Day 2, Part 1:

Our first day of sight-seeing was filled with incredible places!  We left our hotel in Tel Aviv bright and early, and headed north along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  We stopped at a beach in Caesarea to explore a Roman aqueduct built by Herod the Great, with a later addition built right alongside it by Hadrian.  The whole aqueduct is 11 miles long, built on a grade to bring water down to the city.  It was amazing to see the precision of construction in sandstone and how it has lasted for so many centuries.  

 
Next we traveled to Mount Carmel, where there is a Catholic monastery of the Caramelite order.  This is the site where the Prophet Elijah confronted and defeated the priests of Ba’al in the book of 3 Kingdoms (1st Kings).  The mountain overlooks the valley of Megiddo, and the brook of Kishon.  Many battles were fought there in the Old Testament, and it is now a fertile agricultural spot.  We could also see Mount Tabor in the distance, which was our next destination.
 
We transferred to smaller vans at the foot of Mount Tabor, because the road up the mountain was a narrow one, with many switchback turns…it was hard to imagine Christ and his companions walking straight up the mountain!  At the top is a monastery with a stunning church, covered wall to wall and ceiling to floor with icons.  They were doing work on the marble floors so many of the icons were covered in plastic to protect them, but we could still see the beauty and feel the holiness present there.  Fr Panagiotis read the gospel of the transfiguration in the church.  The altar was built over the spot where Christ stood during that event, and a piece of the stone from it was brought out for people to venerate.  As we were leaving, they began to ring the bells of the monastery for the noon prayers – quite loud, and very moving to hear.
Back down the mountain, and back to our tour bus. We drove towards Galilee, and on the way we saw a typical “second temple tomb”, in the style that was common in the time of Christ.  It looked like the one Christ was buried in, with a round rolling stone door, and we learned that these were often used for families, much like catacombs of later history, where family members were buried in the same tomb as their ancestors and contemporaries.  The custom was to open the tomb after a year and collect the bones into an ossuary to make room for more bodies in future.  
We stopped for lunch at a Jewish kibbutz – a place of communal living, where groups of ideologically similar Jews live together and share what they have within their community.  There are around 300 kibbutzes in Israel, and though they have recently changed quite a bit, the model was originally entirely communal – no one had personal property, and all members gave what they could and took what they needed.  Many of these communities have the children growing up separately from their parents.  
Our next stop was the Church of St George, in Cana of Galilee. This was where the miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding took place, Christ’s first public miracle, and two of the six stone jars from that feast still remain in the church. Again, Fr Panagiotis was able to read the gospel inside the church, and we spent some time in the courtyard imagining the wedding festivities from long ago.  This church had blessed wine for sale as well – a popular gift for newlyweds or newly engaged couples.