A Holy Land Pilgrimage Blessing
What an incredible pilgrimage to the Holy Land! It was a time of deep spiritual renewal and a great opportunity to understand better the life of Jesus Christ and so much of what we read in the Bible. Holy Scripture came to life in a new way through this pilgrimage, walking where Jesus walked and lived and taught and performed miracles and ultimately where he died for the salvation of the world and rose from the dead to destroy Satan, sin and death itself! What an amazing experience!
I pray that, Lord willing, our community will be able to go on another pilgrimage in a few years and that many more people from our Church Family will be able to join us. It’s definitely something worthwhile to plan for in advance so that you can join us!
As I continue to bask in the afterglow of such a blessed pilgrimage, I’m so grateful for all that we experienced and learned. I keep thinking about how a pilgrimage like this can truly benefit us so much in our spiritual lives. There is a special blessing in leaving our secular society in America for a period of time and focusing completely on our spiritual journey. Too often secular America compartmentalizes our lives and often pushes our religious and spiritual pursuits into a tiny corner of our life. We often separate our lives into our “church life” or spiritual life, which makes up maybe a few hours a week, and then our “real life” of work and family and entertainment, which makes up the vast majority of our life. These are kept in separate compartments. This is not the way God called us to live our life. We are supposed to “seek first the kingdom of God” above all else. We are supposed to connect our spiritual beliefs and practices with our everyday lives. We should never allow our faith to be compartmentalized and pushed into a tiny corner of our overall life. Instead, our faith and relationship with Christ should impact and permeate every aspect of who we are and what we do!
This is what a pilgrimage like this reminds us. For one week, we were focusing on Jesus Christ and His story of salvation for the world throughout the entire day. From 7am until 6pm, we were visiting holy sites, reading passages from the Bible, saying prayers, reflecting about how God is speaking to us, and being inspired by the sites we see, people we met, and stories we heard. We also shared in meaningful fellowship with our fellow pilgrims, discussing the challenges we all face in living our Christian life.
Of course, a pilgrimage reminds us of other things as well. Surely at every site we visited, we encountered many distractions. There was so much commercialism at almost every site we went to, whether in the streets around the holy sites, or even in the monasteries and churches themselves. Sometimes one could be tempted to think about when Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise.” (John 2:16) Along with the commercialism, there were crowds of pilgrims. At the most popular sites at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and at the Holy Sepulchur in Jerusalem, we had to wait at least two hours to pray at a site for 20 seconds. And at times, the crowds could be quite rowdy, or the caretakers could even be rude and aggressive. And then there was our wonderful tour guide, Yiorgo, who was so knowledgeable and accommodating, yet someone who kept pushing us along at every site so that we could see all that was in our program. All of these “distractions” could have disrupted our pilgrimage, and yet, we kept our focus on the “one thing necessary.” At each site, and even when we waited in line for hours, we said our prayers, we read the Scriptural passages, we sang hymns and songs, and we remembered that we were on a spiritual pilgrimage. We were there to encounter our Lord, to be filled with His Spirit, to be renewed in our faith, and we didn’t allow the distractions to pull our attention away from our purpose.
Isn’t that a great lesson to learn for our daily lives, especially as we prepare to begin Great Lent on March 11? We all face countless distractions every day, superficial and mundane things calling out for our immediate attention, especially with our phones in our hands at every moment and social media wanting to show us the latest news. We allow ourselves to get so busy, filling up our days with often vain and egocentric passions. Yet, if we are serious and sober in our pursuit of God, in “seeking first the kingdom of heaven,” we realize that we have to push aside all of these distractions and create time each and space every day to connect with God, to commune with Him through prayer, silence, and meditation. We also realize that what the world tells us is urgent, is not necessarily spiritually important. We need to keep our eyes focused on God and strive to fulfill His will each and every day, each and every moment of every day.
Another important lesson to learn from our pilgrimage, that can help us in our spiritual journeys, is how at each site, we needed to remember and reflect on the essence of what happened at a particular site and look beyond all that could cover up its essential meaning. For example, at every important site where Jesus walked and taught and lived has been built a church. First, a church that Saint Helen built during the 4th century. The original church has often been destroyed during some invasion of the Holy Land in later centuries, only to have another church built upon its ruins by the Crusaders. These churches didn’t always remain intact, but in succeeding centuries were restored, or rebuilt by other generations of Christians. Thus, we can’t always envision the original site as it was in Christ’s time. In addition to all this rebuilding, there is also plenty of excess expressing the piety of believers over every generation. We saw plenty of icons, and silver plated over the icons, and other symbols and relics and religious paraphernalia, all with good intention to honor a site or an event, but always with a danger of people getting caught up in the peripherals and externals, while missing out on what is essential.
In our own spiritual journeys, we always must be on guard against allowing certain religious paraphernalia or even certain religious traditions to cover up and replace the essence of our faith, which is all about Jesus Christ – developing a living and loving relationship with God, following a never-ending journey uniting with Him, and allowing His Spirit to live in us and guide us each and every day in everything we do and in all we are. Christ is the center of everything, and it’s all about Him! Let us never forget that in our own lives.
Ultimately, a pilgrimage is a journey. And our lives are also a journey. A never-ending journey into God’s kingdom. There may be obstacles. There will surely be distractions trying to pull us off the path. And even on that journey, we have to always be attentive to keep our eyes focused solely on Jesus Christ Himself, never listening to the deceptive and alluring voices of the world tempting us every moment. May God bless us all on our journey through life, and through Great Lent. And may we remember the words of the Psalmist, “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, Whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:5)
With love and deep gratitude in Christ our Lord,
Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019
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