A Holy Land reflection from pilgrim Lee Ellett: Hello and Happy Valentine’s Day from Israel! Our group has spent our day atop the Mount of Olives, in the lush Garden of Gethsemane and traversing along the peak of Mt. Zion...glorious stops as part of our pilgrimage across this fascinating land. 

While you are celebrating this day of love, I want to share a story about a priest who has spent most of his life celebrating his love for God in the magnificent Church of Jacob in Nablus, Israel. The Greek Orthodox Church of Jacob sits atop Jacob’s well, the place where Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman as the Messiah. Although the church is relatively young, like so many other places of worship in Israel it is built on top of the ruins of one or more temples and a mosque.

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A bearded and diminutive priest clad in brown robes greeted our group warmly as we entered his heaven upon earth. For the past 45 years, Father Augustine has lovingly cared for this church and adorned its walls, ceilings, floors and windows with masterpieces of his own design. Reminiscent of a Crusader-era cathedral,  the Church of Jacob is literally a magnificent museum containing the works of art of this dedicated priest. Almost single-handedly Father Augustine has filled the church with breathtaking paintings of scenes from the life of Jesus, amazing mosaic murals and sparkling stained glass windows of the softest pastels. As Father Augustine spoke to us, he described his work on the glorious ceiling of the Church’s dome.  Listening to him, it was easy to imagine him high up on a ladder, craning his neck with paint dribbling down his arm. Father Augustine also told us of the time a very disturbed man entered the church and killed another priest there. Father Augustine spoke of his strong belief that God had chosen him to care for this magnificent place. The depth of his devotion to God takes your breath away. 

What a love story!  Best wishes for a wonderful Valentine’s Day!