It’s sadly, finally time to bid my 4th century Spanish nun/adventure traveler/pilgrim Egeria a fond, bittersweet farewell. It seems only right to hear her one more time now, as the recovered portion of her travel journal abruptly terminates just after her riveting narration of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Egeria herself, much like me, isn’t very good at goodbyes, so perhaps it’s fitting the remainder of her journal is lost in time. I’ve always wondered what other treasures she captured for her sisters back in Spain, and whether we may one day stumble across them yet preserved. A guy can only hope…and now to Egeria herself.
The Fiftieth Day is a Sunday, and a great effort for the people….in the morning the people all assemble in their usual way in the Great Church, the Martyrium…when they arrive, they have a reading of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles about the descent of the Spirit, and how all the languages spoken were understood. The Presbyters concern themselves with this reading because Sion is the very spot where what I have just mentioned was done….So all the people go home for a rest, and, as soon as they have had their meal, go up to Eleona, the Mount of Olives, each at his own pace, till there is not a Christian left inside the city.
Egeria is narrating the evolving Feast of Pentecost for the 4th century Christian church, and evidently hiking the extensive local TripTik required to accomplish this 24-hour long worship fest! Up and down they go from today’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside Jerusalem’s Old City, across the Kidron Valley and up Olivet to the Eleona (all these places names riff off of the word we borrow into English as olive, because of the popularity of terraced agriculture of olive trees…the Garden of Gethsemane is right there mountain-side). Note they stop literally at every sacred site marking the end of the gospels (Jesus’ ascension) and Pentecost (the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit, originally a Jewish early summer agricultural festival), singing, chanting and praying. Whew! Still later…
All the people…go (back) down with the Bishop, singing hymns suitable for that day, and so very gradually make their way (back) to the Martyrium. Even when they arrive at the city gate, it is already night, and the people have brought hundreds of church lamps to help them. It is quite a (long) way…(and they) go slowly all the way so the walk does not fatigue the worshippers.
Can you just imagine being there with her being with all of them? Sweaty, exhausted, and now illuminated with iridescent lamps casting ever-dancing shadows across the whitewashed Jerusalem stone?! They end with those lamps brightening the arched ceiling of the Great Church from the inside, a supernal view suffusing the very center of Jerusalem at night. How absolutely enchanting for Pentecost worship, and note Egeria does not include folks reading in differing languages! One was enough for all the pilgrims. Finally, mercifully,
After the dismissal everyone goes to kiss the Bishop’s hand, and about midnight everybody goes home. Thus it is a very hard day for them, for they have never stopped all day since they kept the vigil (the night before) in the Anastasis!
If we have to close out Egeria’s amazing journal, this is the moment to conclude it! Everyone limping home (another long walk) after midnight, worshipping with two very brief breaks almost 26 to 28 hours continuously! She was so impressed, as am I, to find fellow pilgrims and Jerusalemite Christians who took Jesus’ journey seriously, re-tracing His (sorry cannot help it!) steps repeatedly despite hardship. The next morning, all the weekly fasts begin again now that the special time of Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost has concluded. But just for a moment, end tonight in your special prayer corner seeing the lamplight dance across the soaring cupola of the Constantinian, Byzantine masterwork domed church, the Bishop alone standing to bless all the people, and one very special pilgrim too. Not Egeria. That special pilgrim is you.