The Hardest Pilgrimage of All

I have stated – not tongue in cheek – that “I am an ignorant man,” and I have also added that “I am a man still in need of a Savior.” These things do not change on a pilgrimage but become only clearer. The most difficult of all pilgrimages is the pilgrimage to the heart and finding there, not only the treasuries of paradise, but also all the garbage stuffed there over the decades. At times I am a fool, and like the childish boy who sat in the front of class. Other times – well – there are other times.

The Great Pilgrimage is our journey from glory to glory into the image of Christ and this is marked by sin and confession, forgiveness and the restoration that is the Father’s great mercy.

The strange politics of the Holy Land, marked by Jew, Palestinian Arab and Christian, Druze, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox are not merely the left-overs of history the flotsam and jetsam of a land that has had too much religion. It is the collection of centuries, gathered by mankind, not only in his search for God but in his hatred of his brother. And the hearts of people here are no different than the hearts of people everywhere. I have been here long enough to see that I am not a pure-hearted pilgrim, but just another sinner on the bus, with as much nonsense in my soul as the next.

And yet the pilgrimage goes on, for we have no other help than God and we, if we wish to truly live, can only come running to Him. It is strangely fitting that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by many groups – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, etc. It is strangely fitting because our sins have brought us to the silliness in which we stand. None of this lessens the truth as proclaimed – but it underscores the confusion among Christians and the fact that there truly is only one Sepulchre, even as there is only One God. And all of us put our hope in Him.

Tomorrow they take us up on the Temple Mount. There are strict rules which govern such a visit – not all of which delight me as an Orthodox Christian – but the Christians who live in this land constantly bear the burden of restrictions. Thus I will try to refrain from complaining.

There cannot, it seems, be one sign that says, “The Pilgrimage to the Heart” – 30 shekels. The price of admission to that Holy Place usually costs so much more, and I don’t think I have enough to visit that place very long. Please pray that this poor sinner, distracted with his own shadow and his own sin, find the way to make the Great Pilgrimage, wherever it occurs.

We leave Saturday and get home sometime Sunday. That likely means that some regularity will return to the blog. I have much to do when I return home. I have writing to finish and my parish work.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





13 responses to “The Hardest Pilgrimage of All”

  1. Ttony Avatar

    Dear Father, thank you for your commentary on this particular pilgrimage and for your commentary on your and our general pilgrimage through life.

  2. shevaberakhot Avatar


    Because we live in Him, we shall receive all we ask for. We live because of Him.


  3. Margaret Avatar

    I join Ttony in the post above! Dear Father, you have been so kind to share your experience thus far while in the Holy Land. In keeping with your kindness in sharing your experience thus far in this life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, as you encourage me to go there often and take stock and worship God. Thank you! God bless you!

  4. November In My Soul Avatar

    Having you as our tour guide is a tremendous blessing. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy and tiring schedule to let us see though your eyes.

  5. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    I remember when you first told me you had never been to the Holy Land. I was surprised. Now you are there and greatly blessed, and I’m happy for you.

    I got next.

  6. Alexander Avatar

    My weak prayers are with you, Father.
    Please remember me, too.
    My feelings resulting from your writings here are beyond the words…

  7. Lana Balach Avatar
    Lana Balach

    Send one
    Raise it up
    Sing it
    Chant it
    Cry it
    Shout it
    Your heart
    The resonance of
    Your prayer
    Ripples through
    Never dying
    Never ending
    Lord Have Mercy

  8. Lucias Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I have enjoyed tagging along on your trip to the Holy Land through your blog.

    I find the situation you describe at the Church of the Holy Sepulchure highly fitting to the current state of things. As you observed “it underscores the confusion among Christians and the fact that there is only one Sepulchre, even as there is only One God. And all of us put our hope in Him.” I find this so typical to my life, and no doubt many many others.

    I find myself searching. Searching for Truth. Realizing that the itching ears warning speaks clearly of today yet with nothing but my itching ears, along with prayer and study and my best attempts to uncover Truth among the error. I seem compelled in this quest by the realization that there is nothing more important that we do on this earth then to secure our salvation.

    The schisms, heresies, etc. that have created the morass of today vex me. I am baptised in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. Into what I believed in my youth was the True Church. I have studied and learned it was not. I stayed a while in the view of equivalence. Many different Christian views yet all still Christian. Lowest common denominator thinking. But now I question that approach too. So I continue my search for Truth.

    My search has brought me to consider Orthodox. I find many things to make a lot of sense. They seem much more correct than what I’ve been taught. At the same time there is much that seems very foreign and which I cannot yet get my mind around.

    If I chose one Christian path over the other what becomes of my salvation ? If I cling to Baptist teaching regarding things does that mean I am damned because the RCC or Orthodox are right ? If I cling to Orthodox teaching instead may I be damned instead because the Baptists ( or any of a number of other Protestant groups ) are right ?

    What does the Orthodox Church teach regarding those of us who faced with the confusion of the current day struggle in their search for Truth. Are we outside of Salvation until we finally accept the Orthdox and enter into their Faith and partake of the Mysteries etc. Or are we somehow accounted for as we search ?

    My Western mind would view this as a case of guilt and lay much of it on the heads of those who have caused the confusion and not on those who are trying as best they can to find the truth. Yet my understanding of the heart says that this view does nothing to address the seperation of our souls from God.

    Perplexed and wondering. Praying and Studying.

    Father what would you say to me and those in my shoes ?

    Please wait until you are back at home and settled to answer.



  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    I will write at greater length when I get home. But the simplest answer is not hard – whatever you do seek God. And trust that God will bring you to the right place. My experience was that when it came to the Truth, I did not doubt – the only hesitancy was the fearfulness in my heart because it was the Truth. But only God can make this known. We read, we pray, we even suffer in our hesitancy. But if we do not abandon the search for God, He will bring us home.

    As an Orthodox Christian I cannot judge another. This belongs to God alone. To quote St. Augustine, “There are some whom God has, whom the Church has not, and some whom the Church has, whom God has not.”

  10. Saul Goldberg Avatar
    Saul Goldberg

    Why is there so much anti-semitic hate in your church & you preach faith, moral and love…why don’t all these things apply to all man-kind and not just non-jews?

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am not aware of anti-semitic hate in the Orthodox Church – at least as I know it in America. I cannot speak for the rest of the world. But we are taught to love everyone. An Orthodox monk in the Holy Land (Mar Saba Monastery) said to me when I was there in September: “We have no enemies.” That, I believe, is the authentic voice of the Orthodox Church. If you have heard other voices, please forgive us.

  12. Katia Avatar

    Our Church teach us only Love – universally , to love not just our friends but our enemies too. That’s the Church, but we as a human-beings are week and sin (off the mark) so i do make mistake but every christian is trying not to hate but love.

    “… the concept of loving one’s enemy is the outstanding virtue of Christianity. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches: “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45). “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well” (Matt. 5:39-40).”

  13. Katia Avatar

    Father Stephen soon i will start work and i would not be such a pest, forgive me but somehow i am hooked to your blog

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