I'm sure pilgrims benefited as portions of Sacred Scripture were highlighted during the faith formation sessions which related directly to the places we were going to visit each day. The biblical background of these places were explicated in great detail. But for me, more than just a contemplation on Scripture, this trip was a great experience as I found myself drawn into the spirituality of the Eastern Christians which I had studied so much about in the past several years of my theological and spiritual journey. Many things that I had understood intellectually, I had now come to know experientially during our visits to Eastern Orthodox churches and monasteries.
We also observed moments when prayers were taking place within that sacred space, that the Orthodox Christians took this act seriously and little or no space was given to informal trivialities or even social pleasantries. Public relations does not seem to be an Orthodox forte, and I say this as a manner of compliment. In the context of prayer and worship, that was all their attention was given to. I admire that attitude with a tinge of self-chastisement. I think we who are part of the Latin Rite Church need to recover our sense of sacred wonderment and be transformed by the liturgical space over which we constantly threaten to be lords.
Having said that, I must also acknowledge the beauty of the Latin Rite parish churches that we visited. The beauty of these places was nothing less than magnificent. Have a look:
Those who scorn at this ineffable beauty and exclaim that it is squandered money better reserved for the poor are guilty of the same ignorance that Judas was. To say that is to in the same breath declare the worthiness of the poor over the eternal magnificence of Holy Trinity. To so blatantly humanise the liturgical act of the Church and the sacred space in which this act takes place would be an entirely unjust audacity.
Orthodox churches are beautiful, but Latin Rite churches can be no less splendid when constructed with the same keenness towards the preservation of sacred space and liturgical beauty.
For me then, this journey was more than just a biblical journey, but also a liturgical one - both are not opposed to each other, but rather, attest to each other.
Most of the places we visited were ruins of buildings constructed before the days of the Apostles, and some were constructed between the 9th and 11th centuries. The point of these visits was to drive across a very realistic reminder that anything we construct with our human hands does not perpetuate through time. In the end, it is only the Word of God that lasts forever. But where there is faith, this faith may be imparted from one generation to another through traces of its expression. And thus, when our descendents a thousand years from now dig up our remains through their technological archaeological activity which we can yet hardly fathom today, will they find traces of faith? What kind of liturgical space and liturgical activity would they find being left behind for them as a legacy of faith?
This trip has been very beneficial not just for me but for most, if not all, of the pilgrims. A number of the pilgrims had expressed to me how much they had experienced God throughout this journey, some with tears in their eyes. I would very much hope to repeat this journey next year (probably in September / October 2014) for others who might be interested to experience the same.