Our first stop in Israel was Nazareth, a small city with big significance. This is where Mary got the news from Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to God’s son. It’s also where Jesus Christ lived, breathed, grew into adulthood, and first began his ministry. The ancient cobble-stoned streets where Jesus ran as a boy wind in a charming, impossible to navigate way. Thankfully the locals are gracious with directions.
Today, Nazareth has Israel’s largest Arab population and we were able to see many Muslim’s cohabitating peacefully (69% of the Arabs in Nazareth are Muslim). However, we also got our first taste of protests, which, though safe, was unsettling. While it was very easy to avoid the areas where the protests were held, the police use tear gas liberally on the protestors and gas guns sound disturbingly similar to gunshots.
In Nazareth we stayed in a gorgeous convent called Rosary Sisters Guesthouse. The rooms were simple and clean and the courtyard gardens particularly welcoming.
Our first stop in Nazareth was the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, which is built where the Greek tradition believes Gabriel visited Mary while she was visiting a well. The ornate decorations were gorgeous throughout the small church.
Our second stop was the Synagogue Church, an ancient room that was originally the synagogue where Jesus read from the scrolls of Isaiah, and first proclaimed Himself as the Son of God. Besides it being interesting to see where Ancient Jews worshipped, it was an incredible feeling to stand inside a room where Jesus once stood.
Our next stop was to a church dedicated to Joseph, which is built over the carpentry workshop where Saint Joseph worked. We loved seeing a tribute to the man God trusted to raise His son, and the ruins of the carpentry workshop are possible to view as well.
The last stop in Nazareth was the Church of the Annunciation, which is where the Catholic Church believes the annunciation took place. Wow. We loved a modern take on classic church architecture (not something that gets said often!). The massive building lets in tons of light and countries from around the world sent in artwork depicting Mary to honor the site. The different pieces showcase hundreds of different cultures, but blend beautifully. Together, they create one of the most interesting churches we’ve ever seen. It was also one of the few churches we saw in Israel that celebrated our differences instead of showcasing our divisions (more on that later).
From Nazareth, we visited the Sea of Galilee, which is the area where Jesus taught some of his most significant messages and performed many miracles in his ministry. The first place we visited was a church built over the site where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was a biggy—it included the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and other groundbreaking lessons that revolutionized the mindset of the day. Jesus told his followers to be the light of the world; to turn the other cheek; build their lives on the rock of God; to love their enemies; to ask, seek, and knock; and more. The gorgeous grounds overlook the Sea of Galilee and the garden holds quotes from that monumental message. It was easy to imagine the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus that day and the stillness that must have held them as He changed their world.
Second, we visited two different places where Jesus, instead of turning the listening crowd of five thousand away, fed them with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Both churches have the original rock that Jesus used to bless the meal.
One of the best parts about these churches is that we could get close to the Sea of Galilee. A church built by man cannot do justice to Jesus' presence or the miracles performed. But the natural beauty of the Sea of Galilee perfectly praises the wonders that it has seen. Plus, while sites can be disputed, the Sea of Galilee has been there for thousands of years. It’s definitely where it is supposed to be!
An important note: It’s difficult for us to believe that the exact places from the Bible could be identifiable 2,000 years later and, without prior identification, they would be. But in the 4th century AD, Constantine sent his mother, Saint Helena, to the Holy Land to search out the important spots in Jesus’ ministry. Churches were built (Jesus was a pretty big deal then as well!) and those spots have been the same ever since.
After the churches, we headed to the ruins of the ancient town of Capharnaum, which was the center city of Jesus' ministry and the site of many of his miracles. It's possible to see the 2,000 year old ruins of Peter's house and study the stonework of Jesus' day.
Our last stop in our tour of the Sea of Galilee was the Jordan River, which is where John’s ministry took place and where Jesus was baptized. Many people choose to the baptized here as well—celebrities like the late Whitney Houston even made the trip!
In Nazareth, we hitched a ride with a friendly Italian named Moreno, who would become one of our favorite travel associates, and headed to the center of the world: Jerusalem. Teaser: WOW.
See the full Gallery here!