What a fantastic start to Day 2 of PaTRAM Institute’s CD recording and pilgrimage. Today started with a visit to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in Palestine, an independent nation, so there was a border to cross which, thank God, went by without incident. The choir gathered in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity. The birthplace of Jesus Christ!
Father Roman Gultaev led the group into the church, through a four-foot high stone opening and into the great church itself with it’s unbelievably intricate and beautiful iconastasis (shown later in this story) and down a set of stone steps, to another four-foot high stone opening, into the cramped but beautiful cave where Jesus Christ was born. As the group gathered, the morning Divine Liturgy began with the choir (led by one of PaTRAM’s choristers, Elias Dubelsten) singing and the liturgy being read in Greek, Arabic and Slavonic. Amazing!
With the blessing of the Metropolitan of Bethlehem, His Eminence Benedict (center), and the bishops accompanying PaTRAM™, Bishop Theodosy of Seattle and Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, all celebrated the very special and unique service, mere feet from where Jesus was born! Imagine that! The man who changed the world forever was born right here. To the hierarchs’ left, out of the picture-as there are too many people venerating it to get a good photo-is the manger where the Most Holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mary nestled Her Son the baby Jesus. One’s eye’s burst with amazement at the thought of what happened here!
The pinnacle of the visit to the Nativity cave, after the Liturgy, was the veneration of the Star that signified the exact spot where Jesus was born to the Most Holy Theotokos. All believers were given the unbelievable honor to genuflect to their knees, reach their heads into the fireplace-sized opening and kiss the Star where Jesus Christ, Our Savior, was born. The impact that has on one’s soul is inexplicable and the only way to experience that feeling is to have gone there in-person! A tremendous honor.
After the Liturgy, the group, and the three hierarchs, were invited back into the main church to pose for a group photo under the majestic, gold, 3+story iconostasis and its intricate carvings and iconography. Stunningly beautiful!
His Eminence, Metropolitan Benedict of Bethlehem invited all the pilgrims to have coffee, tea and sweets in the unique, arched stone meeting room adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. It was a wonderful gesture by the Metropolitan to invite everyone to his personal meeting room and show his support and give His blessing to the PaTRAM Institute Male Choir™ and accompanying pilgrims.
Then, the bus ride back to the Eleon Monastery for rehearsal in the Trapeznaya Church. The same church that is 150 meters from where the Ascension took place! And also, 50 feet from where the head of St. John the Baptist was discovered and a church erected on the site. Lunch-fueled and inspired by all the Holy places they visited and were near to, the choir continued to improve and grow under the steady hand of Maestro Ekaterina Antonenko.
More to share later…..