Monday, March 29, 2010

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday was a delightful day. Since Mormons hold services on Saturday in the Holy Land, Sunday is our free day to go exploring. I got up early and walked down to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the 7:00 AM beginning of the many processions of the day. I took over 250 photos during the day. What follows are some of my favorites. They are in the order (except this first one) I took them so you can get a sense of the oftentimes chaotic nature of the services in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This year Eastern and Western rite Christian churches celebrated Holy Week at the same time. Usually they are a few weeks apart which makes things less complicated.
Most of the action took place around the Holy Sepulcher in the middle of the jointly shared rotunda.
The entrance to the Edicule which houses the location of the sepulcher.
The Coptic Christians from Egypt control a tiny chapel on the back side of the Edicule. By 6:50 people were already praying here.
From the inside of the Chapel you can reach through a hole and touch the back side of the tomb.
At 7:00 AM the Roman Catholics (known locally as Latins) began their procession into the church. The division of the church (in the map above) and the timing of processions and masses are all strictly spelled out in the Ottoman issued Status Quo.

While most Catholics were gathered in front of the tomb for Mass...
one priest sought solitude on the Catholic side of Calvary. This is the station of the cross associated with the nailing of Jesus to the cross. The other half of Calvary is Greek Orthodox controlled and is where Jesus was crucified.

From Calvary the body of Jesus was brought down to the stone of anointing (unction) where it was prepared for burial. Notice the devotion of the prostrating pilgrim. A newish mosaic shows the stone of anointing and the near-by tomb.
At 7:30 the Coptic Christians began their procession into the church, stopping first at the stone of anointing.
In the past the Egyptian government has discouraged Coptic pilgrims from going to Jerusalem due to a dispute with the Ethiopian Christians over the roof top monastery of Deir es-Sultan. (The government of Israel sided with the Ethiopians which angered the Egyptians.)
Meanwhile the Latins were holding mass in front of the tomb. Father Angelo (on right against the pillar) was our (BYU students on a field trip) host the next day at the Terra Sancta Monastery, where he showed us a carving of the name Hyde in the door of the one-time pilgrim hospice. Some think it may be that of LDS apostle Orson Hyde who traveled to the Holy Land in the 1830s.
After mass the Latins circumambulated (I have always wanted to write that word in a blog) the tomb three times. It was a joyous event. The patriarch (I believe that is who it was) and many priests sang songs and waved palm fronds. They were followed by nuns and local parishioners. It was a spiritually moving experience. I have felt the spirit in both the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. Both sites could be the site of the resurrection. At the time of Christ both were outside the city walls near places of burial. Since the 300s, this Church has been revered as "the place" by most of Christendom. In my mind it certainly could be the place.

From my experience most Mormon congregations do not even acknowledge Palm Sunday. On occasion they may sing "All Glory Laud and Honor" with its lyrics about palm waving Hebrews, but that is usually it. I have now celebrated Palm Sunday in Nazareth and Jerusalem and I am all for introducing some palm waving processions into our Sunday worship for it celebrates the one day when people shouted Hosanna and acknowledged that Jesus was their King and Messiah. It was a happy day for Jesus (a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief), which in my book is a good cause to celebrate.
While the Latins were waving palms, the Greek Orthodox were parading in (I missed that photo opp) and congregating in the Katholikon--the main chapel of the large church. It is believed to be the navel of the earth.
Looking east toward the iconostasis of the Katholikon.
Meanwhile the Copts were proceeding in a small circle on the south side of the Edicule.

The Latins then held services in their Church of Mary Magdalene where it is believed the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary. The Roman Catholics have the only organ in the church. It was playing during the palm frond procession. During the service one dragoon (I don't know if that is a correct word) kept occupied with some palm frond creations.
Next door the Greek Orthodox continued to meet. This was the largest and most indigenous (i.e. Palestinian Arab) congregation.
The small-in-number Copts gathered around their tiny chapel.
From the Armenian gallery in the Rotunda (this was my first visit ever here--I was very excited to find it open) I could look down on the edicule. The Roman Catholics are in the distance in the Chapel of Mary Madelene, the Greeks are to the right in the Katholikon...
and the Copts are at the back side of the Edicule. All three worshiping at once. It was quite the cacophony.
The dome which was restored in the 1990s when the Orthodox, Latins and Armenians who jointly control it finally agreed on an acceptable design.

Parents dress up their children as priests, popes, angels and Mary.
The Armenians were meeting up in the Armenian gallery when I first arrived ( I could hear them singing, but didn't know where they were). By 11:00 they gathered for another service.
A happy Christian Arab family from Jerusalem. Very likely descendants from the first converts to Christianity nearly 2,000 year ago.
Finally at about 11:30 Orthodox mass ends and their procession begins. By now the church is packed with pilgrims (including many BYU students)
Not as many palm fronds and fewer priests than the Latin procession, but more parishioners in the parade.
The crowded parvis (entry way) of the church as I left after 4 1/2 fascinating hours.

For Palm Sunday part two, all of the Emmetts joined with the BYU crowd for the wonderful palm Sunday procession from Bethpage (where Christ started his donkey ride) to St Anne's church just inside Lion's gate in the old city.
We walked from the Jerusalem Center to Bethpage. While waiting for the parade to start we met pilgrims from all over the world. One of our students received her mission call to the Philippines earlier in the week so she was excited to meet these happy Filipinos.

Our organist Walter Whipple, who served as a mission president in Poland, was gifted his own flag to carry from these Polish pilgrims. Israeli soldiers were also in the mix.
Christian scout troops led out on the procession.

There was only one scout band this year. Most years scout bands (including a bag pipe band) cone from Christian congregations in Bethlehem and Ramallah to participate, but this year for "security purposes" Christians from the West Bank were not allowed in to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship. Sad.
Eventually we fall into line and start our walk.
The Bethpage Church where Christ found the donkey was our starting point.
Happy BYU students and Catholic nuns.
Walking up the back (east side) of the Mt. of Olives. Pater Noster Church is at the top.

I piggybacked Will part of the way and then Andrew our home teacher took a turn. The girls in the plaid skirts were from a Spanish speaking Catholic boarding school in Rhode Island. One of their favorite songs to sing was "we are the Christians, the mighty mighty Christians". The BYU group got spread out, but for part of the way a small group of us sang hymns. "Called to Serve" (with reference to Jesus as our King) was a favorite.

"Join the happy throng"

The slow, packed descent down. There was a bottle neck ahead at some stairs leading to the more narrow path down the Mt. of Olives. Many of the students climbed a wall to watch the log jam.

Down towards the Kidron Valley.
For most of the way we were within ear-shot of some enthusiastic Coptic pilgrims from Egypt--all wearing red hats. They sang the same song the whole way. Its one line in Arabic was "Hosanna to God in the highest"

After three hours of walking and standing, we called it quits as Gethsemane so we wouldn't have to walk up to Lion's Gate. From the lower entrance to the Orson Hyde garden we could see the procession heading up and into the Old City. We were told that at St. Anne's there was a rock band playing to help in celebrating the triumphal entry.
Before climbing back up to the Center, we enjoyed home made raisin/oatmeal cookies (made by Joel for a cub scout project) and apples in the Orson Hyde Garden. In my book this was a great day.


  1. Very interesting. I guess 2010 years is a long enough time for the various sects to settle their divergent claims to the property but it looks like they have made whatever accomodations have been necessary to jointly share holdings. We remember they hadnt't come to a common understanding of what to do with the rotunda when we were there last.

  2. We actually had a nice Palm Sunday activity with Eric's brothers family. We had flat bread and lentil stew. Made palm fronds and acted out the triumphal entry with Miriam as Jesus and Eric as the donkey. I've wanted to do it for years but when there are only 2 of you plays don't work well. I was very interested to see what the actual palm fronds looked like. Thanks for sharing all the great pictures!