Saturday, January 4, 2014

Road to Jerusalem

Google map of Road to Jerusalem 
(the narrow black line on the right side shown as Road to Mount Olive) 
Notice how it reaches the lions gate on the Jerusalem city wall.

There is an old narrow road steeping down from Mount Olive, passing through the valley of Kidron and going until the Stephens gate, also known as the Lion gate, of the old city of Jerusalem. The road is fairly broadened now and controlled under tight Israeli security. Many historical events have taken place around this road according to the old and new testaments of Bible. I am making an effort in this episode to walk you through the road where Jesus Christ once believed to have walked many times to Jerusalem when He arrived from Galilee.

Road to Jerusalem, steeping down from olive mountain.

I feel it is worth including a small spell of history here enabling all of my readers to understand the background. Judea (Major portion of present day Israel) was a princely state ruled by King Herod under Roman Empire during the time of Jesus. Jesus was arrested and crucified; Practicing Christianity was getting forbidden, Christians were persecuted severely they were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved and condemned. Frightened Christians assembled in caves and mountain hide outs for praying. Similar situation went on for over 300 years until freedom of worship was granted to Christians in Israel by the Roman Emperor Constantine I.

Ascension Church at the summit 
of Mount Olive
       Through a deceleration (Edict of Milan) issued by Emperor Constantine in AD 313 Christianity was granted official tolerance in Roman Empire. It was during Emperor Constantine period Christianity became the dominant religion of Roman Empire. So this deceleration of Milan is referred to as mile stone to early Christendom. Constantine as the first Christian Emperor of Rome sent his mother Queen Helene to Jerusalem for finding out the tomb of Jesus. She found the cross used for crucifying Jesus and reclaimed the entire quarry of Golgotha to establish the Church of Sepulcher the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried. She built number of historical monuments in and around Jerusalem such as Church of Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, Mary's tomb where Mary the mother of Jesus was laid etc. History also revels Queen Helene searched out Mount Olive for the place from where Jesus was finally ascended to heaven and the cave where Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.

Point of Ascension
Minaret of Muslim Mosque at the Ascension 
church compound

Before getting down on to the Road to Jerusalem let us halt for a while at the point of ascension located in the summit of Mount Olive. As I explained, this place was originally built by Queen Helene but after continued Islamic domination the place now looks like a mosque with minaret constructed in the same compound. Treasure of this church until today is a stone marked with foot prints of Jesus, the point where Jesus Christ believed to have lastly touched the earth prior to His ascension to heaven. 

    There were two of such stones but one of them is removed and placed in Al- Aqsa Mosque on the temple mount since Muslims also acknowledge the sanctity of Ascension.
    Closer to this location there is also a place, according to Russian Orthodox Christians this is the place from where Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after the resurrection. They also believe the head of John the Baptist, beheaded by King Herod Antipas was found here in a jar. 

Russian Orthodox Ascension church

John the Baptist is an important character in Christianity; he was the forerunner and elder cousin of Jesus who baptized Jesus and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. In the compound of Russian location there is a convent and a 64 meter high bell tower which is supposed to be the tallest monument in Jerusalem. Church is located in the center of the compound and there is a venerated point near the church where Mary, mother of Jesus believed to have stood at the time Jesus ascended to heaven. Also there is a cemetery dedicated to John the Baptist.

Pater Noster Church
Pater Noster
Walk down a little on the main road before getting on to the Road to Jerusalem, you come across another important place at the corner. Queen Helene located this place on the Mount Olive as the cave where Jesus Christ taught His disciples how to pray. 

Lords prayer "Our father in heaven" encrypted 
on marble slabs in various world languages at Pater Noster Church.
A beautiful church is erected above the cave and it is known as the church of "Pater Noster". The prayer "Our father in heaven" encrypted on marble slabs in various languages are exhibited in the compound.

Gold topped "Dome of the Rock" located on the "Temple Mount". 
Old Jerusalem or Mount Moriah in the back ground.
Panoramic View from Olive Mountain
Now you enter the road to Jerusalem and take the panoramic view point on to the left side of the road. I assure that you will be transported to a new world of ecstasy by the sight you are going to see standing from here. Jerusalem, Zion, Temple mount where King Solomon built the first temple, Kidron Valley and hundreds of such historical monuments all that you probably have learned from the child hood are suddenly opened to you in one single frame with out any obstruction. To me such all in one exposure, with my daughter Asha standing beside me on the cliff of Mount Olive was truly a dream, all of a sudden came true. For a live experience, you may spend hours together sitting under the shade of an Olive tree here by relating the places that you see in front with the incidents that are explained in the Bible.

Valley of Kidron. On the left is the Jews cemetery and grave of Absalom 
is like a conical pillar in the center. Area where Olive trees are standing on green grass 
used to be deeper and water flowing. The ascend on the right reaches to Jerusalem wall.
Kidron Valley
An important location you see from here is the Valley of Kidron. This is a place I always wished to see for its very name and the place being a valley attracted me every time I read the old testament of the Bible. Kidron is a valley located in between Mount Moriah and Mount Olive where you are standing. As per records Kidron used to be much deeper than the present time, a stream of water used to be flowing here so it is referred as "brook" in the Bible. The valley once upon a time used to be a dumping place of blood and other impurities collected from the sacrifices performed in the Israeli temple. So also obscene idols collected from idol worshipers used to be burned over here.

Jews Cemetery a close view
Jews believes when their Messiah comes on the day of judgement, He will descend from the Mountain of Olive and He will judge their dead ones in the valley of Kidron and the righteous will be taken to the "temple mount" (Joel 3:12). Worlds oldest probably the largest Jewish cemetery there fore is located here waiting for the Messiah to arrive and resurrect the sons of Israel.

Mount Moriah

When you stand at the panoramic view point on Mount Olive what you see right in front across the valley of Kidron is the Mount Moriah. I am little bit brushing up the memories for some and narrating Biblical history to others. Mount Moriah was the place where Abraham was asked by the God to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Sacrifice of Isaac is the Christian belief, while Muslims believes it was Ishmael, also the son of Abraham, was taken for the sacrifice)

Location of three mountains - 1 Mount Olive, 2 Mount Moriah, 3 Mount Zion. 
Temple mount is marked on Mount Moriah. 
Between Mount Olive and Mount Moriah Valley of Kidron located

"Dome of the Rock" above and the wall 
below is the western wall, remains 
of the old temple. Notice Jews praying 
by hitting their head on to the wall
Moriah was a large property of land King David had purchased from Ornanan the Jebusite for a price of 600 shekels of gold and it was here on the grain threshing floor where King David erected an alter and offered sacrifice to God. It was the place where King Solomon, son of King David built the original temple of God. It was also the location where many events have taken place during the ministry of Jesus Christ.
       To day, Mount Moriah or the Jerusalem is divided in to four quarters between Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians. The temple Mount where King Solomon built the temple for God is now under the control of Muslims. The gold topped "Dome of the Rock" built on the temple mount is a Muslim monument. Jews prey by hitting their head on to the western wall, the remains, of their temple. Jews are not permitted to enter the premises of the temple mount now, but they do believe their third and the final temple will be built and it will be built on the same temple mount one day. We are viewing the eastern side of the Temple mount standing from panoramic view point, western wall of the temple sacred to Jews, cannot be viewed standing from this point as it falls on the directly opposite side.

Temple Mount and the Dome of the rock is seen 
through the Altar window of "Church of the tear drops"
Church of the tear drops
From the panoramic view point we cross the Road to Jerusalem and get in to a beautiful Roman Catholic Church on the Mount Olive is "Dominus Flevit" or the "Church of the tear drops". This is the place Jesus wept by looking at the temple of Jerusalem. The church is located in such manner so that you can look at the temple mount through the Altar window and pray while worship is in progress. After the fall of Jerusalem to the Turks, a Mosque existed here according to Jerusalem history. The view of Jews cemetery from this spot is also beautiful. A large ancient tomb excavated is exhibited here in the compound of the church.

An ancient tomb opened in the premises of "Church of the tear drops" . 
Favorite personal belongings of the person also buried along with body. Notice the boxes

When we walk through the Road to Jerusalem a little further we reach at the cross road and from here a road used to lead to Bethany (Bethanya), a favorite place of rest and refuge for Jesus Christ. Jesus' friend Lazarus and his two sisters Martha and Maria lived here and now they have the Tomb of Lazarus located in Bethany. When Jesus traveled from Galilee for coming to to the temple of Jerusalem, He believed to have taken this narrow Road to Jerusalem and rested at His friends' house before entering the temple.

Lazarus tomb in Bethanya
Though Bethany is located close to Mount Olive, it is a town now under Palestine control and separated by a huge wall; there is no direct access to Bethany from this road now, however you can go there and visit Beth phage the village close to Bethany and the "Lazarus Tomb" by hiring a taxi form here or from Jerusalem.
In commemoration to Jesus' ride on the donkey, decorated donkey placed 
at the cross road to Bethany in front of Mary Magdalene monastery, Kidron
Jesus was taken in a procession riding on the donkey through this road from Beth phage to Jerusalem during His triumphal entry to the temple. It is a tradition, now they keep a decorated donkey at this junction of the road in commemoration to Jesus' ride on the donkey through this road.
Church of Mary Magdalene in Kidron Valley, Jerusalem

Mary Magdalene Monastery and Church

According to the gospels of Mathew and Mark, Jesus' feet were anointed by Mary Magdalene at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. Though Bethany is just on the other side of the Palestine wall, Russian Orthodox have built a church and a monastery dedicated to Mary Magdalene on either sides of the Road to Jerusalem where we are now standing. This is one of the most beautiful monuments Russian Tsar Alexander III built in Jerusalem to honor his mother. Its seven onion shaped domes are covered with pure sheets of gold.

Age old Olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane
Garden of Gethsemane
It is on this road to the left where the Garden of Gethsemane situates. We will be amazed when we learn the age old Olive trees we see in the garden could have been much younger trees when Jesus entered here with His disciples for praying on the fateful night after His last supper (Mathew 26:36) They say the Olive trees never dies, new shoots keep coming as the old one dies.

All Nation Church in the garden of Gethsemane
A beautiful church built here is by the donation of all nations in the world so it is called All Nation Church. The slab exhibited in the garden will attract your attention, so did mine. It reads "My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but thou wilt" (Mathew 26:39) It also reads underneath "Jesus, in deepest night and agony you spoke these words of trust and surrender to God the father in Gethsemane. In love and gratitude I want to say in times of fear and distress, my Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you"

Entrance to the tomb of Mother Mary in Kidron Valley
Mary's Tomb
Mary's tomb originally built by Queen Helene during 4th century is located on the Road to Jerusalem in Kidron Valley at the foot hills of Mount Olive near Gethsemane garden. According to Orthodox Christians this place is regarded as the burial place of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary, as per tradition was ascended to heaven and the tomb there fore became the shrine for assumption.

Crowd of visitors at the tomb of Mother Mary
The place is a large cave below the surface cut in to the rock like the shape of a cross keeping the tomb in the center of the cross. There is a wide stair case leading down in to the tomb. The tomb have been destroyed and expanded at different periods and now it attracts visitors from all over the world.

Visitors comes out after kissing the tomb of Mother Mary
Monastery of Stephen
After Jesus' crucifixion there happened a great persecution of Christianity. People ran away from Jerusalem and went in to hide outs. Saul, who later became the soldier for Jesus Christ and spread Christianity far and wide among gentiles under the name of Paul, was one of the chief architects of these atrocities. He ravaged the church and the people by entering house after houses and dragged off men and women and closed them in prison.

Monastery of St. Stephen located in the Valley of Kidron
Stephen was one of the seven deacons chosen by the apostles to help them in the ministerial activities. During the time of Christian persecution Stephen was caught and stoned to death out side the city gate, in the condemned Valley of Kidron. The city there after known as Stephen gate or the lion gate. Orthodox Christians established a very large monastery in the name of St. Stephen where 10,000 monks lived once upon a time. As the time passed it was destroyed and now exist comparatively a smaller monastery and a Bible college just at the end of the Road to Jerusalem closer to Stephen gate in the valley of Kidron.
Stephen Gate also known as the Lion Gate

Note: I am attaching some 3D virtual tours relating the holy land tours. Keep watching one by one by clicking on to the link given below. It will be a great experience for those who have already made the visit as well for those who intend to visit. Have a blessed time.

1 comment:

  1. George, I revisited the Road to Jerusalem through your write-up. Thanks.
    Kurien Alexander