THE HOLY LAND
9 Days / 7 Nights
Optional Extensions include:
Theodosius Monastery and the Monastery of Mar Saba
Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai
*Itinerary can be customized according to number of days and inclusions desired.
*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change.
(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)
Day 1: USA/ TEL AVIV
This afternoon, we will depart for an unforgettable and fulfilling spiritual odyssey!
Day 2: TEL AVIV / TIBERIAS
Welcome to the Holy Land! After clearing Immigration, a Cloud Tours representative will meet us and assist us with our baggage and Customs. Transfer to Tiberias, a drive of approximately two hours. En route to Tiberias, visit the Church and Tomb of St. George in Lydda, the birthplace of St. George. Venerate the tomb and chain of St George. Some believe that the church was built on the very spot where St. George was chained and tortured in an attempt to convince him to renounce his faith. Others believe that the church was built in the place where he was buried after he was martyred in Nicomedia. Dinner and overnight at hotel (D)
Day 3: TIBERIAS / RIVER JORDAN / CAPERNAUM/TABGHA/TIBERIAS
Depart at this morning for our first day in the Holy Land! Enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus met Simon, Peter, James and John, his first disciples, and performed many miracles here. He stilled the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee that was about to flood their boat and walked on the stormy sea to His Apostles.
Continue to Capernaum, the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and walk in the same village Jesus did. It is here in Capernaum that our Lord and Savior chose and called forth His Apostles, and where He preached and performed miracles such as the healing of the paralytic, the mother-in-law of Apostle Peter, the servant of the centurion and many others. See the remains of the House of Saint Peter, one of the very few exact sites we know Jesus visited. A Franciscan Church has been built over the ruins of the house. See the ruins of the Synagogue where Our Lord preached.
Continue to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles, the very place Jesus called His first disciples. Enjoy the peaceful setting of this beautiful church with its red domes. In the 4th Century A.D., many monasteries and churches were built in the places where our Lord lived, taught and performed miracles.
Drive on to the Mountain of Beatitudes, where Jesus Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount and where the Lord’s Prayer was said for the first time. Then, on to Tabgha (Seven Springs) and the Church of the Multiplication of Fishes and Loaves. It is here that the miracle of the loaves and fish took place. Over 5,000 men, women and children were fed from the miraculous multiplication of the five loaves of bread and two fish.
Our last stop will be Yardenit on the River Jordan, the site for Spiritual Baptism and Agiasmos. Experience an affirmation of your baptism in the same river that our Lord was baptized by Saint John the Baptist 2,000 years ago. You may purchase or rent a white robe to wear into the Jordan River for your Spiritual Baptism, and you may wear your bathing suit below your robe. For those who purchase or rent robes, a room is available to change. What a way to begin a Pilgrimage! It sets the tone for everything else that will follow. Return to the hotel in Tiberias for dinner and overnight. (B, D)
Day 4: TIBERIAS / MT. TABOR / CANA / NAZARETH / JERUSALEM
Begin with a visit the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. According to Christian tradition, this is the traditional site of the Transfiguration. The church and monastery are built on the ancient foundations of its summit, 588 meters (approximately 2,000 feet) above sea level. Take a taxi to the top of Mt. Tabor. There, see an utterly commanding view of all of lower Galilee and the valley of the Armageddon. It was here that Jesus revealed the wonderful power of presence in communion with the Lawgiver and prophets of the past (Moses and Elijah). This also became immediate evidence of Communion with His Father. Enter the Church of Transfiguration and pray. At the foot of Mt. Tabor is the little village of Naim, where Jesus raised the only son of the poor widow from the dead.
Our next stop is Cana and the Greek Orthodox Church where our Lord performed his first public miracle. Jesus turned water into wine at the request of His Blessed Mother the Virgin Mary to spare the bridegroom the embarrassment of running out of wine at his wedding party. You may purchase wine from the church. A special service for married couples will follow.
Continue to nearby Nazareth, one of the holiest towns in Christendom. This city was the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus until the beginning of His ministry. Nazareth is also where Jesus spent some years of His youth after returning to Israel from Egypt and until His public ministry began. Visit the Virgin Mary’s Well where the Angel Gabriel announced the “good news” to Mary that she would give birth to Our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is built over this site.
Then, conditions and time-permitting, drive through the Dotan Valley where Joseph’s brothers threw him into a cistern. We will make a short stop at Samaria, Ahab’s capital. At Nablus (Shechem), visit the mound of the ancient city where Joshua renewed the covenant. Stop at nearby Jacob’s Well, site of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. We then drive through the biblical heartland down to Jerusalem for dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)
Day 5: JERUSALEM / BETHLEHEM / JERUSALEM
After breakfast, drive to Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord and Savior and the cradle of biblical history. Bethlehem is located five and half miles from Jerusalem. No town in the world has such a glorious history as Bethlehem. Visit the Shepherd’s field and the Church of the Nativity. A Greek Orthodox Church has been built over the birthplace of Our Lord by the Emperor Justinian and is over 1,500 years old. It is the second oldest Orthodox Church in existence. It was not destroyed by the Persians, as they saw a mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian wear over the front door. Venerate and touch the actual ground where Jesus was born. A few feet away are the Holy Manger. See the Cave of St. Jerome.
On the way back to Jerusalem, visit the Monastery and Church of the Prophet Elias and the Church and Tomb of St. Symeon, the Just. In addition, visit the Monastery of the Holy Cross. After, drive to the village of Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. Return to Jerusalem. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Jerusalem. (B, D)
Day 6: JERUSALEM
Enjoy breakfast and drive o the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem. We leave the coach to walk through old Jerusalem to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Enjoy a private audience with His Beatitude Theophilos III (subject to confirmation and his availability).
Continue with a visit to the Church of Saint Anna (birthplace of the Theotokos). Within its grounds are the Pools of Bethesda. These are the pools located near the sheep gate where the Lord cured the paralytic. Archeologists have uncovered all of the pools and the five porticoes, as was reported by St. John in the Gospel.
Then, we will walk along the Way of the Cross (all 14 stations are not visited) – Via Dolorosa – which starts from the Fortress of Antonia and ends at the Temple Mount. We will not do the entire walk, a Catholic practice. En route, visit the Prison of Christ (Praitorion). Venerate at the same cell the Lord was held prisoner before His crucifixion. It is located deep in a dungeon. There is a slab of stone with two holes through which His legs were passed and ankles shackled together. The cells of Barabas and the two thieves, who were crucified with Him, are here. In the church is a large wooden cross (275 years old) which is taken out of the church on Good Friday and is walked down the streets, as Christ himself did, ending at the Holy Sepulcher. We will continue with a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of our Savior’s death and resurrection. This is the most important church for Christians. We climb the stairs to reach Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion. Over the site, a main altar has been built and is under the care of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. You may reach through a case and touch the place that held the Holy Cross. To the right of the altar is a split in the rock floor where the Lord finally took His last breath. Take a moment to reflect in this Holy Place and to feel the spirit engulf you and appreciate all that Our Lord has given you and your loved ones. At the bottom of the stairs, as you leave the Chapel of the Golgotha, is the site where the body of Christ was placed after he was taken down from the cross (Apokathelosis). It is covered by a slab of stone where you can venerate. A tradition is to bless pictures of family and loved ones, as well as any religious items purchased, on the marble by making the sign of the cross. Then, we are led to the site of the Tomb, the place of the Lord’s resurrection. A small chapel has been built over the sacred place under the watch of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In the first small room is the great stone that sealed the tomb. It was here that the Angel of the Lord sat proclaiming the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The next small room contained the slab of stone on which the dead body of the Lord was placed, entombed and resurrected. It is a truly incredible experience to be in this church! It is from this tiny room that the Holy Light of the Resurrection emanates.
After the Holy Sepulcher, enjoy some free time in the in the Christian quarters for lunch or shopping. Also, you may select to visit the Israeli museum to see the famous treasures which include the Qumran Scrolls and the most ancient Biblical texts. Dinner and overnight at the hotel (B, D)
Day 7: JERUSALEM
After breakfast, drive to the Mount of Olives to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Holy City. Jerusalem, a 4,000 year old city, is the center of the three main monotheistic faiths and the place where our Lord sacrificed Himself for our salvation. Optional visit to Monastery of St Mary Magdalene to venerate the relics of St Elizabeth, the 20th century Russian Martyr. Also, possible visit to St Stephen’s Church.
Drive to the Church of Our Father and the Chapel of Ascension, the site our Lord ascended from the earth to Heaven. According to our religion, it is here where the second coming will take place, and both the living and dead will be raised before Him for judgment.
Continue to Gethsemane. Visit the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Agony. Only the Apostles knew Jesus often went to the Garden of Agony to pray in solitude. Here, Judas led the authorities to Him. In the Garden, our Lord prayed to God, the Father, before He was betrayed, arrested and crucified. In the church, there is a stone slab for pilgrims to venerate. It is here our Lord prayed with great passion before He was to endure the selfless sacrifice to come.
Continue with a visit to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. It is from this site that the holy body of the Virgin Mother was taken into Heaven by her Son and God.
Drive to the Zion Gate to walk to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) on Mount Moriah, where it is said the Patriarch Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son. Here also stands the Dome of the Rock, with its marble and multi-colored mosaics, quotations from the Koran and the Golden Cupola. Tradition has it that this rock marks the center of the earth for the Jewish religion. In Moslem religion, tradition says this is the point where Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse and is the third holiest place on earth for Islam. Continue on to Mt. Zion to visit the Room of the Last Supper, King David’s Tomb and the Church of the Dormition. Return to the hotel for dinner.
Those who wish may attend midnight Liturgy at the Holy Sepulcher for a truly unforgettable and spiritually-fulfilling evening. This is also the best time to visit Golgotha, the place of Our Lord’s crucifixion, and His tomb. Tonight, experience the Holy Sepulcher with other pilgrims but no tourists. It will be quiet and solemn. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)
Day 8: JERUSALEM / JERICHO / JERUSALEM
This morning, drive northeast of Jerusalem to Jericho to climb the Mount of Sarantarion (The Mount of Temptation). Take a cable car up to the Mount (Sarantarion Oros). It was on this mountain where the Lord was tempted by the devil and fasted for forty days and forty nights. There is an altar built over the same slab of stone where Jesus prayed and fasted. The Monastery was built over this site, and there is only one elderly monk who takes care of it. He is truly inspirational. Lunch break and a chance to shop some Dead Sea products.
En route to the Dead Sea, stop in Qumran, the area where a Jewish sect thought to be the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in a cave in 1947 after 2,000 years. Since the 1950’s nearly 900 scrolls have been discovered most written on parchment or papyrus. Cisterns, Jewish ritual baths, cemeteries and a building thought to be a scriptorium have also been found. Enjoy lunch! Continue to the Dead Sea and a stop to shop for Dead Sea products.
Continue to the Church of St. Elisseos and Zacchaeus’ Tree. This is the tree upon which Zacchaeus climbed in order to see the Lord walk by. From here, drive to the Judean Desert to the Monastery of St. Gerasimos. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, built by Abbot Gerasimos in 455 A.D. It was originally a cave. According to tradition, it was here that the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus rested for one night during their long journey to Egypt. Continue to Martha and Lazarus Tomb in Bethany where Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus after 4 days in the tomb. The Lord wanted to establish His power over death and waited until Lazarus was confirmed dead before raising him from the dead.
Time permitting; we will drive to the little town of Emmaus. It is in this location that our Lord appeared before two of His disciples after His Resurrection. (This occasion is mentioned in one of the Eothina Evangelia we read in Church during Orthros (Matins). Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)
Day 9: JERUSAELM / TEL AVIV / USA
Transfer to the airport in Tel Aviv for your flight back to the USA.
OPTIONS: We can customize the itinerary to include any additional sites you would like to visit. Below are some additional options:
OPTION 1: Theodosius Monastery and the Monastery of Mar Saba
Day 1: THEODOSIUS MONASTERY& THE MONASTERY OF MAR SABA
After breakfast, depart for Theodosius Monastery, founded in 476. The founder of the Monastery, Saint Theodosius, a monk from Cappadocia, is buried there. Tradition has it that Saint Theodosius was led by God to seek out a cave where the three Wise Men rested after paying homage to the Infant Jesus, and after the angel had warned them to return to their country via another road. From there, drive deeper into the Judean Wilderness to the Monastery of Mar Saba founded in 5th Century by monk Saba overlooking the Kidron Valley. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world, and still maintains many of its ancient traditions. One in particular is the restriction on women entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women’s Tower, near the main entrance. There will be a request to the monks to bring the relics of St .Sava to the women to venerate.
OPTION 2: St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai
Day 1: JERUSALEM / SINAI / ST.CATHERINE’S
For our trip to Sinai, pack an overnight bag and include a bathing suit, as you will be stopping at the Dead Sea on the way back to Israel. An overnight bag will facilitate the clearance of Immigration and Customs at the Taba border.
Very early A.M. departure from Jerusalem. Check out of hotel. Begin a long drive via the Dead Sea to the Taba Border. See the stunning sunrise over the mountains and sea! After passport control, walk across the border with your suitcases into the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. Please bear in mind that you may have to carry your own suitcases. An Egyptian bus will be waiting for us and will drive us south to the Monastery of St. Catherine. The Sinai Peninsula is the gateway from Africa to Asia and the bridge between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It was one of the world’s most important crossroads. The Monastery of St. Catherine’s is an Orthodox monastic center and the only worldwide monastery operating continuously since the 6th Century.
St. Catherine was born in Alexandria in 294 A.D. As the beautiful daughter of an aristocratic pagan family, she did not lack suitors, but she rejected them all. A Syrian monk taught her about Jesus Christ and converted her to Christianity. During the persecution of the Christians in the early 4th Century, she confessed her faith and accused Emperor Maximinus of sacrificing to idols. Although fifty wise men attempted to dissuade her, she persuaded them to believe in Jesus. Under torture, she succeeded in converting members of the Emperor’s family and the Roman aristocracy to Christianity. After her execution, her body disappeared. According to tradition, the angels transported her to the peak of the highest mount in Sinai which now bears her name. After three centuries, guided by a dream, monks of the Monastery found her body and brought it down from the mountain and placed it in a golden casket in the Church. The sweet fragrance of her sacred remains is a continuous miracle. Her martyrdom was carried to the West by the Crusaders, and she was accepted in Christian Europe as a major saint. Since the 11th Century, the Monastery of the Transfiguration has also been known as the Monastery of St. Catherine.
The building of the main church and the monastery began in 542 A.D. led by Emperor Justinian and was completed nine years later. St. Helena’s Church of the Burning Bush was incorporated into it. The icons in the church are from the 6th Century and onwards – icons that were never destroyed during the Iconoclastic Period. The floor, the interior decorations and the Iconostasis date to the 17th and 18th Centuries. The wooden doors at the church entrance are 1,400 years old. Down the length of the basilica are twelve pillars, one for each month of the year and above each is a Byzantine icon portraying the saints venerated during that particular month. Along each of the aisles are three chapels and the vestry: there are two additional chapels on either side of the apse and behind it the Chapel of the Burning Bush. The Bush flourishes several yards further from the chapel where it was transplanted in order to build the Holy Alter upon its roots. It is the only bush of its kind growing in the entire Sinai Peninsula, and every attempt to transplant a branch of it to another place has been unsuccessful. In the apse of the church is a magnificent mosaic depicting the Transfiguration of Jesus. Other interesting parts of the Monastery are the old refectory, the bell tower, the icon gallery, the garden and the charnel house and the library (the second in importance only to that of the Vatican in both number and value of the manuscripts it contains). The Monastery is a UNESCO World heritage site.
Drive to St. Catherine’s Monastery. Depending on arrival time, attend Vespers. Visit the Monastery, its famous collection of icons, the church, the Burning Bush and venerate the relics of St. Catherine. In addition, visit its museum renown for its icons, and proclamations (one is signed by Napoleon and another by Mohamed, the religious leader of the Moslems) granting protection to the Monastery. Dinner and overnight at the guest house at the Monastery. (B, D)
Day 2: SINAI / TABA / JERUSALEM
This morning, you will have two options. You may select a very early morning climb (approximately 1:00 a.m. departure from hotel) to the top of the Holy Mountain (Mount Horeb) where Moses stood to receive the Ten Commandments. If you are considering the climb and have health issues, please consult with your doctor. The climb is very rigorous with a 3 mile plus climb up – approximately 3 hours – and 2 ½ hours down. Once you begin the climb, you cannot return. You can select to ride a camel up to a specific point and walk from there onwards. There are approximately 2,000 steps until you reach the top. Bedouins (local people) may appear along the way to help you. Negotiate the rate at that time to avoid any issues on top. A guideline is $20 – 30. There are rest stations. The mountain stands 7,500 feet above sea level, and as such, oxygen levels are less, making it more difficult to breathe. On the top is a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity (usually closed) and a cave where tradition holds that God put Moses.
You may also select to attend Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. Catherine. Free time available at the Monastery while we wait for the climbers to return.
After breakfast, depart for the Taba Border. Walk across the border back into Israel. Following passport control, take a short tour of the resort city of Eilat and drive to the Dead Sea for swimming or floating. Dinner and overnight at the in Jerusalem. (B, D)