CMEP stands for Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of national church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions.
On the Second Sunday of Lent this American opened an email from CMEP because the subject was: “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”
Because the content of the CMEP email reminded me of my 2005 experience at the pool of Bethesda both follow as we pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.
By Eileen Fleming
Molly Lorden, the CMEP1835 Coordinator for Churches for Middle East Peace is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her reflection and this American’s experience at the pool of Bethesda follow:
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” the sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.”
For Christians, the city of Jerusalem has deep theological significance as the place Jesus often traveled to participate in the traditional Jewish feasts, performed healings, and in the end was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Today, there are many sites that remember these events in Jesus’ life. One of these is the pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man we read about in the beginning of John 5. Today, many Christian pilgrims visit St. Anne’s Church, believed to be the location of the pool of Bethesda as well as the birthplace of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Christians from the Middle East and around the world make pilgrimages to these sites, and many others in and around Jerusalem, and the Holy Land. These pilgrims seek to educate themselves about the roots of their faith, and to deepen their spiritual lives through these experiences.
Today, there are many Christians, representing a multitude of denominations who worship in churches in the Old City, around Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Late last week, Christian leaders in Jerusalem received word that the municipality intended to break a centuries long status quo agreement and begin to collect taxes on church properties not used as houses of worship. The leaders of these churches issued a statement, saying, “We declare that such a measure both undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church.”
As we continue to fix our eyes on Jerusalem in prayer this Lent, let us remember our Christian siblings who live in the Holy Land, as well as those who make pilgrimages to grow in their faith. Let us pray for the churches who minister to these people daily.
“God, Again, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for the Christians who call the city home, and for those who make pilgrimages to visit its holy sites and grow in their faith. We pray for peace as policies arise which seem to threaten the ability of these historical churches to fulfill their mission. As we pray for our Christian siblings, we continue to also pray Jews and Muslims, who also call Jerusalem holy. We pray for peace within and among these three religions.In your name we pray, Amen.” -Molly Lorden, currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Learn about CMEP HERE
CHAPTER 6: Do You Want to be Healed?
“The Peace of the world begins in Jerusalem.”– Reverend Theodore Hessburgh
I met Vanunu next in the garden restaurant at the American Colony. Vanunu was immersed in his laptop and I sat silently scanning the faces of humanity, when frisson occurred-that chill in the thrill of the rush you experience in a moment of delight, excitement or fear.
It happened as I was looking directly into the dark eyes of a large man who didn’t look away, before I did.
When I looked at him again a few moments later he was still staring at me and when I left that meeting, he was still looking at me.
I asked Vanunu if he might be one of his trackers and he shrugged and replied there were “stupid spies everywhere.”
After another meeting with Vanunu, he walked me to the Notre Dame Center where I attended an Interfaith conference, but he refused to go in because there would be “Jewish there.”
After we said goodnight, Vanunu turned and approached a young woman who was with two young men carrying audio-visual equipment. Vanunu asked her, “Didn’t I see you at St. George?”
She shook her head negative and he said, “I am Mordechai Vanunu and you can meet me at St. George.”
She shook her head negative again and as Vanunu walked away, she shot her companions a look that needed no words, and I felt a rush of compassion and pity for him.
I was also feeling miserable over what I had blurted out at dinner a few minutes before. Vanunu told me that he was no longer a Jew, and that he had quit being a Jew even before he knew who Jesus Christ/JC was.
I said, “Vanunu, being a Jew is in your DNA! You can change your religion, but not your roots or from where you came. And anyway, JC never quit being a Jew! He was born, lived and died a Palestinian Jew and never intended to create a new religion! Brother, don’t you want to be healed?”
Vanunu responded abruptly, “I AM HEALED!”
I knew to shut up.
Why I had blurted out such a thing was triggered by my experience at the pool of Bethesda on my very first morning in Jerusalem about ten days prior.
In May of 2005, just prior to my first journey to Israel Palestine I phoned Mother Agapia Stephanopolous, a Russian Orthodox nun and the administrator of the Orthodox School of Bethany in Jerusalem, to schedule an appointment for Spiritual Direction and to discuss our mutual feelings about The Wall.
Mother Agapia is the sister of ABC News commentator, George Stephanopolous, and she had passionately informed Congress about the fact that, “Israel is destroying the local Christian community.”
On April 18, 2005, Robert Novak’s article “Walling off Christianity” reported on the nun’s letter to Congress and how East Jerusalem had been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Mother Agapia predicted, “It is only a matter of time before Christians and Muslims will be unable to survive culturally and economically.”
Mother Agapia spoke bluntly about the nine yards high wall of Israeli concrete that have “shattered” the Christian communities.
She told Novak, “I witness the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and the deprivation of her non-Jewish residents’ religious rights every day. Even the United States seems to have been taken in by Israeli spin.”
On my very first afternoon in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2005, the nun met me at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem and I told her that I hadn’t been taken in by the spin, but what could I possibly do? She had no answer.
I also told her of the surreal experience I had that very morning while wandering around in the Old City. I had landed in Tel Aviv with ten other members of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace just a few hours before dawn on that Sunday morn. We all checked into our rooms at the Ambassador; they all crashed, but I was wide awake.
As soon as the sun rose I began to explore, and after attending mass at St. George Cathedral I wandered around the Old City, which was eerily empty. I stumbled upon the site of the Pool of Bethesda and experienced déjà vu, which was more real than imaginary.
While I was a first year student in the Episcopal Diocese of Orlando Florida’s Formation Program for Spiritual Directors, on the second night of the second retreat, we had a guided meditation on the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda.
There were seven of us in the class and we were instructed to close our eyes, listen to the story and allow our imagination to lead us to respond to the character that called to us.
Our leader prefaced the story from John 5:1-6, by telling the legend of the angel from heaven who would descend and agitate the waters of the Pool of Bethesda. Only the first leper, blind, or invalid who made it into the water would receive a healing.
One day while Jesus was there, he walked by a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The man answered he had no friends to help him get into the water first. Jesus asked him again, “Do you want to be healed?”
Our leader then went silent, and in my imagination I was immediately upon the back of that agitating angel.
I hadn’t thought of that experience until four years later when I found myself at the site of the Pool of Bethesda.
What triggered the memory of that guided meditation was the recollection of a dream I had had a few weeks after that day we call 9/11.
In my dream I had stood at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew. To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them. I remembered thinking the moment I woke up from that dream what a strange place it was, but then I quickly forgot all about it.
That is, until the afternoon of 12 June 2005, when I found myself standing at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew. To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them. What a strange place I thought, how could it be that I had seen this scene in a dream a few weeks after that day we call 9/11?
On the afternoon of my very first day in Jerusalem, I told Mother Agapia that what I had seen at the Pool of Bethesda: I had also seen in a dream!
She shrugged and smiled, then told me about the Jerusalem Interfaith Peace Conference with satellite link to the world that was happening the Sunday after the Thursday I was scheduled to return to the USA.
I knew immediately that I needed to attend and after saying goodbye to Mother Agapia, I phoned my husband to get his OK to delay my return to America;
And that is how and why I had time in Jerusalem to listen to Vanunu talk about his childhood memories, crisis of faith and conscience, how he endured 18 years in jail, and how he related to movies such as Silence of The Lambs.
I asked Vanunu “do you want to be healed” a few hours before attending the Jerusalem Interfaith Peace Conference with satellite link from Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center.
Dan Rather moderated from Washington D.C.
Reverend Theodore Hessburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame began the evening with a summons: “The Peace of the world begins in Jerusalem.”
Dr. Tsvia Walden, Board of Director of the Peres Center and Geneva Initiative stated, “There is a need for a third party in the negotiations that could enable both sides to trust each other. There are more people in this region interested in making concessions, they all want peace so desperately.”
The Coordinator of World Bank emergency services to the PA, Rania Kharma informed, “We all need to be the bridges to our leaders that justice, equality, and human rights will bring peace. Give people justice and they will reward you with peace.”
Sheik Imad Falouiji warned, “Religions must go back to their origins. God commands us to love each other and live together. This Holy Land was given to all people. This land is on fire. There is an occupation that must be removed. The language of peace cannot succeed without justice for all.”
The Rt. Rev. Bishop Riah Abu Assal affirmed, “Peace is an act. Blessed are the peacemakers not the peace talkers. Peace is possible in the Holy Land. The root cause for the lack of peace since 1967 is the occupation. For peace to make progress in the Middle East we need to deal with the root cause…Religion was not meant to bring death. All those involved in searching for peace should commit themselves to work for justice and truth.”
Throughout the entire evening, I kept remembering what President Bush promised in his Second Inaugural Address:
“In the long run, there is no justice without FREEDOM. There can be no human rights without LIBERTY. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we stand with you.” [End chapter]
Vanunu responded on video to my first two questions about ten days after my first experience at the pool of Bethesda.
Eileen Fleming, Senior Non-Arab Correspondent for USA’s TADN writes HERE
Eileen Fleming produced the UNCENSORED “30 Minutes with Vanunu” Mordechai, Israel’s nuclear whistleblower
Contact her HERE
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