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2022 AECNYC Trip to the Holy Land September 7-17, 2022

This September, after three years of waiting (thanks to COVID), nine faithful brothers and sisters in Christ set off for a 10-day trip to the Holy Lands of Israel. The Armenian Evangelical Church of New York City (AECNYC), under the leadership of Seza Momjian (Deacon), Peggy Dingilian (Trustee), and Jennifer Telfeyan-LaRoe (Deacon), developed a custom 10-day tour with Ranya Hallac (the tour guide in Jerusalem). The Holy Land travelers visited places where our precious Jesus Christ lived and worked in His ministry including where He was born, died, resurrected, and ascended. The itinerary included a day focusing on the Armenian presence in the Holy Land, which was prominent since it holds joint custody of the holy sites alongside the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The plan also integrated meaningful food experiences each day.

The nine Holy Land travelers came from Armenian Evangelical churches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. After arriving at their hotel, Notre Dame of Jerusalem, and acclimating to the time zone, sea elevation, and desert heat, the tour began as the annual Jerusalem Palm Sunday procession would begin, at Bethpage on top of the Mount of Olives where Jesus sent his disciples to bring Him a colt. The procession ended at the Garden of Gethsemane, praying by the rock where our Lord prayed in agony on Maundy Thursday. Along the way, travelers saw the place where Jesus ascended, the church of Pater Noster where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, and Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. That day they also drove to Mount Zion to visit the last supper room, the Cenacle, and Dormition Abbey Church where it is believed that Mary died. The day ended with a visit to the church of St Peter in Gallicantu (meaning cock’s crow) where Peter denied Jesus three times and where Jesus was taken the night of his arrest, gruesomely beaten, and kept in the dungeon cave which was underneath the house of Caiaphas the high priest.

Among many sites, the tour included travel to Nazareth to visit the annunciation Basilica, where the Word of God became flesh and Galilee, the center of Jesus’s ministry. In Capernaum, the home town of Jesus, the travelers saw the site where the miracle of the loaves and fishes happened, and ascended the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. The travelers also enjoyed a picturesque boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Feeling full of the Holy Spirit and overwhelmed with gratitude, the group sang praises for our Lord, remembering Jesus calming the storm and what it means to have faith in God.

In Bethlehem, the Holy Land travelers visited the Church of the Nativity and the grotto (the oldest church in Christendom) where our Lord was born. At the church, the travelers were greeted by an Armenian Apostolic parish priest who welcomed them and gave them a tour of the Armenian monastery located there. The travelers also visited the Shepherds Field at Beit Sahour, where the angels told the shepherds of the birth of our Lord and Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist and the site where Mary visited Elizabeth.

On the way to the Jordan River, the travelers went through the Judean Desert to see Wadi Qelt, also known as the valley of the shadow of death. There the travelers saw the ancient road that connected Jerusalem with Jericho and where the parable of the Good Samaritan took place. Along the way friendly Bedouins came by to share their hand-made trinkets and show the travelers how to tie and wear traditional Bedouin head scarfs to keep safe from the strong sun.

Later in the day at a local farm, the travelers enjoyed a Bedouin BBQ called Zarb. At the Jorden River, the travelers dipped in the same waters that centuries ago were used to baptize our King. Next was a drive to Jericho, the most ancient city in the world where the travelers enjoyed tasty treats from local bakers and freshly harvested figs while viewing Mount Temptation overhead, where our Lord was tested by the devil. Finally for that day, to cool down, indulge in wellness, and wash off the desert sand, the travelers bathed in unique mineral laden waters of the Dead Sea.

The Holy Land Travelers visited the Israel Museum where the most ancient Biblical scripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, are exhibited. Later they drove to Jaffa on the Mediterranean Sea, and among many sights, visited the Armenian Monastery of St. Nicholas (whose legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the lore of Santa Claus). The monastery is known for providing medical aid to Napoleon and his troops during his campaign in Egypt.

On the last days of the trip, the travelers enjoyed thorough walks through the old city of Jerusalem which is sectioned in four (uneven) quarters for each of the Muslims, Jewish, Christians, and Armenians. They passed many stalls enjoying the aroma of exotic spices and being tempted by scrumptious food and beautifully hand-crafted artifacts in olive wood, silverwork, mother-of-pearl, leather, hand-blown glass, pottery, and various textiles. Sights visited were the western wall, a section of the retaining wall of the second temple which is the holiest site in Judaism, the temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, now the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the man who was unable to walk for 38 years. The travelers also walked along Via Dolorosa, the way of the Cross, ending their trek in the church of the Holy Sepulcher where they saw where Jesus was crucified and the area of the tomb where He was buried and resurrected, which was the definitively divine highlight of the tour. The travelers touched where Jesus’s cross was lodged when He was nailed to it and saw the place where cross was discarded after its use. Part of their journey through the old city of Jerusalem was marked by singing the Hayr Mer in St. Anne’s Church, built by the Crusaders, which is known for its quality acoustics.

A cultural highlight of the tour was an extensive visit at St. James Armenian Monastery in the Armenian Quarter of the old city. The monastery comprises of over 20 neighborhoods and courtyards and houses a newly-developed museum and library. While in the Armenian and Christian Quarters visiting local artisans’ shops and buying unique Armenian and Christian gifts, the travelers had a chance to bond with the shop owners and exchange testimonies of their love for our precious Lord and Savior.

The Holy Spirit was certainly at work on this trip, bringing the travelers together to experience a new revival of their faith. As the tour came to an end and bellies were full of the many luxurious and luscious foods including the treasured knafeh, the travelers were saddened to leave. However, heads were filled with a deeper knowledge of our Lord, leg muscles were strengthened by numerous walks, and most importantly souls were refreshed and nourished with the glory of our precious King. With God’s grace, AECNYC looks forward to organizing another trip next September.

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