Monastery Reconnaissance

In 1994 my wife and I took a group of teens on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The shared experience of travel and prayer in that place deepened our spiritual life and friendships that remain to this day. I can recall every place we visited. But the Church of the Resurrection (or, as it is called in the West, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher) stands out even after the passing years. This church has been a place of pilgrimage from the 4th century and it has remained largely unchanged.

JerusalemHolySep300wIn places like The Church of the Resurrection connections open doors that remain shut to those without. We had connections. We, all 50 teens and leaders, were led down a long staircase. On the walls were crosses and sayings etched into the stone by pilgrims over the hundreds of years. The stairway ends at a locked door that leads to the quarry where stone was gathered to make the church we were in. St. Helen found the Cross of Christ in this same quarry. But our find laid undiscovered until 1971. Behind yet another set of locked doors is an Armenian chapel. There on the wall is the carving of a ship left by some of the first pilgrims. The etching has a description in Latin that reads, Domine Ivimus. Some scholars believe it to be a version of Psalm 122:1, meaning “Lord we shall go.” Our guide translated it, “We have arrived.”

JerusalemHolySephulcreboatjpgFor millennia Christians, and most people in most religions, have been making spiritual pilgrimages. We were granted access to the same room where, beginning with St. Helen, so many saints have stood and prayed. Pilgrimage to holy sites and holy places connect us with the great cloud of witnesses. All of Christian history is an account of men and women making pilgrimage not only to Jerusalem but also to monasteries throughout their own lands. Why do people go on pilgrimage? We go to recover and rekindle what we have trouble keeping aflame in the world: our faith. We go to renew and restore our hearts. I head off soon for what I am calling a 24-hour monastery reconnaissance. I head to the Saint Paisius Monastery in Safford, AZ to put things in order for my mission’s parish-wide retreat. But I go hoping to arrive as a pilgrim.


1 Comment

Filed under Beaches, Canyons, Deserts, Mountains and Monasteries, Orthodox Christianity

One response to “Monastery Reconnaissance

  1. Reader John Herman

    The other day, I engaged in the life of a ‘strannik’ (Russian for ‘wandering pilgrim’). I went out the door with no agenda other than to pray the Jesus Prayer and see where God would take me, all the while looking to see evidence of God’s grace—the action of God’s lobe in our midst—and was to find that I had entered upon a pilgrimage to a local monastery.

    God led me to a holy place in which the relics of martyred saints surrounded those who stood in the nave for worship. There, I met a monk who led me into their church and brought out numerous relics, one of St. Helen, and another of St. Joseph of Arimathea. After praying for my friend’s mother who had been admitted to the hospital with heart trouble, he sent us out with holy oil to anoint her and pray. My friend, once a devout altar boy, anointed his mother in the name of the Trinity. A blessed event! A renewal of faith! The Holy Land had visited us, as had the grace of God.

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