One of the dearer friends that I made this past year is an Armenian priest. He has been in Jerusalem for the past 15 years and has served in the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of St. James as Seminary Dean and as an Archimandrite. Fr. E and I were classmates at Hebrew University. In one of our first conversations over tea he mentioned that sometimes people choose to spend the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He says that he often does when he is going to travel back to Armenia. The Armenian Patriarchate is one of the three major guardians of the Christian Holy Sites in the Holy Land and he knows the Church of the Holy Sepulchre intimately. The Holy Sepulchre houses Golgotha and the Tomb of Jesus Christ.
Cha-ching! My mind began to work overtime. Spend the night…in the Holy Sepulchre…the holiest place in all of Christendom? Wouldn’t it be a little spooky? Do they keep the lights on? What if I get tired? Can I sleep? Can I take pictures? Is there a bathroom? For the next few months as our friendship developed I kept entertaining the thought but then quickly changed the subject in my mind. It was sort of like watching a scary movie with your hands over your eyes but your figures spread apart so that you can see. I wanted to be there but then again I didn’t, after all, I’m not orthodox. And the Holy Sepulchre is a big place.
There are some experiences that, if we don’t take advantage of them, we will regret later in life. Sitting vigil in the Holy Sepulchre is one of them. As my sojourn in Jerusalem came to an end I told Fr. E that I wanted to stay the night. Being one of the calmest people that I know, he said, “OK. That is good. I’m on duty that night so I’ll be there with you.” I could bring my Bible and a journal, “don’t forget your camera” he said. But there is one concession that I had to make. Fr. E asked me to wear a long skirt or dress, cover my arms, and don a head covering. And so on July 29, an unusually hot night in Jerusalem, and feeling a little silly with a head shawl on, I spent the night inside of the Holy Sepulchre.
After the ceremonial closing of the doors Fr. E came to me and said, “The church is yours”. The priests disappeared and I was left with only two other women for a night of reflection and prayer. The next few blog entries will reflect upon my night.
The photo above was taken a few weeks before I spent the night. It shows the doors to the Holy Sepulchre from the outside plaza. For those of you who have been there, you'll notice that tourists and pilgrims have retreated for the night.