St Pauls in Jerusalem 7

St Pauls | Involvement

Jerusalem - 8
January 2006


St Paul's helps sponser ministries outside of its walls. Here is an example of one such ministry. Here in a series of letters the Rev. Paul Lillie describes his life in Jerusalem at St. George's Cathedral.



It's Friday, and it's quiet. Salahadin Street, which is usually overcrowded with cars and youth, is empty and desolate, for everyone has gone to pray. By 2:00 it will be busy again, but for now, everything has stopped for prayer. Most residents of this part of Jerusalem are Muslim and Friday is their most important religious day. Everyone goes to the mosques to pray and, on this day, they also hear the Friday sermon.

It's Friday, and it's busy. At noontime in Mea Shearim, the clock is ticking, for things have to be prepared for Shabat. Some time this evening, according to the setting of the sun, sirens will sound throughout Jerusalem indicating that Shabat has begun. Already people are greeting each other with "Shabat shalom" and soon we will hear music from the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim ushering in this most holy night of the week.

And amidst all of this, the faithful bells of the Church of the Resurrection peal. (The local Christians call the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Resurrection. They take special pride in the name, for they love to tell us Westerners how they preach Christ resurrected - not buried.) Mid-afternoon the bells clang - and yes, they truly clang. They do not ring. In fact they clamor. They have a low sounding resonance, and they peal to a haunting rhythm. When you hear them, they make you shiver with all of the mystery and confusion of Christ's death and resurrection. They are not happy, sentimental bells, but rather, they are profound. They stop you from doing whatever you are doing and they remind and reconnect you with that which is most important - the Risen Christ transforming the world.

Everyone here is religious; everyone prays. There is a wonderful new café near the college, and it is a great intersection of the children of Abraham in this city. The Muslim owners are incredibly hospitable to the Christian tourists of St. George's Close and the Jewish employees of the Ministry of Justice and Courts. The Muslim owners call me Abuna (Father) and they speak eloquent Hebrew to judges and lawyers. It is completely natural to them, for they wholeheartedly believe and say, "we all pray to the same God."

At the Cathedral, everyday we pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and we celebrate the Eucharist. It is our rhythm. Sometimes forty people will gather, and at other times I am alone as the officiant. A tourist once said to me, "why do you bother to say Morning Prayer when you are alone? Isn't it a waste of your time?" When we consider that our time is a complete gift from God, we see how our prayer is our response to God's gratefulness, and in such situations, even though one may be alone praying in mortal terms, one is not alone among the immortals, for Mary, the apostles, prophets, martyrs, saints, and angels are all in attendance, joining in the prayers of that one officiant to the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How could such prayer ever be a waste of time?

Jerusalem is a city of prayer - everyone prays, and everyone is acutely aware of how one is never alone when they pray. It is our hope for peace - the never-ending rhythm of prayer in this city. We are at our best when we are praying, for we come to realize that in prayer we are dependent on God and on one another. When we pray all of us are united in the realm of God's mercy, whether we are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. We comprehend that when we pray, time is suspended and the communion of all believers is at peace.

I had the beautiful opportunity to lead a group of pilgrims on the Stations of the Cross this week in the Old City. Earlier in the week, I mentioned to them not to be afraid to experience prayer as the local Christians do. Do not be afraid to kiss the icons, and do not be afraid to rest your weary head on the stone of the empty tomb. Do not be afraid to light a candle at Calvary, and do not be afraid to meditate in silence amidst the olive trees of Gethsemane.

And so, we were praying the stations of Christ's passion. After touching the rock of Calvary, we gathered around the preparation stone that commemorates Christ's body being prepared for his burial. I invited all of us to kneel, and there we gave thanks for the faithful who placed Christ's body in the tomb. We said our prayers, and then we knelt in silence. Other pilgrims gathered around us, forming another ring of prayer, and Israeli police at the door of the church bowed their heads and kept silence. God's love had broken into our presence, and all was at peace.

Prayer does change things. It does not matter if you are in the mosque, synagogue, or the empty tomb - it does not matter if you surrounded by thousands or you are the lonely officiant at St. George's Cathedral - prayer changes the world. Praise be to God that this city of Jerusalem, amidst all of its troubles and anxieties, is a city of prayer. Thanks be to God for those moments of Sabbath rest when the earthly Jerusalem becomes a true example of the heavenly Jerusalem, a sanctuary of prayer and peace for all of God's people.

The Revd. Paul Lillie
February 2006



2006 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York