August 6, 2010

Our Pilgrimage Began in the Holy Land

We began our journey in Caesarea Maritime, on the coast of Israel.  There we found the remains of the ancient Roman city built by Herod to honor Caesar Augustus and to establish his kingdom as a center for trade and entertainment.  He built the port with both inner and outer harbors to attract trade and the shipping industry.  His plan worked.  The port became an important rest stop for ships voyaging back and forth from Alexandria and Asia Minor.  It was also the secular capital of Herod's kingdom.   Jerusalem, where he built the Temple, was a much smaller religious center.  The picture shows an entrance into the ancient theatre.

At the site, one finds sarcophaguses with ancient Christian symbols on them like the Alpha and Omega or the fish pattern.  A living fish in Greek is Ichthus and each of the Greek letters of this word signify the heart of Christian belief - Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior.  These are the vestiges of a once prestigious center for Christianity.   Philip and Paul preached here and, Peter baptized Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, and his whole household.

Because of its connection with the apostles, and their missionary journeys, the Church in Caesarea was important in post-apostolic times, and a center of learning even while the Church was persecuted.  Origen, a great patristic authority, founded a school of theology there and a priest, St. Pamphilus was martyred there in 309.  One of the school's leaders and a student of Pamphilus was Eusebius of Caesarea  In 313, Eusebius wrote the History of the Church, the first historical account of the Church since apostolic times.   In the Byzantine period, the city had an octogonal Church built over the site of a pagan temple.  Christians were persecuted again in the 6th Century as the power of the Byzantine Empire began to decline in the area and in the first part of the 7th Century Caesarea was under Islamic control.

Caesarea was captured by the crusaders in 1101 and pillaged.  It really was not until the French King St. Louis fled there in 1228 that it was rebuilt and fortified as a fully functional port city.  Many of these 13th Century fortifications still stand.  But in 1291, Muslim forces captured and completely destroyed the port.

This city was really the first "See" of Peter and Paul, a sort of prototype for the Church of Rome.  Although there is no functioning church to pray in, this was once a great place of Christian worship, life, architecture and culture.   There is however the presence of the Lord in the ocean and in the architectural remnants of the Christian community that was there.  As a pilgrim, I took some time to be mindful the Lord and to read the  account of Paul's imprisonment in Acts where his preaching nearly convinces the Roman leaders to become Christian.  As is normally the case when one reads the Bible in its geographic location, a sort of awareness of the concrete historicity of the mystery of our faith became overwhelming.  It was as if I were hearing the preaching of Paul, as if I too were present to listen to his witness.  This experience deepened my awareness of the Lord and what He has done for our sakes - and whenever someone recieves a grace like this, prayer flows like breathing.  The fact is, apostolic preaching makes Christian prayer possible.  Because there are preachers, we know to whom it is we call out to when we call out to the Lord.