s House where we shared the Scripture stories of the calling of the apostles here in Capernaum, and of Mark’s first miracle of Jesus, healing Peter’s mother-in-law. A saucer-like church is built over the ruins. Here Jesus was experiencing the power of God within himself, as we were standing on “holy ground”. Zack Shavin explained the large family houses there, how the people lived together, grandparents, parents, and children. How the Hebrew word for “son” means “builder” and that our sons, our children, are our builders and our future.

Capernaum: Synagogue

Capernaum synagogue where Jesus taught (aerial view)

Capernaum synagogue where Jesus taught

Then we went into the ancient synagogue, built on top of the volcanic rock synagogue where Jesus preached so often. We really were exactly where Jesus was! On one side of that special ancient synagogue, in the shade away from the blazing hot sun. Zack Shavin explained how we can identify an ancient synagogue- the benches around the sides so people face each other – the biblical importance of praying together.

Healing service in the synagogue

Capernaum: Teaching & hyms in the ancient synagogue

Capernaum: Healing service in the synagogue

We sang and celebrated a healing service, in memory of the many healings Jesus did in Capernaum. Sr. Pat, Lois, and Mary Ann, who are in healing ministries, led us through our areas of needed healing and silently laid hands on us with the healing power of Jesus of Nazareth. Fr. Bob anointed us with holy olive oil and chrism. Some Indian women from another group joined us with great respect and honor.

Mill stone industry in Capernaum

Capernaum: Basalt millstones for grinding wheat into flour

Capernaum: Large basalt millstones used to grind wheat into flour.

Zach Shavin did a brief explanation of the town, its wealth, cosmopolitan nature, the elaborate decorations, the Shofar, the local millstone making industry at the time of Christ, and the menorah and the nature of community in Jewish tradition and prayer. Because we were now alone in the site, we had time to go into the saucer-like church above Peter’s House. Wow! We had quiet time – no other pilgrims to wait for or jostle with.   We drove back to Ma’agan, our kibbutz guest house, on the east side, on the Golan Heights – it was 5:30 – a long but good day – some went swimming in the Sea of Galilee – dinner – and a peaceful evening – reading Scripture.

Tabgha: Multiplication of Loaves & Fish

Loaves & Fishes mosaic at Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee

Loaves & Fishes mosaic at Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee

Then a brief drive Tabgha – place of the Seven Springs and Church of the Multiplication of Loaves & Fish at the Sea of Galilee – brilliant bougainvillea were blooming Our guide, Zack Shavin, explained about the warm springs and why fishing was so good at this point of the Sea of Galilee. We saw evidence of olive and wine presses. We reflected on the Scripture story of Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. Is this God intervening and multiplying? Or Jesus challenging us to share the plenty that we have to create the reign of God? Both are divine, miraculous power – the miracles announce the reign of God! “This is Holy Ground!”

Zack explained the difference between “blessing” and thanksgiving – blessing being more relational. – He showed us where Jesus walked from Nazareth to Capernaum. Then the sun came out – the storm clouds had passed – and the sawing noise stopped.Inside the church, beautiful mosaics of birds, flowers and plants – the famous bread and fishes mosaic from Byzantine times! God nourishing His people – another bread & fish Eucharist. Some brief shopping from bead & fish memorabilia.

Jesus called out, “Peter do you love me?”

Sea of Galilee: Church of the Primacy of Peter or Mensa Christi

Sea of Galilee: Church of the Primacy of Peter or Mensa Christi

We then walked next door to the Church of Primacy built over a rock, also known as Mensa Christi or “Table of Christ” which is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and where we celebrated Mass. Zack explained that this was the place – on the rock – where ancient tradition remembers Jesus appearing to Simon Peter after the resurrection, calling out to him “Peter, do you love me?” and preparing a St. Peter fish breakfast. Zack pointed out that it still the favorite local meal.

Our seashore site is the outdoor amphitheater cathedral God built for us – the birds sang, (even a crow was crowing) the sun was shining – we were alone and the Sea sparkled as we celebrated Eucharist where Jesus had challenged them to fish a different way and shared breakfast with his apostles after the resurrection. We shared the Scriptures of Peter’s betrayal – how Jesus ultimately gives the keys to the kingdom to Peter, because of his intense and wholehearted faith – because he listened at deeper levels – we all share the responsibility of the keys to the heart of God! How here Jesus confronted Peter – staring at him – we reflected on Jesus staring at us: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? In silence we reflected on the shore, soaking up the peace of the Galilee, the lapping of the water, the presence of Jesus and the challenge of his message. Some had their pictures taken on the cut-off pillars that look like hearts. We wanted to stay longer – that urge to stay at a place and listen becomes stronger – there is an elusive, powerful presence at these sites.

Dragnet: Good fish, bad fish, & kosher

Cast net fishing at the Sea of Galilee

Casting nets Sea of Galilee

When then gathered at the shore by the Sea of Galilee Zack Shavin talked about biblical fishing, kosher dietary law, and Jesus’ teaching “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet… and they separated the good fish from the bad fish”. One of the biblical commandments is to eat only fish that have “fins and scales”. Therefore the “good fish” in the dragnet would be the St. Peter’s fish since it has both fins and scales. The local Sea of Galilee catfish on the other hand only have fins but no scales, so were set aside when the fisherman separated the fish in the dragnet. Zack also explained that one of the reasons for the kosher dietary laws for the Jewish people in the Bible was to make God’s people more distinguishable, so that they could be an outward public sign as a light to the nations. He also talked about the commandments in the Bible. There aren’t just 10 commandments, but a total of 613. That the word commandment in Hebrew “mitzvah” means to “become one with” and to “team up with”. In Judaism one becomes unified, closer, and one with God by keeping his commandments. We team up with God in creation of  his reign in the world.

St. Peter’s Fish lunch

St. Peter's Fish lunch at the Sea of Galilee

St. Peter’s Fish lunch at the Sea of Galilee. Bon Appetit!

On to Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, for a biblical St. Peter’s fish lunch.  On the way Zach talked about fishing in the time of Jesus – and how Jesus used fish stories – the half-shekel tax – and the Amnun fish, which we call St. Peter’s fish – how the mother opens its mouth to swallow and protect her young when endangered. Finally our St. Peter’s fish lunch was served  with many middle eastern side dishes. We had fresh dates and strong oriental coffee for desert

Mount of Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes aerial view

Church of the Beatitudes

After lunch we drove up to the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. We celebrated Eucharist here on the mountain – we got an amphitheater outdoor site. We remember Jesus, like Moses, going to the mountain and proclaiming God’s law and defining the reign of God – the challenge of the Beatitudes – we reflected on the heart and soul of the Isaian message of Jesus.   We were on and look forward to “that holy Mountain” – the New Law which Jesus proclaimed on that mountain – the signs of God’s reign and the definition of the end of days – the heart of humanity created in the divine image – the messianic expectations of people.

Natural amphitheater: Sermon on the Mount

Praying on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee

Praying on the Mount of Beatitudes

Zack pointed out the natural amphitheater on the hillside where tradition remembers where the multitude gathered to listen to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – the Sea of Galilee glistened below us – we listened, as did those thirsty people 2,000 years ago. After Communion, we celebrated the renewal of our ministry commitments – many renewed their commitment to Jesus and service to His Body – we had 20 minutes for silent reflection – it was powerful, because we were not competing with large crowds -we were really here in a place we had heard about and envisioned all our life! Jesus of Nazareth was speaking to our hearts as he did so many years ago.

Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee boat ride

Sea of Galilee boat ride

We then drove down the hill to Nof Ginosar kibbutz to get the “Jesus boat” we had reserved – wooden boat like olden times to sail on the Sea of Galilee – it was sunny, warm and calm – we sang and read the stories. We remembered how Jesus and the apostles fished here, fled here, traveled across the Sea here, walked on water, calmed storms – so much of his public life on and around this lake – we reflected on storms, turbulence and trust – do we let Jesus calm the storms of our hearts? Then the skipper shut the motor and we experienced some profound silence to let the Sea of Galilee speak to our hearts. Zack explained that the Sea of Galilee: a life-giving sea because it receives and gives, unlike the Dead Sea which only takes. We looked at the northern part of the shore of the Sea where so much of Jesus’ public ministry occurred – we whispered the names of people we wished God would call here – “How can I keep from singing!”

Gadara: Jesus casts the demons into the swine
We drove back to our kibbutz hotel, this time along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, driving along the foot of the Golan Heights. We stopped at Kursi where Zack Shavin explained the story of Jesus casting the demons into the swine, and the wild boar that still inhabit the area.  This area was called the land of the Gadarenes- territory of the nearby Greek Roman city of Gader or Gadara. Jesus proclaiming the “reign of God” here on earth, not somewhere else – and to common people, not the powerful, and then talked water symbolizing change and flexibility while land symbolizes stability – how we have to go with the flow of God – water is about life.

Contact Zack Shavin
Have you enjoyed reading this Holy Land Pilgrimage Journal regarding Cana, Nazareth, Annunciation, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Multiplication of Loaves & Fish at Tabgha, and Sermon on the Mount? 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!