9th True Life in God Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
August 26, 2013-September 1, 2013
The 9th True Life in God Pilgrimage was to the Holy Land. The Pilgrimage lasted exactly 1 week, from Monday 26th August until Sunday 1st September. Our first 5 nights were spent in Jerusalem in the big "Dan Jerusalem Hotel". The pilgrims were split up for the remaining 3 nights between 3 hotels in Nazareth, as that town had no single hotel where all of our group could be together, there were so many of us! We needed 16 buses in convoy to transport us every day!
In the True Life in God messages, we gain an intimacy with Jesus. The pilgrimage is meant to be a physical manifestation of this intimacy through the talks we heard, through the friendships we made and rekindled, the prayerful worship services, and the experience of placing ourselves where Christ lived, preached, prayed, died and resurrected. The International Pilgrimages afford an opportunity for Christians and participants from other religions to come together as an a living expression the Lord’s message about Unity and desire for Unity .
Monday, August 26, 2013 Featuring a visit to Bethlehem
We began our pilgrimage as we began each day by praying in song the “Our Father” in Aramaic. We all followed along by reading it phonetically; the beauty of the words carried us in prayer. After prayer, Vassula welcomed everyone. All 750 pilgrims were excited to begin this Holy Land journey. Visiting the Biblical steps of Christ inspired us to seek and anticipate the intimacy with God that He has in store for us through the events and experiences that we would encounter through this pilgrimage. We further open-heartedly communicated with old True Life in God friends, and looked forward to the opportunity the Holy Spirit would bring to meet new friends. The welcoming was extended by some of our clergy and clergy that were with us in Spirit.
Vassula thanked our Lord for the opportunity to have the pilgrimage in Jerusalem. She thanked Theodora, Ann Marie Peters, and the entire American group who sweated blood to promote True Life in God through the new book: Heaven Is Real but So Is Hell. She thanked those from other countries as well who took part in the cause.
Vassula said that Jesus is our spiritual guide and spiritual travel agency. Sixty countries and twenty church denominations are today represented at our pilgrimage. She added by saying that we have enormous wealth through the Holy Spirit. We see the Unity that Christ has in mind: God’s approach. In an intimate way, He is approachable, reachable; He is Father. He proclaims His message of Love everywhere. We will gather in places where He was rejected, where He performed miracles, resurrected and triumphed over death; where His Spirit was lifted. Today with any move to restore Unity all Heaven and Earth rejoices. The Father’s wrath diminishes. With Unity, Blessings are shed out for our meetings.
In the video that was shown about Pope Frances and the prospect of Unity, the pope stated that he and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch will meet in Jerusalem. The different denominations are encouraged to promote Unity. Unity builds the church and we should ask the Lord for Unity.
Jesus tells us to unify the dates of Easter. Double is His grief as He goes through Pain year after year. If we unify the dates all the while rejoicing in Him, the Sight of Many will be restored. He drinks the cup of division and tells Vassula to drink what is bitter. There will be a more severe sentence the longer we wait to unite the Easter Dates. He feels the Gravity of our division; He needs our hearts to be united into one and to unite our hearts with His.
The clergy made procession into the room and each announced themselves and country of origin. There were 107 clergy and spiritual leaders from 20 church denominations.
Cardinal Felix Toppo who could not be with us sent his heart-felt regards for the pilgrimage. He stated that his heart goes out to the Holy Land. He is extremely happy and he conveys love, peace and joy to the beloved in the Father. May we grow in deeper faith and feed ourselves deeply in Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus makes us missionaries of love and faith as is the intention of the Father and the Church.
The Buddhist monk, the Ven. Suddhananda, has come to five of our pilgrimages. Since he too could not be with us, he sent his congratulations on behalf of himself and the Buddhist monks. He claimed congratulations to all the pilgrim participants: cardinals, priests, bishops. He wished us a safe completion of our pilgrimage and stated that we are with the Great Spirit of Christ in the Holy Land.
The warm welcome was furthered by Armenian Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He welcomed us to the Holy Sights of Jerusalem and Galilee: the Holy Sepulcher, the place where the Lord was crucified and buried, Bethlehem, where love was born for peace to all, Galilee, the places related to Christ’s life, and the Annunciation Church where the message was received of the Son of God Divine. He reminded us on the pilgrimage, we have the opportunity of communicating with God.
The Anglican retired Bishop Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal of Nazareth welcomed the pilgrims on behalf of the Christian community and the Palestinian Christians to the Land of the Holy One. He wished us a spiritual visit and claimed that he wants us to feel the Human life of the people of this land. He asked us to pray for unity so that we may live in the Mind of Christ.
In tune with our gathering, Father Eugene Pappas spoke about the array of the priests of God, a bouquet. All have the same commitment, and sacrifice for unity.
In continued celebration and retrospection, Father Gavin then spoke about the church that is not fully the church until you see it as it is here. We encompass an intensity through our union that is not normally experienced. As we unite, we are united as one. He asked us to prepare ourselves as if we prayed for the first time, in our hearts, in His Heart. Fr Gavin remarked how our prayers for unity helped bring us to this moment where unity can be lived.
In turn, Father Abba Gabriel welcomed the fathers, brothers and sisters. He claimed that he is happy for this condition, this season. We are together; we pray together. Jesus is with us.
Moreover, Father Georgeos Kokonos from South Africa welcomed the brothers and sisters in Christ. He welcomed us in Christ’s name. He asked us to pray for unity. Pray every Sunday for Unity. Pray to our Lady; seek unity.
Father Mouradian from Argentina emphasized that the work we are doing here is not enough. Each person needs to work in his own place for unity, by acting and looking for unity. In Buenos Aires there have been interreligious encounters between Islam and Christian religions. There has been ecumenism in many churches. Better than 50 years ago they thought they were united, but each person can only be united in Christ as he/she is, always thinking of unity in diversity. We need a unity of the churches; a deep unity of love, understanding, acceptance. He claimed a testimony to the Pope, who is a great friend of his that when he was a Cardinal of Argentina, and Father Mouradian was with him, he would always say, “Please pray for me” On his behalf, he asked all of us to pray for the Holy Father.
Lastly, Bishop Mourad of the Syrian Orthodox Church of the Holy Land and Jordan welcomed us to the Holy Land. He said we are living life here in difficult times. In his church they pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. He asked us to pray for unity with thirst in Heart. He said that the Lord chose Vassula. We have to listen to the call of Jesus; the call to be one. (Chapter 17 of St. John’s gospel) We are all servants of Heaven and are created to be in Unity. Always ask. Say “I Love You” to the Holy Spirit. We love the Holy Spirit as He is united with God. We are spouses of Jesus; all creation is called, not just in show. The strength is the Unity of the Trinity. Jesus is calling us to be one. Through the Virgin Mary everyone in is called to love.
Country Call: There were 750 pilgrims in total. The following countries were represented in the pilgrimage, including 107 clergy from 20 church denominations.
Monday 26th August
We went to Bethlehem (Mark 2:1-23), a mere 10 km from Jerusalem, now effectively a southern suburb, but separated from Jerusalem by a high wall and door with a checkpoint.
After our morning session which included a Roman Catholic Holy Mass, we visited the Basilica of the Nativity including the grotto where Jesus was born.
All 750 pilgrims waited two hours to walk though a narrow row of stairs going down, underground into the small space where Jesus was born. We each prayed at this Holy spot and could place our hand into a hole in reverence to where our Lord was born. Although there were so many of us, the crowd remained silent, moved peacefully, carefully, caringly and in prayerful thought within the sacred grotto. The prayerfulness of the group reminded us that we were on sacred grounds.
After visiting this Holy site, a Holy Rosary was said by all at the church of St. Catherine before departing for the hotel.
A surprise meeting took place with a group of 600 pilgrims guided by Mgr A.-J. LEONARD, in Saint Catherine’s church in Bethlehem adjacent to the Church of the Nativity .
The Archbishop’s group also had with them Vicka one of the seers from Medjugorje (but not at the time of the encounter with True Life in God) . This group of pilgrims had an ecumenical and even interreligious dimension similar to True Life in God and together both groups prayed the rosary and to quote the Archbishop; there was a “fervent communion of hearts, and to everyone’s satisfaction”.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013: A visit to Jericho, Dead Sea and Bethany
After praying the Our Father in Aramaic, Speeches on Unity were given by Father Theodoros, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem/Holy Land, Archbishop Shirvanian and Rabbi Alon.
Archbishop Theodoros stated: “to your Excellencies, Graces, Brothers, Sisters, and all the pilgrimage team, I thank the Lord that we are together. What unites us is our love for Christ. We have traditions and practices, but Christ unites us all. Thank you to Christ. He continued saying that the first church of the entire world was resurrected here. Jesus resurrected, lived here. The apostles preached the gospel and all the churches are brought about through the apostles of Jerusalem; this is from God and therefore the Mother of all the churches. This is why we need to show love to the entire world. We love all of God’s children.” He complimented us by saying that we have a rich program, as we are in Jerusalem where Jesus gave His Blessings and Salvation. Our prayers and spiritual life give us love from the church and so from the Orthodox, he welcomed us. He Thanked Vassula and the True Life in God Team. (He gifted Vassula an icon.)
Archbishop Shirvanian spoke next. He said that our spirituality is strengthened, filled here at the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christ; in faith we believe He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. It has been 2000 years since His birth and resurrection. His church was established through the Pentecost, where 3,000 people were baptized and received the Holy Ghost. Since then, the Holy Ghost has enabled the evangelization of the whole world. St. Paul was 1st persecuted. He saw the light of Christ himself, who said to him, “Why do you persecute me? Now become my disciple.” He took the gospel to other countries so as to uphold the Christian faith. When visiting the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose, He showed a way to eternal life; death is not the end, there is life after death. When we are baptized in His name, we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is the Archbishop’s 4th pilgrimage with True Life in God. He thanked Vassula for organizing these pilgrimages as they are following the gospel. The pilgrimage brought us to the Holy Land: Syrians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Coptics. As Father Theodosios stated, we are united in Christ. Keep the faith strong in spite of challenges
Rabbi Alon Goshen Gottstein recited a psalm in Hebrew: A Quest for Unity for all Humanity Prayer “Bless us Father that we all be one in the light of your countenance” We all have a spiritual home which we all go to. It is a space that belongs to Jews, Moslems or Christians all over the world. In echoing the prophecy “My house is a house of Prayer for many Nations,” Jerusalem is the Heart of Humanity. The world is looking to Jerusalem; what do we offer the world? We ignore each other and pray despite one another. We have no common prayer space. A Space of Prayer will fulfill this biblical prophecy. Rabbi Alon stated that “Hope House of Prayer and Education” will be built in Jerusalem as a place where people will function and work together. They will work on a vision. There is now a drawing of the Space, a concept. The idea is in having a space where there is a common interfaith institute. His vision of unity and peace inspired all of us.
For our day’s excursions, we visited the Mount of Temptation and the Dead Sea. The Mount of Temptation is as high as 1,200 ft above sea level, whereas the Dead Sea is 1400 ft. below sea level. We headed on the Jordanian Road to Jericho that led us to our destinations. This is the road Jesus took, as he cared for the blind man and told the story of the Good Samaritan. It is mainly a desert and is the home of the Bedouins. The town of Jericho is a flower in the middle of the desert is known in the Old Testament as the City of Palm Trees.
It harvests fruits, especially dates and vegetables. It takes about 60 million gallons of water to irrigate Jericho. Fresh water, called Elisha water can be found in Jericho; people can drink from it. It also has other natural springs. Elisha founded this very 1st city ever founded in its Biblical times but settlements have been found there that date back almost 11,000 years. The city called Jericho in the Bible is famous for its destruction in the famous battle of Jericho when Joshua led the Israelites to victory and entrance to the promised land. Presently, Jericho is a Palestinian territory with 900 Christians.
At the top of The Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days after His baptism in the Jordan, there is a fifth century monastery. One Greek Orthodox hermit priest resides there in the middle of the mountain. After getting transported by cable cars to the mountain plateau, the pilgrims climbed the 118 steep steps in the blaring afternoon sun to reach the top were we prayed and venerated the monastery’s icons. Everyone remained silent, as the ambiance was prayerful, somber and contemplative. There was ample time for sampling local dates, lemon drinks with fresh mint and to cool off from the hot sun.
Our next stop, The Dead Sea, was exceptionally refreshing after the heat and sun of the Judean dessert and the the Mount of Temptation. The Dead Sea has minerals in the water’s mud that is sold worldwide for skin and other health benefits . It is called the Dead Sea because no life exists in it; it is too salty to hold life forms. Once in it the 35-40% salt waters , we pilgrims had to make sure not to put our heads in the water. The salt can damage eyesight or at least burn . Instead, all of us, young and old, together, happily stepped into the heavily salted, very muddy water and spread the healthy mineral mud from the bottom of the sea on our bodies. Because it has so much salt in it – we were all able to float effortlessly. . It was a healthy, therapeutic experience!
After our Dead Sea dip, we visited the church and tomb of St. Lazarus who Jesus brought back to life from death.
We celebrated the Ethiopian Mass at the Hotel on our return. After dinner, adoration of the Holy Sacrament was available for anyone of the pilgrims.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013: A visit to Jerusalem
After breakfast and the “Our Father” prayer, three clergy spoke to us on Unity before we celebrated the Armenian Liturgy: Father Aljanian, Father Laurentin and Father Petar.
Fr. Aljanian asked us to be united here and grow in love between each other. However, it is only the Holy Spirit that can guide us under the whole truth. We cannot find this truth all at once. It is very important to understand that growing in the Spirit is a process of faith. We must listen to the Holy Spirit; understand love, truth and be guided by the Holy Spirit. The division we encounter has something to do with our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We need to risk with our heart actions towards unity to discover part of the truth. The whole truth produces harmony through Unity. There is Me, You and the Church. Each person discovering the Truth alone is relative; we cannot see the whole truth. The Holy Spirit in its fullness is shown though our gathering. It is a growing process. We walk and pray together. We pray to grow in the faith. The way we pray is the way we believe. It is a relationship. As we pray together, we are confessing a mystery we do not understand. At this pilgrimage we are coming together on a Spiritual road of progress in Unity between us. Fr. Aljanian said that he has been a priest for more than 50 years and can see that the Holy Spirit’s work in our days for God’s Unity is so important. We however, cannot bring unity. It is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Father Rene Laurentin first heard about Vassula at the beginning of the 1990’s. A Swiss Theologian brought her to his home. He was taken by her clarity and precision of thought, even though her vocabulary was limited. There was a sound foundation in everything she said. He asked her what was the most important part of the faith and she said the Holy Communion. Father Laurentin continued by saying that it is difficult to have a dialogue between the Christian Churches because the points of agreement are limited. Some impression was made on him as he noticed the positive side of the dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans. They are consciously in accordance with Luke 2. The Lutheran Church which is the closest with the Protestant churches the same ecumenism is to start at the lowest level. While looking at the divergence, when taking a closer look the causes are superficial. They have an excessive reaction to errors of the past. The ecumenism presented by Vassula is not contradictory to the above, it is complementary and essential. Father Laurentin added that yesterday we prayed the rosary. It isn’t normal for the Orthodox to pray the rosary, but it finds its place in the Christian prayers and the ecumenism occurred in the sharing. The meaning of our meetings is that where we are with Christ, in direct contact with Christ, there is ecumenism.
Father Petar thanked Jesus and Mary. He said that he is very glad to say Hello to all of the pilgrims. He is grateful for this Grace to be living in the Time of Grace. We see that these days are full of crisis and we know that we are not here as pilgrims in the Holy Land by chance. God is directing these days and those who know this have always looked upon what is to come from God. God has no past, no future, only present. This is why we could be one; God loves us and is with us. We need to pray for all the people around the world. God is with us and believing in Him is a Great Grace. It is essential and it must be important for us and for our life that we are open to receive God. He is here to make us happy, to be happy and live in peace. In these days and years, Heaven opens and God is sending Our Lady to teach us. People who are open to His will are open to transmit His words to others. As we are open to the True Life in God messages, know them, we have God. We have the opportunity to be happy in God. In order to get to this Grace, we have to be converted and believe. If we believe, God will do the rest.
After the liturgy we departed for Jerusalem where we visited the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the Paralytic and St. Anne’s Basilica (The Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
From there we continued on foot along The Via Dolorosa: (The path Jesus took during His Passion.) We prayed in unison at each of the first nine stations:
It was a somber, quiet and contemplative walk as we all prayed from our hearts with our bus groups the Stations of the Cross at each station with clergy. We were deep in prayer, in humility and in reverence for this Holy experience to walk the Lord’s steps towards His Crucifixion for humanity.
From the Via Dolorosa, we went to the Coenaculum where the Last Supper took place. After that, we visited the Church of the Dormition, (Aghia Maria Zion) and St. Peter in Gallinantu, where the cock crowed after Peter denied Christ three times.
The day’s excisions concluded with a reception at St. George’s Cathedral for the True Life in God pilgrims hosted by Bishop Suheil S. Dawani of The Anglican Church. The bishop welcomed us all. He stated that the peace we seek, need and work for does not have an absence of conflict; within the conflict we seek for justice. This Holy City is a city of Peace. It is an open city for all humans to experience harmony, acceptance, and reconciliation. Islam, Christianity and Judaism have within it cohesive relationships. We need to remind people that we need peace and justice. The Anglican Church has a role in this mission, as the Divine and Human needs need to be addressed in an equally important way. The church is dedicated to the saving of humanity. His diocese glorified God through an institution of learning. The education and the medical healthcare instituted by his church was a force for good and a rightful future. It was an effective ministry. He claimed that he is grateful for our presence at this reception, as we are faithful witnesses with a Hand of Friendship and solidarity. He continued by saying that one day a visible unity, not only by words, will surface. In Unity, we will have One Heart. We will see God’s Hand with Us. God is in Us.
Upon returning to our hotel, our day ended with a Prayerful time for Adoration after dinner.
Thursday, August 29, 2013: Gethsemane, and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
After singing in prayer the Our Father in Aramaic, Father Nabil Nouanes and Father John Abberton spoke on our movement towards Unity. Father Abberton followed with a Healing Prayer for all.
Father Nabil proclaimed how great and beautiful our Lord is. He added that Unity of the church is nothing like what we are now doing. Israel, Palestine, the Holy Land and the ecumenical world will embrace everybody. Home will be in having everyone in one Spirit, on Body. These roots of unity are given by the Bible. They are given by the Macabees and from Zakariah. Since yesterday’s excursion included entering the Old City of Jerusalem through the Lion’s Gate, Father Nabil in his unity talk made reference to the Lion’s Gate as the Gate where the Muslims put Lions so that Christians would not come into the Old City to walk the way of the Cross. It is also called St. Stephen’s Gate. St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, when he saw his enemies infuriated, grinding their teeth like lions, he, as he was filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven and saw the Glory of God. For Father Nabil, this Glory of God is True Life in God. We are the Glory of God, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Vassula has received it. Father added that it is not enough that Vassula has received the messages; we need to read the messages. Unity will arrive. We are going to see the Glory of God. That is our mission. Our eyes will be opened to see what the Glory of God is; this is our calling. St. Stephen looked up and Heaven was open. We need to open more than our eyes. Believing in our work opens Heaven. This is the way the Glory of God will come; Glory in Unity with the infusion of the Holy Spirit.
Father Abberton stated that healing is wide and deep in our pilgrimage. Unity is a form of healing to the whole world. A meeting will take place with Pope Frances and Patriarch Bartholomew. At these meetings gifts are exchanged. It would be wonderful that as a gift the Pope offered to change the date of Easter. Pray that the Holy Father is inspired. God is the root in our healing. He loves us and love is powerful. The Holy Spirit is in God’s love. We need to open our hearts and accept the Love of God to come into us. *Repent of our sins. *Forgive each other.
Father asked us to pray for our healing.
Father stated that the Holy Spirit will help us with the other things we need to renounce. We are the Holy Spirit’s instruments, so we need to put our arms in the hands of the musician. The priest is the instrument of the Holy Spirit and through this instrument; the people are healed and delivered. The Heart of Jesus in the priest does the work of healing. Jesus wants to heal us. Father Abberton prayed for us asking God to release us from our sins.
An individual healing session for all followed Father’s prayer. Some pilgrims were crying as a part of their healing, others were lying in the Spirit. At this quiet, transforming session, many experienced blessings and graces.
After this very cathartic healing session, we all went by buses to the Old City, entering in through the Jaffa Gate. Our destination was to pray at the tomb of Christ, The Holy Sepulcher. We firstly meditated at the remaining Stations of the Cross: Stations 10-13 before we entered the Holy Sepulcher, Station 14.
10. The place where Jesus was stripped of His garments.
It was a very special, prayerful walk. Each bus group walked through the remaining Stations of the Cross that led us to Christ’s Tomb. The line leading to the Tomb was quite long. The wait was very long and very crowded. People were standing in line very close to one another while sweaty and hot, yet somber, contemplative, and reverent. People stood and waited humbly and in prayer to enter the Holy Grounds where Christ was buried and Resurrected for our Salvation. This Holy experience brought tears to the eyes of many pilgrims.
After this intense experience, we all chatted a bit during lunch before going to the Mount of Olives. At the Mount of Olives, we visited the Ascension Chapel, and the Pater Noster Church where Jesus first recited the ‘Our Father’. Together with our bus groups, we all recited the Our Father with deep sincerity at the Church of the Pater Noster.
From here, we all walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony before His Crucifixion. The Garden was laid out in rows of Olive trees. While walking through its paths, we could imagine and had the chance to feel Christ praying in passion for the salvation of humanity and that His Father’s Will to be done through Him. From here, we visited the Greek Orthodox church at the place where the Virgin Mary was laid out before the Assumption and then congregated at the Church of all Nations were we celebrated the Roman Catholic Mass. The ‘Church of all Nations’ is also known as the “Basilica of the Agony”.
Upon our return to the hotel, Vassula spoke from the True Life in God Messages before we ended the day with dinner and Adoration. Everyone was emotionally and spiritually moved by the words of Jesus. Some were crying in response. Jesus’ words gave us a beacon into His vision of Unity. The following is a glimpse of what Vassula imparted.
Since 1985, the Lord called me to enroll me into His program of Unity and this was the last thing I ever expected in my life to happen. The Lord never ceases to surprise me.
Already back in October 14th, 1991 the Lord Jesus said:
“Your mission is to bring My people under one Name, My Name, and break bread together.”
The basic message of ‘True Life in God’ is Unity. It is a call to turn our lives into an unceasing prayer. It is a call to go through a true repentance, to repent of our division, and to reconcile with God and neighbor. It is an urgent call for the Churches to unite in diversity. Jesus says:I have preached to you and to others, do not stop there, forward the teaching I have given you… Evangelize with love for Love" (14.10.91) “Unify My churches; the real Christian is the one who is inwardly a Christian and the Unity is and will be in the heart; Unity will not be of the letter but of the spirit."
Our Lord Jesus calls His priests and asks His shepherds:
“Is there anyone willing to work with vigor and love to rebuild this tottering House? Is there anyone in there who is willing to defend this House? Is there anyone who understands now what I am saying? Is there anyone in My House who is disposed to expand the Kingdom of God?”(20.8.98)
“I desire My entire Church to be united; those that persist in remaining separated have already separated My Heart from theirs; realize the gravity of your division, the urgency of My Call and the importance of My request; I need your heart to unite you and rebuild My Church united into one, inside your heart; all I ask is love to break the barriers of your division…” (20.10.91)
The then Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople who was so close to bring forth unity with Pope Paul VI once wrote: “If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead. It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.”
In our efforts, we should be willing to pray more together because prayers are heard and answered, whereas dialogues and formulas are just spoken words. This does not mean that we should eliminate our dialogues or formulas, not at all.
Friday, August 30, 2013: A Visit to Jacob’s Well and a visit to Nazareth
On this day, Friday, the pilgrims checked out of one hotel and moved to several other hotels situated in Nazareth. En route to Nazareth, we stopped at Mr. Precipice, and enjoyed the view of the Jezreel valley. Part of this stunningly beautiful wide open expanse almost as large as the eye can see. In the southwest lies the ancient town of Megiddo associated with Armageddon. Jezebel the biblical enemy of the Israelite prophets is also associated with this valley as her village was located in this same valley. Viewing such incredible expanses steeped with biblical history filled everyone with awe.
After lunch, we visited the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel with St. Mary’s well, the Grotto of the Annunciation, and St. Joseph’s Church (The Home of the Holy Family). At St. Mary’s well, Holy Water that flowed from a spout, could be taken in by the pilgrims. Those who want to conceive a child have come and taken to drink this blessed water.
We celebrated Holy Mass at the Upper Basilica of the Annunciation before we transferred and checked into our respective hotels in Nazareth.
At the main hotel in Nazareth, folk musicians from Nazareth performed for us. They played guitar like string instruments while singing songs of praise in Arabic which inspired many of us to move to and dance to the music. At one point the whole auditorium was filled with clapping music and dance and some even seemed like those on the first Pentecost drunk with the Holy Spirit.
Saturday, August 31, 2013: The Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee, Tabgha and Capernaum
After singing the Aramaic Our Father we were fed words of wisdom through a few short speeches on the ever-present and imminent striving towards Unity. Father Gavin, the Mayor of Nazareth, Father Theodoros, Father Rolf from Russia, Father Rolf from Switzerland, Father
Johann from South Africa and Father Eugene Pappas from New York enlightened us as we began our day before embarking on our excursions.
Father Gavin stated that even the best theologians produced nothing in the realm of unity, even after working on it for 1,000 years. The errors made were that they failed to recognize and fully understand that the heart is more important than the head. We need to stand with our mind in our heart and the heart is the center. If we allow our hearts to be changed, the theological questions that divide us will also change. We need to see Jesus in the other clergy. We need not think that our spiritual journey is something we are endeavoring to feel right about; instead, we need to ask for forgiveness. We need to be hungry for the Graces we receive from one another. There is a presence of Jesus inside each of us, so we need to take an interest in one another. Love exists in humility and we’re not used to it. The Lord asks us to heal this division.
The Mayor of Nazareth, Mr. Ramiz Jaraisi added that Unity is not a familiar walk. We are in need of hearts that are softened. From this city to the entire world, the desire of Jesus was to speak to the world. Mr. Jaraisi has been the mayor for almost 20 years. He welcomed us to the town of Mother Maria where Christianity started. The values in our human heritage changed human history here in Nazareth. It is an Arab Palestinian city in Israel and it is not part of the occupied territories. For centuries, Nazareth has housed Arabs, Palestinians and Christians. It has faced dangerous crises for religious and political goals. However, there is a long tradition of people from different ethnic cultures and religions living together. Even in times of crisis, the citizens succeed to overcome them by creating a good, positive atmosphere. There is a calm atmosphere here for cultural tourism. Mr. Jaraisi was elected mayor in spite of being Christian. He was elected four times into office by Muslims as well as Christians. He concluded by wishing us the best and by asking us to be good ambassadors for the city of Nazareth.
Father Theodoros emphasized that Unity comes from Christ. Jesus Christ calls humanity to come. He joins into Himself what is the mystery of God. He is God and His whole existence is an invitation. Our words, our actions: we can do many things, many deeds, but what our actions need to do in essence is what the Gospel has invited us to do. This invitation from Christ leads us to a pinnacle which is His cross. His cross is the strength of the invitation. For us, the strength of the Cross supplies our sensitivity and discernment. This strength must give us the persistence that carries us. This invitation to join Christ is not just anything; it is from the shedding of His blood, His persistence. That is enough.
Father Rolf from Russia reminded us that we were one church for a thousand years. Christ prayed for Unity in The Last Supper. All Christian churches were no different before Jesus, so the disunity that exists among us is an offense to Jesus. As we here are united with Christ, are we ready to be a sacrifice for unity? Are we ready to offer all we have: our travels, our difficulties for Unity? As Christ tells us in the Messages, Unity will be done. Even if we can’t unite, He will take our hearts and complete God’s will. If we need to, we must give our lives for Unity. We cannot be lukewarm. Lethargy is an act against God, so we need to desire and pray to be unified. As we go back to our lives, the Holy Spirit alone will keep our flame alive.
Father Rolf from Switzerland agreed that unity comes from loving all denominations. The Holy Spirit who loves us will Unite all human beings.
Fr. Johann from South Africa stated that the TLIG pilgrimages are a privilege for him. He has developed friendships and is part of the TLIG family. We are here to put out the fires that cause disunity. Let the Holy Spirit burn for Unity in our hearts.
Father Eugene Pappas from New York reminded us that we were called to be here on this pilgrimage. “Don’t you think God spoke to you, cutting barriers for you to be here?” Father said that as we reflect, we discover that we are however, just His servants. We are not special. We must pray for unity and for peace. We need to reach up to Him, as He is reaching down to us. Our prayers create a synergy with God. In silence, in complete silence, we hear Him speak to our heart and soul.
We began our day’s travel destination at the Church of the Beatitudes. This beautiful church surrounded by palm trees reminded us about the pervasiveness and stead-fastness of Christ’s love as He reveals it to us through his words of guidance, The Beatitudes.
After our moments of contemplation, everyone seemed to feel emotionally and spiritually lifted when we reached Galilee. The weather was quite hot and a few pilgrims were tempted to step into the clear, fresh water where Jesus fished with his disciples and where he later miraculously walked.
Christ’s miracles were on our minds: from Galilee we traversed towards the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves. How gracious the Lord is to be guiding us in wisdom through His acts of kindness. He fed the multitude of people who came to hear Him speak with five loaves and two fish! We knelt down at the pews of the Multiplication of the Loaves church and had the chance to praise God in gratitude for the spiritual food He has given us on this grace-filled pilgrimage towards Unity.
At the church of the Primacy of Peter, Jesus’s words to Peter could be in our thoughts, “you are the rock upon which I will build my church.” This primacy of Peter is very significant to our modern day; we see this when reading and meditating upon Christ’s messages from the True Life in God messages. The Church of the Primacy of Peter is unique, as it is rounded. Its windows are not stained glass and are situated largely as part of the church’s walls. We spent a short bit of time there praying for Unity to come between our Christian Churches.
Peter’s house was an archeological site situated next to and under the Primacy of Peter Church. Here we saw a glimpse of life as it was lived in Christ’s day. Peter and his wife lived here with his mother in law.
We ended the day with a Liturgy. The Maronites graciously hosted us at their large, bright, simple, yet awe-inspiring church. Fortunately, there was enough space there for the 750 pilgrims. We utilized an upstairs balcony that extended the length of one side of the church, and the pews were completely filled. The epistle reading was said in more than one language.
September 1, 2013: The Jordan River and Mount Tabor
We began our last day of our ten day pilgrimage by visiting the place upon which Jesus was baptized. Here, during the baptism of Jesus, The Holy Trinity was seen for the first time on Earth; The Father’s voice was heard saying “This is my beloved Son, of whom I am well pleased”, and the Holy Spirit was seen as a dove above Jesus. Our group of True Life in God pilgrims couldn’t wait to place our feet in the Jordan River, so as to be re-baptized with Christ. The pilgrimage priests anointed us with the water from the Jordan River.
From the Jordan River, we headed towards Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is the hill upon which the disciples saw the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James and John were the three disciples who witnessed this event. As a part of Christ’s Transfiguration, they saw Moses and Elijah on either side of Christ. It was with great reverence that we walked onto Mount Tabor and into the Basilica of the Transfiguration. We had the opportunity to pray for the Transfiguration of Christ to enter into our lives more profoundly.
Our last stop before our final mass was at the Church of Nain. Here Jesus healed the widow’s son out of compassion and love. It is this same love and compassion that Jesus asks us to have and to extend to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Humanity as a whole will be healed if we live our lives by offering our compassion to others.
We celebrated Holy Mass (Melkite Mass) at the Church of the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes were written on each step leading up to the church. We couldn’t help but remember and recite the Beatitudes that Jesus told on the Sermon of the Mount as we stepped up each stair, while thinking about and concentrating on the meaning of each one. Jesus gave us the Beatitudes so that we can remember the blue-print of humility and love.
After dinner, we all gathered in the pool area for a farewell meeting that included a few presentations. Father Abberton led us in Prayer, a Prayer to the Two Sacred Hearts. He stressed that each of us go home and do something each day for Unity. The petition of outstanding importance that Father asked us to sign is the Petition for the Unity of the Dates of Easter. In celebration at the finality of our pilgrimage, The Society of Nazareth Dance Troup danced for Peace and Unity. This was the concept and the meaning behind the movements of their dance.
This profound experience, our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, cannot be fully revealed through this report. One of the pilgrims stated in his testimony that as Jesus tells us in the True Life in God messages that He will give us new eyesight, we now can truly say that by having engaged in this pilgrim experience, we are now wearing new spectacles. Jesus wants us to be saved through His love for us. The pilgrimage provided us an opportunity to again fall in love with Jesus and in celebration to know that the True Life in God messages are the most noble work of our times.
Magdalene and Jonathan Kosoy