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March 28, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

The Mount of Olives features large in the Gospel accounts, especially in Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem and the events of Passion Week.  It forms the eastern hill outlining the Kidron Valley which borders the city of Jerusalem on the east.  The Mount of Olives is actually higher than Mount Moriah on which the Jewish Temple stood, so that approaching Jerusalem from the east on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem it blocks the view of the Temple until one reaches the summit.  Suddenly the city of Jerusalem breaks upon one’s senses dramatically.  The first century Herodian Temple of white marble and gold would present a breathtaking view, as if a curtain was drawn revealing a scene of staggering beauty.

During the time of Jesus Mount Olivet was planted with olive trees giving it its name.  The Garden of Gethsemane was located somewhere along the western, or Jerusalem, side of the hill.  “Gethsemane” is a Hebrew compound made up of the word for oil (semen) and the word for press (gat).  It was a garden which housed a press for producing olive oil.

Jesus and his Disciples evidently knew this garden and used it as a meeting place out of the way of the crowds, since they were usually in Jerusalem on feast days when the city was packed.  It was to this location they retreated following the long Passover Supper in the city.  Jesus knew what was immediately ahead.  He found a quiet place to pray.  His Disciples saw it as an opportunity to get some rest.  Jesus found them sleeping.

Today the Mount of Olives is still generally covered with olive trees.  However, it is also the location of a significant number of churches.  At the summit stand the remains of the Church of the Ascension.  It was first constructed by Constantine’s mother, Helena, in about 325 AD.  It was built as an open air rotunda to commemorate Jesus’ leaving earth for the presence of the Father.

Helena also built a second church slightly lower on the hill to commemorate the traditional spot where Jesus taught his Disciples what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  It is called “Pater Noster,” or “Our Father.”

Moving down the hill on the early pilgrimage road we encounter a beautiful little church named “Dominus Flevit”, or The Lord Wept.  It was built between 1953 and 1955 by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi and is one of the loveliest churches in Israel, although very simple in its design.

Moving down the hill further we reach the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene with its bright golden onion domes.  The altar piece in this church is a depiction of Mary Magdalene holding an egg and standing before the Emperor Tiberius.  She is witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus and using the egg as an illustration.  This is one of those traditions which if not true, ought to be.

Finally, at the bottom of the hill stands the magnificent Church of the Agony.  It was built between 1922 and 1924 over remains of a fourth century Byzantine basilica.  It commemorates Jesus time of prayer prior to his arrest.  The garden of the church holds olive trees whose root systems go back over 2000 years.  The alter is built around the rock where Jesus is thought to have prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs