The oldest church in the Holy Land. Floor mosaics inside
date from 339 AD!!
|Original floor from 339 AD|
Let me tell you about Omar. We Christians don't know anything about him. He was the second Muslim Caliph. Having conquered the Holy Land he traveled to Bethlehem in 637 AD to issue a law that would guarantee the safety of Christians and clergy. He was asked if he would like to pray in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, he declined. However he did want to pray at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. So here's where the story gets interesting. In order to accommodate Omar, the leaders knew that he would need to pray toward Mecca, and that there couldn't be any images in the area where he prayed. So they enlarged a side door in the direction of Mecca and to this day there are no icons or images in that part of the church. This was over 1400 years ago! Still it remains empty for Omar!
|Here you see the door and the white plain wall.|
In order to make sure there would be no problems, Omar decreed that Muslims could visit the Church of the Nativity, but should not pray there. Instead he built a mosque across from manger square for the Muslims to use for prayer. The mosque of Omar. I guess what I find amazing is that in a land that is often known for its extremes, here is a decision that involved compromise, mercy, and mutual respect for each other; while fully realizing that there are differences between us.
How I wish we had some folks with the wisdom of Omar today!!
Where St. Jerome translated the Bible
Finally, you'll have to wait until December, but I've learned a few new things about the birth of Jesus as well. It doesn't change the wonder of the story, but it seriously challenges one of our most deeply held 'folk tales' about that night. Ask me when I get back and I'll tell you....or just come to church on Christmas eve!
At the end of the day, visiting the shepherds fields--where we had communion and the caretaker of the beautiful church let us ring the bells as we sang "Angels we have heard on high." And being in the oldest church in the Holy Land, singing "Silent Night" right near where he was born whose name is above all names....wow, that is quite the Christmas present.
|Cave at Shepherds field set for Holy Communion.|
|Church at Shepherds Field.|