by Adam Nielander and Wyatt Meckler, Year Course Participants
This week’s siyur to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Young Judaea Year Course in Israel highlighted for us an important part of Jerusalem’s history with which we have otherwise little connection. In Christianty it is believed that this church was built upon the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and subsequently ressurected.
Upon entering the church and going up a set of steep steps, we stood in front of a large rock in the shape of a skull, known as golgotha. This area is the most densely-decorated areas of the church, and one that clearly reflects the different sects of Christianity that lay claim to the church and the sacred ground on which it was considered to have been built. There are those who consider all of Jerusalem to be a tense city, but the truth is that nothing can compare to the atmosphere at this basilica. Administration of the church is divided tenuously among Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic control, and there is a feeling of tight control over their areas. Aside from strict schedules for religious services, there is also tight control over who can approach certain areas in the church, and when.
We saw the Aedicula of the Holy Sepulchre, which was surrounded by a huge line of people wanting to see Jesus’ tomb. We passed the rock where Jesus was laid upon after being crucified, where now pilgrims kneel down and sometimes pour water, then squeegee it up, and bring it back to their churches. We also went to the many different parts of the Church for different sects of and origins of Christianity, including the the ‘basement’ featuring Queen Helen’s tomb, and the small cave with several 1st century tombs once contolled by the Syrian Orthodox Church, who no longer have a presence in Jerusalem.
Right after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we went to a more modern church closeby. It was very cool seeing the contrast between the very old and traditional atmosphere at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the newer church where they hold events and concerts, playing off the church’s good acoustics.
Later in the day we had to opportunity to listen to a nun, Sister Rita, talk about Christianity, her personal beliefs, and how she ended up where she is in her life. We were very lucky to have this experience because we were able to learn about the life of a sister who devoted herself to Christianity. She had moved from Canada to Jerusalem, and though religiously we are different, there was something similar in our stories of traveling from North America to Israel.
It’s fascinating to know that the roots of Christianity came from Judaism. At the end of the day, we were very happy to get to experience Christianity in a new way we had never seen.