Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem

Sunday….. in Jerusalem!  The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a very welcoming community for those living away from home. Pastor Fred, in his opening address announced that, as it was Pentecost Sunday, this was to be  an interactive service, and he proceeded to give out readings to 14 very different people.  It was a very effective way of symbolizing  the effect of  many people speaking in many languages

The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. As recounted in Acts 2:1-6:[4]

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.[5]

 I was pondering this passage as I meandered through the labyrinthine streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and found myself at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I sometimes drop by there  after I leave the EAPPI office and am gifted by  the music of processions of  monks and priests. This church is a mecca for Christians and tourists alike, a  church that encourages different Christian communities to celebrate with their own distinctive traditions. It is a working  church where there are often services taking place as tourists stroll about  admiring the magnificent architecture.

I found a schmorgasborg of Christian traditions and  I was surrounded by the cacophony of many  languages.  I listened to the soft chant of the Latin priests as they blended with the robust singing of the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  However, I was drawn to the exotic middle eastern voices and found a small group of celebrants in a little stone alcove  filled to capacity with  three priests, two alter boys and three attendants. The priest was dressed in splendid red brocade  robes  embroidered with gold threads.

An Armenian service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

 The Priest sang the liturgy in low full resonant voices that drew  onlookers into the alcove. One  man was watching the proceedings attentively and was later joined by a woman with two small children. I wondered if the altar boy was his grandson. The singing invited meditation  was interrupted  when  I was blessed by water thrust over me from a eucalyptus branch.

Coptic Chapel, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As this service was winding down,  I  heard  loud knocks rhythmically approaching –  startling in a city where military activity is the norm.  However, I soon observed I had nothing to fear as priests in black robes wearing red fez’ were passing by,  striking their staffs on the ancient stone floors.  Following them were mostly older priests, many with long seemingly unkempt beards, dressed in scarlet embroidered robes. They were flanking a priest wearing a magnificent white robe studded with jewels. Teenage boys in white, carrying the heavy candle sticks and incense, brought up the rear. Their procession  passed  by three times  and,  like the children mesmerized by the Pied Piper, I was drawn to them. The singing was enthusiastic, the prayers sincere as worshipers followed,  kneeled and sang. Onlookers, pilgrims,  and the curious…all together, in this magnificent Church  – the embodiment of inclusiveness.

By now, I was really getting into the spirit of Pentecost. When the Greek Orthodox service was over,  I approached  a monk to ask if there was to be a Latin Service that day.

‘Yes, at five, the priests will have a singing procession.’

Back again at five. I joined the priest’s procession to the chapels.  Gentle singing of the rosary accompanies me as I followed these Catholic priests.

Organ music burst onto this gentle service. I was amazed that this small choir could hold their own against such powerful competition. Cross procession, Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

I was amazed in the midst of this to hear  another  male choir !! Robust singing  filled the air adding to the enchantment. Feeling somewhat guilty, but not wanting to miss out on anything,  I yet again was drawn away from a moving experience. A choir of 20 young Armenian altar boys  in black robes were singing with gusto as they proceeded from chapel to chapel.  I joined that procession soaking up the incense, the music, the mystery of worship. In the spaces between sounds, I could still hear the Catholic Priests, the organ,  all blending to create a Holy space.
I was filled with the joy and mystery of the celebration of Christianity in so many forms. Each service bestowed upon its followers a blend of theology and traditions  developing from the same origins. Here in Jerusalem, we work toward creating harmony among the different faiths, like many branches grafted onto one tree, celebrating the differences we all contribute. The promise of Pentecost!
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3 Responses to Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem

  1. James Dwyer says:

    Wow Pat….such a beautiful experience. I’m so happy for you. In such a troubled area you can find a place of such peace ans beauty. Maybe there’s hope for us all yet. Say a pray for us all.Cherish where you are as God cherishes us all.Maybe one day we will all come together as one inside of the holy lands as well as out, as Pentecost was meant to inspire us to do. God bless you Pat and keep you safe.

  2. Eileen Kavanagh says:

    Pat your Pentecost experience gives me hope that some day everyone will realize that we are all guided by the same light. We are just following different paths to get there and no path is the best path. They’re all good, just different.

  3. Your description of Pentecost in Jerusalem portrays the mystery of the “tongues” and the Spirit’s presence in the contemporary setting of a city in turmoil. I am following your blog along with a couple of other members of the EAPPI team because I am deeply concerned about finding a way for peace in Palestine/Israel. I pray that the leaders of both sides could experience the presence of God in worship as you have in the Pentecost encounter. But I wonder how this experience can be translated into political action. Thanks for your reflections and stories.

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