AN OPEN LETTER FROM OUR CLIENTS WHO VISITED ISRAEL WITH A PRIVATE DRIVER
Dear Clients and friends,
We received a very touching letter from our clients before the pandemic about their experience in Israel with our private driver and the staff of OTTO IL.
In the early morning of October 22, we left the cloudy and cold autumn Moscow and flew to the Holy Land. In Israel at this time - the velvet season. Date palms, tangerine trees with fruits, luxurious peacocks pacing importantly, the screams of parrots in the branches of centuries-old trees in the monastery of St. Tabitha, the sandy beach, and the salty spray of the Mediterranean Sea.
The taste of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice near the church of St. George the Victorious in Lod. One of the first Christian churches of the 4th century. Steep stone steps lead to the gloom of the cave with the relics of St. George. This is our first touch on the era of early Christianity. Then we will visit many caves carved into the rocks of ancient Judea. The caves of the shepherds who heard the news of the birth of the Divine baby Jesus. The stone manger of Bethlehem in the depths of the stone grotto. The caves where Nicholas the Wonderworker lived and prayed. Stone crypt of St. Lazarus, from where he rose at the call of Christ. The cave of the Nativity of the Virgin within the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.
The Praetorian Caves, where robbers and the Savior were kept in captivity in stone bags. The rocks of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on which the medieval crusaders knocked out their crosses during the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The second day of our trip with our private Israeli driver took place in Galilee. The Church of the Archangel Gabriel in Nazareth at the site of the source where the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told the good news about the coming birth of the Savior. There is still a spring inside the temple, and numerous pilgrims praise the Virgin Mary. In Cana of Galilee, as is often the case in the Holy Land, two temples claim to be the place where the wedding of Simon the Zealot took place, during which the miracle of turning water into wine took place. The local shop offers wine tasting from local producers. We ascend by bus along the serpentine road to the Transfiguration Monastery on Mount Tabor. Our private chauffeured car drives the road along the slopes of a round mountain 575 meters high in a few minutes. In October, the Monastery of the Transfiguration is deserted and we enjoy the tranquility and silence of its church, where the faces of the apostles and saints look at us from the walls. The fertile landscape of Galilee opens up from the height of the mountain.
On the western coast of the Sea of Galilee (Ginosar) in the homeland of Mary Magdalene in Magdala, we bathe in the healing waters of the spring of Mary Magdalene, located on the territory of the Russian courtyard. A wonderful oasis with grapefruit trees, olives, date palms, all in greenery and flowers. The waves of the Sea of Galilee roll quietly over the stones of Magdala, healing mineral springs emerge from the ground, bathing in which helps many suffering. There is a spring in one of the stone wells, the water of which helps with eye diseases. In a pool with a constant water temperature, you can get real SPA-procedures, this is helped by the pink, orange, and almost transparent fish living here. The day ends with a swim in the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Nearby there is a restaurant offering a taste of the "ST.Peter's fish" ( "Musht" or "Amnon", which is still found in the waters of the sea). True, it is supplied to restaurants from special farms.
We spent the third day of the trip in Bethlehem with our amazing Israeli driver. The morning began with early Matins at the Church of the Nativity of Christ. The circumcision stone of Jesus, the Bethlehem icon of the Mother of God, the Star of Bethlehem, and the stone manger of the lower church, fragments of the ancient Byzantine mosaic of the era of iconoclasm. The images of the Magi above the entrance gate helped the temple to avoid destruction at the hands of the Persians during the devastating wars when Christian shrines were destroyed throughout the Holy Land. On the Field of Shepherds, we see stone millstones of the beginning of the era, millennial olives, planted before the birth of Christ.
In the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Bethlehem, you can see a small stone cave cell without windows, where St. Nikolay Mirlikisky. In the lower part of the church, the icon of St. George the Victorious with a story common in Byzantium: behind the large figure of Saint George, a small youth is sitting on a horse with a jug in his hands. This motive goes back to the miracle of the kidnapped boy. According to the plot, the army of the Arabs captured a beautiful youth who served at the church of the Martyr George. The young man was assigned to work in the kitchen (or made a cupbearer). He never tired of praying to the saint for deliverance. Once a young horseman appeared to him, who threw him over the horse's neck and returned him to his homeland, to the church of St. George. The story of the return of their kidnapped sons to their parents was very popular in these places of continuous wars and raids.
The rest of the days of our Israeli trip were dedicated to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Through the Jaffa Gate, we enter the Old City with our amazing driver next to us. It is divided into 4 quarters. In the Armenian part, the streets are deserted, here life mainly takes place behind high stone walls. In the Christian and Muslim quarters, a fair is set up on the streets in an oriental-variegated manner and is aimed at pilgrims and tourists. Numerous shops offer candles for lighting in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Australian mother-of-pearl crosses, carved crucifixes, icons, figurines of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and Christmas scenes made of olive wood. Views of Jerusalem and shrines of the Holy Land, tourist maps and guides, handicrafts, and jewelry made of leather, wood, metal. Among the shops, you can also find real master jewelers. Nael Bader at 14, Via Dolorosa, creates his products with inserts of ancient Roman glass thrown out by the sea. He also uses druses of quartz and stones of Eilat, framing them with silver and gold. In the Jewish part of the Old City, the streets are quite spacious, and the vernissage of contemporary artists and craftsmen has been moved to a gallery under the roofs of buildings. The Old Town is still home to about 50,000 people. It is surrounded by high walls with 7 gates through which you can get into it. In the names of the gates, echoes of the centuries-old history of the city have been preserved: Jaffa, Damascus, Zion, Flower or Herod, Dung, Lion.
You can get to the square in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from two sides, passing through the cramped souvenir shops molding to the aisles. The temple is squeezed by the stone walls of the buildings around. It is located in a place where there were once crypts covered with stone slabs. The complex of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a complex structure, which includes more than 40 buildings. To the right of the main entrance, along a steep twisted staircase, you can go to Golgotha, where a fragment of rock with traces of three crosses driven into it has been preserved. From there you can go down to the Stone of Anointing, on which the body of the Savior was laid after his death. On the wall behind the Stone of Anointing is a large fresco with scenes of mourning. On the myrrh-streaming Anointing Stone, pilgrims spread crosses purchased in souvenir shops for consecration. To the left of the main entrance, in the center of a vast rotunda, under a blue dome with stars, there is a pentagonal domed chapel - The Tomb, where the body of Jesus Christ was buried in the grave cave. Usually, there is a line of pilgrims here, and on the outside of the chapel, there is a small chapel for filing personal notes. Immediately upon leaving the Tomb of Jesus, on the right, there is large white candle lit from the blessed fire, and pilgrims burn bundles of cleansing candles here to take them home.
To the right of the Anointing Stone, behind a glass display case, you can see a piece of rock with a crack and rusty bloodstains. According to legend, the blood from the wounds of the Savior through a cleft in the rock seeped from the top of Golgotha inward and fell on the skull of Adam buried here. This was accompanied by a strong earthquake, due to which a crack appeared on Calvary. In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, there are many side-altars of different Christian denominations. It is not fully painted, it is rather gloomy due to the height of the dark walls and the abundance of massive stone columns. On the stone walls leading to the excavations of Queen Helena, you can see the carved crosses of the Crusaders, which they left as a sign of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was they who once surrounded the first Christian chapels with high stone walls, and now the complex of the temple as a whole is subordinated to the architectural principles laid down by them. The space of the temple is divided between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Egyptian (Coptic) Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox churches. In the eastern part of the Katholikon (Church of the Resurrection of Christ), the main temple of the complex, there is an altar with a Byzantine-style iconostasis with icons from Russia. This is one of the brightest places of the temple due to the painting of the dome and the windows open to the light. Pigeons fly into them and roam the capitals of the columns. Around the main part of the Church of the Resurrection, there are many small chapels dedicated to evangelical events. They are illuminated by the light of lighted lamps. There are also underground chapels in the temple complex. You can go down to them by massive stone steps.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, ViaDolorosa ends with 14 stops on the Way of the Cross. At the very beginning, you can go down to the caves of imprisonment of robbers. Huge stone slabs of caves, with holes for legs, stone bags into which thieves and robbers were thrown - deep in the rocks, without light and windows - are immersed in the days of Roman rule. Descending into the cave where Mary was born, from the Orthodox church of St. Anna and Joachim, you see the cramped conditions in which the Jews lived at that time. Catholic Church of St. Anna near this place is located on the territory of a Catholic monastery with archaeological excavations of the basins of the springs of Bethesda. Over two millennia, the layers of the Old City have risen significantly, the palaces and walls of ancient Jerusalem were buried at a rather great depth. This can be seen from the preserved fragment of the city wall, which is especially demonstrated on the way to the Western Wall.
The Wailing Wall (Western Wall) is a fragment of a wall that was erected in 19 BC. King Herod enlarge the area of the Temple Mount during the reconstruction of the Second Temple. Entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims is possible from 7-30 to 10 in the morning and from 12-30 to 13-30 from Sunday to Thursday. We managed to walk along a covered wooden walkway at 13 o'clock and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Old City under the walls of the Islamic Museum, located in a building built by the Templars.
The Old City can be accessed through the Zion Gate. On Mount Zion, on the territory of the Dormition Abbey (Benedictines), there is a temple of the Assumption of the Virgin, with a crypt in the center of which is the stone on which Mary died. Nearby you can climb to the Zion Upper Room - the site of the Last Supper.
The Mount of Olives (Olive) is located in East Jerusalem, in the Muslim part of the city. The Garden of Gethsemane with millennial olives, the Franciscan Church of All Nations with a stone on which the Savior prayed to the Father for the Chalice, the Russian Orthodox monastery of St. Mary Magdalene with the relics of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and nun Varvara, the Greek Church of the Assumption of the Virgin with the tomb of the Mother of God, the Savior-Ascension Cathedral and the Chapel of the Finding of the truncated head of John the Baptist in the Savior-Ascension Monastery of the Russian Church Abroad. Here you can see the stone steps along which Christ and his disciples descended from the Mount of Olives on the way from Bethany to Jerusalem. Once a staircase led from the Golden Gate of Jerusalem to the top of Mount Olivet. Preserved seven steps in Russian Gethsemane and eight on the opposite slope of the Kidron Valley. According to legend, the Lord's entry into Jerusalem took place along this staircase. Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane in several girths, with already hollow trunks inside, still shoot from the root. During the Jewish War (66-77), the garden was cut down to fuel the fires of Roman soldiers by order of the emperor Titus. According to legend, today's olive trees grow from the roots of the trees under which Jesus Christ prayed.
The last excursion with our tour guide in Israel was to the Russian Orthodox monastery "Gorny city of Judas", founded by Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin in Ein-Karem (EinKerem). On the territory of the monastery, there are many private monasteries with beautiful flower beds and a broken park. In 2007, the consecration of the cathedral "All the Saints Who Shone on the Land of Russia" took place. The monastery is located on an elephant mountain. Not far from this place lived Elizabeth, to whom the Virgin Mary came to visit from Nazareth to share the Good news about the birth of Jesus. Here she drank water from the spring, and the place became known as the "Spring in the vineyard" (EinKerem).
Our trip was organized by the OTTO transportation service in Israel agency, thanks to the fact that Rem Bazarski (a graduate of the Eurythmy Academy in Moscow) moved to Jerusalem and began to engage in private excursions to the Holy Land of Russian tourists and pilgrims. It should be noted that we were lucky with the guide. Slava Bazarski, a former Muscovite, during the excursion generously shared his experience of many years of life in Israel and was distinguished by his enviable erudition.
Olga and Alex Matveev