Day 3, Part 1:

Another packed day in the Holy Land!  We started off the day by walking back to the church of the Annunciation, where we had a little more time to reflect before they started their Orthros service, and then we walked to the Metropolis of Nazareth, where we visited their beautiful church of St George and had a brief audience with the Metropolitan of Nazareth.  Father read the gospel as is becoming customary in each church we visit, and the Metropolitan warmly welcomed us to the Holy Land, reminding us that we are in the place where Mary lived and where she and Joseph raised the Son of God.  The church of St George had several rare icons – among them, one of Christ being nearly dragged off a cliff after He preached in the synagogue from the Prophet Isaiah’s scripture.  

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the day was visiting a newly discovered cave underneath the Metropolis; a system of tunnels and living spaces where Mary traveled between her house and the city wells and shops, avoiding both the heat of the day and Roman soldiers on horseback.  There were many artifacts unearthed, and it was truly incredible to picture a family living in this space.  There was even a mikveh, a Jewish bath for cleansing purity rituals, right by the entrance.  

We got on the bus next for a 45 minute drive to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, where we spent the remainder of the day.  Capernaum was a fishing village, where Christ called some of the Disciples from their boats.  We first visited the monastery of the Holy Apostles, a stunning church with magnificent iconography.  One of the monks, Father Irenarchos, gave us a detailed explanation of many of the icons in the church, focusing on the back wall, which was entirely covered by a depiction of the Last Judgement, Paradise, and Hades.  There was Christ as the Judge, with His Scales – angels on one side and demons on the other.  Paradise was shown as a walled garden, and inside was the Virgin Mary (accompanied by the Archangels), Abraham with God’s people in his bosom, and the repentant thief holding his cross.  All the righteous were shown waiting in line at the gates of Paradise, led by St Peter with keys in hand.  The other side showed the souls who chose to remain separated from God, in torment with demons and swallowed by a large one named Mammon, which literally means “money” and represents love of material things over God.  Also shown are clouds with the saints, hierarchs, martyrs, prophets, women martyrs, women saints, and the righteous from the Old Testament.  I could go on and on about the icons in this church!