My day started very early with a pre-dawn run by the Sea of Galilee and then a decent swim in the lake where I was accompanied by a large and noisy family of Russian speaking Jews.
Like Paddy, we normally travel independently and this is my first experience of group travel. So far it is fine. It does however mean that you can sometime move too fast or too slow. Today we visited Cana the site of Christ’s first miracle, and then the city of Nazareth, taking in the (wonderful) Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation where Mary was meant to have been drawing water from a spring when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Orthodox liturgy and art have an ever increasing draw upon me. The frescoes show scenes from the life of the Virgin similar to the Church of St Mary Psychosostria in Ohrid. There is a second church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and perhaps we did not have enough time to explore this or the covered market where we found of all things in Nazareth the quarter of the carpenters.
The atmosphere changed as we drove south into the wilderness of Judea which is now part desert and part verdant agricultural land transformed by the miracle of pumping water away from the Jordan to feed the demands of Israel and Europe for fresh green vegetables and exotic fruit. The border with Jordan is marked with high wire fences and minefields, and an Arab population which tends the land but no longer owns it in law.
After passing through Jericho, which claims the status of oldest continuously inhabited city, we stopped in the stony desert before Jerusalem to conduct an act of worship and take the Eucharist overlooking the Greek Orthodox monastery of St George of Kozibe which clings to a rocky cliff above the route of the road which may have been the same road that Christ referred to when he told the story of the good Samaritan. As the service started we were joined by a young Bedouin with his donkey. He wanted to sell us his scarves but stood patiently completing the circle around our Priest; almost like Elijah taking his place at a Jewish feast where a place is left for him.
Ever upwards the road led us to Jerusalem, past the wired-in Jewish settlements and the military checkpoints. Higher and colder than we had experienced; heavily populated and so naturally green, we entered the old city at the Jaffa Gate at sunset. I was reminded of what King David commanded so long ago in Psalm 122: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.