A virtual Pilgrimage

Inspiring words from the Last Pilgrim out of the Holy Sephulcre

Last Pilgrim Out - by Don Binder ,  Chaplain to Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Archbishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

Knowing that yesterday would be the last day we could venture out for some time, I felt called by God to go and pray before Jerusalem's Holy Sites on behalf of the thousands of Christian pilgrims who would normally be doing so in these weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter.

I took all the necessary precautions and first walked through the largely empty streets of the Old City to our faith's most sacred shrine: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside, only the priests, deacons, and sisters were there, praying at various chapels around the church.

I went first up to the Chapel of the Crucifixion, set on top of the Rock of Calvary. Normally, I would place my hand in the hole under the altar and touch the rock, perhaps kissing the altar afterwards. This time, I simply knelt before the sacred site for several minutes in prayer, recalling how, even now, Christ was suffering on our behalf.

I then climbed down the stairs of that chapel and walked over to the Aedicule to venture inside. In the past, I'd spent maybe twenty seconds within the inner chamber, mindful of the long line of pilgrims waiting to get inside.

But yesterday there was no line. And so I knelt there before Christ's tomb in prayer for a good long time, offering up intercessions for as many things as I could think of, knowing that the pilgrims who would normally be present couldn't be there--and probably wouldn't be there for many weeks or even months. So I prayed on their behalf, lifting up a small but hopefully representative portion of those things of which they might have been asking God, had they been in my place.

Similarly, I went around to all the chapels of the church and did the same. I crawled in and prayed next to the traditional tombs of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in the Syrian Chapel. I then offered prayers in the Chapel of Christ's Imprisonment, and in front of the smaller chapels nearby. From there, I went down to St. Helena's Chapel, and even deeper below to the Chapel of the True Cross. While I was there, a stream of several deacons came in to cense the altar and shrines, the bells of their thuribles ringing as they did.

After about an hour-and-a-half of prayer, I went upstairs to leave. As it turns out, the priests were starting to pull the doors shut for an unprecedented closure that would last for a full week. They cracked open those ancient doors just enough to allow me to leave.

I was the last pilgrim out.

Feeling my mission not yet over, I left the courtyard and did the Stations of the Cross in reverse, pausing at each one to utter a brief prayer, again on behalf of the multitude of pilgrims who would normally be doing so during this penitential Lenten season.

After reaching the First Station, I continued on through the Lion Gate, crossing the Kidron Valley to the the Garden of Gethsemane. Surprisingly, its gates were still open, monitored by a single guard buried deep within his kiosk. Inside the Garden itself, I was totally alone. And so I prayed there before the eight gnarled Olive trees, remembering the events of that ancient Passover night.

I didn't think that the adjoining Church of All Nations would be open, but I went over to check. Sure enough, it was. I pushed past its unlocked doors and entered the church's darkened, alabaster-saturated nave. The Church was empty. I approached the altar and knelt before the large stone where Christ once sweat drops of blood as he prayed for the cup of crucifixion to be taken from him--but only if it were the Father's will, not his own.

Leaving there, I ascended the Mount of Olives and surveyed Jerusalem from the top, as I've done so many times before. But this time was different. This time had a special holiness about it because I felt that throughout my whole journey I was there on behalf of millions of Christians around the world who wanted to be in my shoes, but couldn't be.

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my journey yesterday afternoon was for you. I hope that in some small way, this rather lengthy post has allowed you to travel with me, for it was my honor to follow in Christ's footsteps on your behalf.

That said, please come back to us as soon as possible! For Jerusalem is not Jerusalem without the presence of its thousands of faithful pilgrims, coming to us from every corner of the earth. We miss you and pray for your return very soon!