Longing for Jerusalem

My wife and I, as well as other pilgrims from our group, have been spending our time since coming home letting our bodies adjust to the “jet-lag.” It is easy to blame many things on jet-lag until the excuse will no longer work. I noticed towards the end of last week, that beyond any expectation, I simply missed being in Jerusalem. In truth, I had spent several months ahead of our pilgrimage slightly afraid of what was ahead of us. Our media only report violence from the Mideast – not daily life.

I had no idea, that after a week at home I would feel a certain emptiness that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was not a 20 minute walk from my dwelling. And there are many other places that I came to value, even in a single visit – with the thought that I may not see them again in this life bringing a great sorrow. I understand the drive that took root in the hearts of faithful Christians – from the time of St. Helena forward. We were told at the beginning of our pilgrimage that the average medieval pilgrimage could expect that 30 per cent of its pilgrims would die in the effort. We had no casualties. What is of great interest is that such casualities did not discourage ancient pilgrims.

I have some sense of understanding, now, and pray that if God should so permit, I may return again and stand in those Holy Places. I know that every place I stand is a holy place and I do not mean to increase one or diminish the other. I only know what my heart longs to do. I love Jerusalem, and pray for its peace and all who dwell there.

What I would grieve most of all is the idea that I might have gone there and not brought home in my heart some portion of what was given to me. I do not think I was sent for myself alone. What I saw and what I heard was not “this happened here,” or “this is where so-and-so used to live, etc.”, but a living Church and faithful Christians. The monks of Mar Saba still encounter the great saint from time to time. He still visits the monastery after 1700 years. The keeper of the shrine of the home of the Mother of God in Jerusalem has seen her in a waking vision, in which, in tears, she thanked him for taking care of her home. Such stories abound in the Holy Land if you get out of line and just hang around. Faith speaks to faith.

But I long for faith to speak to faith – mine to yours and yours to mine. May God give us grace in the midst of this world to see with faith, to speak with faith, and to be so blessed as to encounter faith in the lives of others.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





19 responses to “Longing for Jerusalem”

  1. Kerry Reed Avatar
    Kerry Reed

    Wow… long ago I used to dream about Jerusalem and praying for Jerusalem was such a passion of mine and a journey that has never been fulfilled. Just reading your words brings that longing back into my heart. I’m glad you are back and safe and that the passion has been kindled within your heart. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell

    Dear Father,

    I begin my own journey to Jerusalem this Sunday, Oct. 5. My bishop once told me, many years ago, that from the “first time you begin to think and plan to make a pilgrimage, you are already on your way.” Now, as I intensify my preparations, including my investigative reading and prayer, how true are his words! But it has been your meditations, experiences and messages from the Holy City that are so timely preparatory.

    And this, your “longing for Jerusalem”, is more than I can contain. I know when I return, God willing (alive), I will be living the rest of my days in homesickness for Zion.

    Thank you, Brother Pilgrim,


  3. Lucias Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    The dedication of the pilgrims boggles my mind. I am reluctant to travel to some places of fear. No where do we loose 1 in 3 people and yet still travel there.

    I do have a question outside the point you were making here. The visitation to Bar Saaba of the founder “He still visits the monestary after 1700 years.”

    In my upbringing I was taught that we should not communicate with the dead. The prohibitions against spiritist, necromancers and such. The case of King Saul and Endor etc. being the reasons.

    Can you point me somewhere that addresses this question as it relates to these sort of events. Also information about this from a historical view as I was raised with the standard protestant view that these things were introduced into the faith from pagan sources etc.

    I’ve ordered a copy of The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God, by St. John Maximovitch to get a better understanding of that particular topic. I also see a book “The Soul After Death” by Father Seraphim Rose but have not ordered it yet. Are there better sources of information for me ?

    Of all I have seen in Orthodoxy this in particular is not an easy thing for me to accept. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.



  4. handmaidleah Avatar

    Dear Lucias,
    Anything by St John Maximovitch is wonderful! Forgive me for saying this but as an inquirer and even for myself, still a babe in the Faith after only eight years, there is some reading that needs guidance. The Soul After Death is one of those books. Written by Fr. Seraphim Rose, a man many called Blessed, and who knew St John well, he is and only God knows truly why; somewhat controversial. I do have the book and when I first read it, oh about four years ago, it scared me. I pulled it out recently and found comfort in it.
    The thing to remember is that nothing can take the place of living Orthodoxy. Not reading, not speaking, etc., only worshiping & living in an Orthodox manner will give you what you seek – the living examples of how to live an Orthodox Christian life are priceless. Some of your examples will be a problem to you, just recognize that all are sent by God and are opportunities to BE a loving Orthodox Christian. Some will be living saints upon the earth and all are just as important.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    First, these are not sought after experiences – there is no attempt to “contact the dead.” But these are not “dead” as the world supposes, but “in the hands of God” (“the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God” it says in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon which is part of Orthodox Scripture). If God has a reason for them to appear, they appear. For the good and salvation of us on earth. To seek them out, to try to “make” them appear would be necromancy and forbidden by the Church. Protestants typically have a weak understanding of the Church, including its continual union between the Living and the Dead. There are not two Churches but one.

    St. John Maximovitch is good to read. I do not recommend Seraphim Rose, because, as has been noted, he gets into some controversial material that is better left alone for now. The Church has produced very little truly dogmatic material on this subject and it is thus hard for any writer to write definitively on it. We have St. Mark of Ephesus who, in refuting the errors of Rome, gave us some things that have the force of dogma.

    I am not sure what precisely to recommend at this point. I’ll need to think.

  6. d.burns Avatar


    With apoligies to Fr. Stephen, I’d like to address your question regarding the visitation of saints who departed this life. You must remeber that the Orthodox view of the dead is that a christian is not dead, but is asleep and therefore alive in Christ. The great I AM is the god of the living, not the dead. In baptisim we die to sin and rise alive in Christ. Fr. Stephen is want to say that “Chist did not come to make bad men good, but dead men live.” Christ himself said that he came to give us life more abundantly.

    It should not be a suprise then that those faithfull followers of Christ who have fallen asleep in the Lord ocasionally awake to us again to give us guidence and light our way to Christ. It’s why we pray for thier guidence and help, and also, why we pray to them to pitition Christ for mercy on our behalf. Those saints who have gone before us are our lightposts leading us to a life in Christ.

    As a former protestant myself I understand your concerns. It took me some time to come to peace with this notion. Even today I still cringe when I hear some Catholics talk of “our lady” or “our mother” when refering to Mary the mother of God, though I have a better understanding of the theology behind the statment. I pray that God and his mother may forgive me of this predjudice that I cannot seam to rid myself of.

    The best advise this poor sinner can give you is to attend the services, pray, and seek council and instruction from your local priest. As my priest likes to say, you don’t have to understand eveything at once, just belive that the church has the answers. In otherwords, be patient. In time all answeres will be reveald.

    Fr. Stephen,

    If I have spoken out of turn I ask for your forgiveness and humbly ask for corrections.

  7. AR Avatar

    Are there any accounts of the appearance of the Theotokos in which she is not in tears? For some reason I have difficulty thinking of her in any other way. Maybe that is because I am still outside so that is how she seems to me. But on the other hand, I don’t think they are troubled tears.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    The man’s report were that they were not tears of sadness, btw.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    I might add that the appearances Christ, the Theotokos, the saints are simply part of what it means to live in a one-storey universe. It’s modernity and its secular handmaiden that created a Christianity that moved spiritual realities to a second floor, then set up rules as to why we should never have any contact with them. It is a rule that inhibits proper grief (making people crazier than they already are) and a rule that makes faith all that much harder.

    In a one-storey universe these things are not unnatural but simply how life really is. And the truth is that life has always been like this, until modernism came along and told us it was superstition and covered their scientism with bad theology and told people that these things don’t happen.

    Believe me, they happen all the time. Bring up the subject of encounters with angels. You’ll be flooded. The single most read article on my website is the one on the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Nothing even comes close. We’re talking about views in the 10’s of thousands. People are hungry not for secularized theology, but the Truth. If there is a God then He is not relegated to a second storey. If there are saints they are not relegated there either.

    It’s a universe with a God, saints, angels – anything can happen!

  10. AR Avatar

    Thank you, Father. I did mean to address my question/comment to you but forgot to formally do so, sorry.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Glory to God for His infinite mercies – that He has appeared among us and made us His own, taking our nature unto Himself and making us saints, inheritors of Light. What can I render to the Lord, for all the good things He has done unto me?

  12. Lucias Avatar

    Father Stephen, Handmaidleah and d.burns thank you for your answers.

  13. Diakrisis Logismōn Avatar

    FATHER […] Seraphim Rose … and St. Gregory of Nyssa also, had “controversial topics” they wrote of … The Soul After Death has a chapter on the The Aerial Spirits which actually speaks of our original state before and after the fall.

    Fr. Jonah (Paffhausen) published a work recently (Divine Ascent vol. #11 Lent 2008) by St. Ignatiy (Brianchaninov) called: Teaching on the Sensory and Spiritual Perception of Spirits … this article IS very, very sobering. There is more going on than we think, right under our noses.

    Lord have mercy !

    cf. https://diakrisislogismon.wordpress.com/2008/09/28/sensory_perception/

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr. Jonah is a friend, and soon to be one of my bishops. But I was thinking of something more easily read by a new reader.

  15. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Father, bless!

    I’ve never been to the Holy City and it is unlikely that I will go there, but I hold it dear in my heart. I think it must be something that happens to us in our Baptism and formation in the Faith of the Fathers.

  16. Lana Balach Avatar
    Lana Balach

    Thought about your question this morning about specific appearances of the Theotokos while reading about the saints for the day (October 1, NC) because numerous appearances are mentioned on this day (one in tears, the other not). I have posted the link below.

    If you read about The Protection of our Most Holy Lady The mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, she appeared to St. Andrew Fool-for-Christ and his disciple, Epiphaneous. But she appeared in tears praying for the protection of the world.

    She appeared to Venerable John the Hymnographer of Mt. Athos and Venerable Greogory of Domesticus of Mt. Athos and gave them both gold coins. no mention of tears.

    If you read about the Icon of Mother of God of Pskov “The Protection” the Theotokos apppeared with numerous saints to the Eldder Dorotheus who happened to be blind.

    The reading on the saints will provide you with examples of numerous wonderful miracles of the appearance of the Blessed Theotokos and saints. Reading about them leaves me in constant awe….

    All examples mentioned above are found on the link below for October 1


  17. AR Avatar

    Thanks, Lana.

  18. AR Avatar

    I believe I was also thinking about the fact that weeping icons are more often icons of her than of anyone else. I think I read that somewhere…

  19. Margaret Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, You say at the end of this post, “But I long for faith to speak to faith – mine to yours and yours to mine. May God give us grace in the midst of this world to see with faith, to speak with faith, and to be so blessed as to encounter faith in the lives of others.”

    You have encouraged my faith greatly. May God bless all you do, and thank you!

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