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Jerusalem - 02/12/2009

Christ is in our midst!
During our last day in the Holy City we had grand plans to have Liturgy at the Holy Sepulcher, to visit Bethany (the location of St. Lazarus' first tomb, where Christ raised him from the dead), as well as other sites. Well, we woke up at 11pm on Wednesday, walked to the Sepulcher - only to find that it was locked. The unfortunate reality, is that the Christians do not control access to the complex, actually two Muslim families do - one owns the key and the other who owns the door. So, as I found out later, on certain evenings, if you want to go to the Liturgy you have to be "locked-in" the complex at 7pm and the doors open again the next morning at 4am. Needless to say, we walked back home and decided to go to Liturgy at the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos at 6am, and afterwords took at walk to the Sepulcher and venerated our Lords Tomb. Truly - "Man proposes and God disposes!"
The rest of the afternoon we wanted to take a bus to Bethany, but things kept coming up and we never made it there... but I'm not complaining. We ended up visiting the Russian Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene. The relics of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr and St. Barbara are in the church. It is a beautiful monastery with distinctively "Russian" domes. You can see that it stands out amongst the surrounding architecture. From there we took a walk up to the top Mount of Olives, where our Lord Ascension took place (celebrated every year 40 days after Pascha).
The rest of the afternoon we tried our hand at haggling with the local merchants and took a long walk on the "Ramparts Wall" of Jerusalem. The "Ramparts" are an extensive series of protective walls built during the time of the Crusades... they offer a unique birds-eye view of the entire city. It was a fitting way to end our trip to the Holy City. We left Jerusalem late that evening on our way to catch an early morning flight from Tel Aviv. It was a wonderful journey, filled with once in a life-time experiences... however, I was happy to be heading back to the relaxed and peaceful pace of Cyprus, and ultimately back home with my family and all of you.
I hope this message finds you well.
With love in Christ-
Fr. Stephen

Liturgy at Dormition Church and venerating the Tomb of Christ. - 02/12/09

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Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene and Mount of Ascension - 02/12/09

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Ramparts Walk - 02/12/09

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Jerusalem - 02/11/2009

Christ is in our midst!

On Wednesday, February 11th - Fr. Seraphim and I made our way to the Patriarchate for a sitting with Patriarch THEOPHILOS of Jerusalem. There were a large number of Russian tourists who were visiting and we were told to come as well. After the Russian delegation left, the Patriarch asked us to stay and talk. We had a nice exchange. I was impressed by the fact that he spoke at least four languages fluently (either with people popping-in the office or on the telephone) during our conversation. He was interested in our new Metropolitan and talked about Unity being the theology of the Church. He presented us each with a cross and gave us his blessing. What a rare treat!
Throughout the rest of the day we visited several holy sites throughout the city, including the prison where Christ was held, the birthplace of the Theotokos and SS. Joachim and Anna's home, the church on the grounds of St. Stephen's martyrdom, the tomb of the Theotokos, and other sites throughout Jerusalem. During the day the city was bustling with activity... the narrow streets were jam packed with tourists and merchants, who tried to guess your nationality and get your attention (Privet, Batushka or Yassos, Pater or "Hello, you speak English? I'll make a special price for you").
I felt safe during my entire time there, yet at the same time I realized that I was treated with suspicion and at times contempt by those who were not Christian... in the same way, I was tempted to view others through the lense of "us and them". Amongst all the Grace and holiness that abounds in the Holy City, there is (side by side with it) all the ugliness of fallen humanity... it is palpable and offers a constant struggle. I was struck by the "extremes" of this place, over and over again during my short stay! This is truly the front lines of a spiritual warfare that each of us, within our own given context, experiences every day of our lives. The solution... prayer, prayer, and you guessed it... more prayer!
With that said, please keep me in your prayers, as I will continue to remember you.
With love in Christ-

Fr. Stephen

Jerusalem - 02/11/09

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Birthplace of the Theotokos - 02/11/09

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Church of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen and the Tomb of the Theotokos - 02/11/09

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Jerusalem - 02/10/2009

Christ is in our midst!

On Tuesday, February 10th, Fr. Seraphim and I made the journey from the Sea of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem. The nearly two hour ride (by car) gave us a good idea of how much our Lord must have walked during His ministry before His Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection. The day was overcast and rainy... something which was desperately needed in this region.
During the trip we stopped along the way to enjoy the scenery (mostly sand and rocks), as well as the St. Gerasimos Monastery. It is literally in the middle of the desert. The monastery was founded by St. Gerasimos in the 7th century. This is also the monastery that St. Zosimus (from the story of St. Mary of Egypt) live his ascetic life. We were invited to the monastery trapeza for lunch, and ended up taking on an extra passenger - an Athonite monk named Fr. Zinovy.
We arrived in Jerusalem in the late afternoon and made our way to the Damascus gate and the home of an Arab Christian family inside the Old City. Our "home" here is just a couple minutes walk from the Holy Sepulcher! Once we met with the family and dropped off our bags we headed to the Patriarchate to receive the proper blessings, after which we took a tour of the Holy Sepulcher complex and venerated the many holy sites contained in this massive structure. Later the same evening (early morning - every Liturgy inside the Sepulcher complex is at midnight) we made our way through a hailstorm to the Divine services. The Liturgy was presided by Metropolitan ARISTARCOS of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and was celebrated at the place of our Lords Crucifixion at Golgotha. Thus ended our first day in the Holy City... what a blessing!

With love in Christ-

Fr. Stephen

Gerasimos Monastery - 02/10/09

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Jerusalem - 02/10/09

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Holy Land - 02/09/2009

Christ is in our midst!

I hope this most recent update finds you all doing well. Since I last wrote there have been some changes to my itinerary. By the grace of God and some help from Fr. Seraphim (not to mention Matushka Anna's blessing) I have been able to travel to Israel and the Holy Land. The Majmudars have an aunt who lives near the Sea of Galilee (about 2 hours north of Jerusalem by car) in a suburb of Tiberius. I was almost immediately struck by how modern Israel is, not the images we are used to seeing on television. We arrived late Sunday evening and by Monday we were off to experience all of the Holy Places surrounding the Sea of Galilee.  

I will give the details later but below is a summary of all the places we visited on Monday. Looking back I do not know how we went all these places in one short afternoon but by the grace of God and His Divine Providence we were able to make an unbelievable pilgrimage. At each site we read the appropriate Gospel lesson, bringing the scriptures into sharper focus and leaving us both overwhelmed by the gift we have in experiencing in a special way that Jesus Christ identified Himself with us and our humanity beyond comprehension and understanding.
I will write more and send pictures from Tuesday and Wednesday as we traveled from Galilee, through the Judean dessert and finally arrived in Jerusalem. Thank you for your continued prayers... I will remember you each by name tonight at the Liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre.
With love in Christ-
Fr. Stephen

Tiberius - 02/09/09

We awoke to begin our Galilee journey fresh off of 5 hours sleep. We did not think we would get much accomplished... but what is impossible with men is possible with God. We scoured the city looking for a cheap breakfast and a cup of coffee. After almost getting gilded by a shop keeper into ordering a 40 shekel each bagel (about $10 each) we escaped and found shop selling fresh baked goods out of the oven for about 12 shekels ($3) for both of us to fill our stomachs (not to mention some McDonald's espresso around the corner - typical Americans!)

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Nazareth - 02/09/09

The site of the Annunciation. There is an Orthodox church, which houses the well at which the Angel Gabriel announced that Mary would conceive a Child of the Holy Spirit.

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Cana of Galilee - 02/09/09

The site of Christ's First Miracle. There is an Orthodox church, which contains two of the large stone jars that Christ used in His first miracle.

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Mount Tabor - 02/09/09

The site on which Christ was Transfigured. There is an Orthodox women's monastery at the place of Transfiguration. The church was flooded with grace; we took a walk around the grounds and overlooked both Nazareth and Cana of Galilee from the mountaintop.

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Mount of the Beatitudes - 02/09/09

The site on which Christ delivered the Beatitudes (which we sing when the Priest bring the Gospel out the beginning of the Divine Liturgy). The mount has a gentle slope and there is a Roman Catholic Basilica at the site.

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St. Mary Magdalene Monastery - 02/09/09

Built on the site where Christ cleansed Mary of her possession by demons. The monastery complex is rather large and we were greeted warmly by the abbess and their caretaker Maxim (not to mention his dog).

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Cyprus - 02/08/09

Christ is in our midst!

After two days of cancellations... I arrived in Cyprus this past Thursday. I ended up flying from Philadelphia to Boston and then on to London and finally the city of Larnaca in Cyprus. When I arrived I could smell the citrus trees and feel the warm sun immediately... then I was met with a dose of reality -somewhere along the line my checked bag did not make the same journey... and it actually just arrived Saturday after Vespers! There is a saying out here, "why do it today when it could be done tomorrow" or perhaps the next couple of days I guess.

Friday was my first full day, and Fr. Seraphim Majmudar (a friend from seminary and his family who are living in Cyprus for a year) took me on a long walk along the roads and trails over-looking their village, Agios Georgios (St. George), as well as the rest of the region. This area is known for its grapes, which make a sweet wine called - Koummandaria (Koo-man-da-ria). Each village has at least one church and perhaps a chapel or two... there are tons of cats and YaYa's (grandmothers) roaming the streets.
Saturday evening and Sunday morning I served with Fr. Seraphim at the Panagia Amasgous (Mother of God of Damascus), which is named for a wonder-working icon which came from Damascus and is enshrined in their icononstasis. The monastery was founded in the 11th century and has survived invasion by pirates, Muslims, and other assorted and sundry characters. The Geronditsa (Eldress or Abbess) Epiphania and the sisters were very welcoming and a joy to be with. I hope to take photos of the monastery and share them at a later date.
The photos attached show the Majmudars (Fr. Seraphim, Sophie, Brigid, and John) at home in the village of Agios Georgois, the interior of the “old church” of St. George in the village, and scenes from our walk. Towards the end of the slide-show there are photos of St. Phonorios school and Church, in the city of Limersol, where John and Brigid go to school, as well as photos from Governors Beach (also near Limersol), and the Katholikon (Cathedral) of the city.
I hope to send more updates towards the end of next week. May God bless you all and may His Mother keep you under Her protecting veil.
With love in Christ-
Fr. Stephen


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