My time with the Armenian communities of the Middle East concludes on Sunday, May 14, 2006. The day begins with a last march with the Armenian monks and seminarians to the great Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepuclre) for the celebration of the Sunday Badarak in the Armenian Gallery overlooking the Aedicule of the Empty Tomb. Three other celebrations of the Divine Liturgy (Greek, Syrian, Copt) are going on at the same time as the Armenian Badarak, so I take the opportunity for a last exploration of the vast basilica, pausing to observe each of the other celebrations before joining the community in the Armenian Gallery!
Returning from the liturgy (liturgies!) at the Church of the Resurrection, Fr. Kegham and I are the guests of honour at a small luncheon in the monastery dining room, hosted by the Patriarch and with the other members of the monastic brotherhood in attendance. Fr. Kegham has decided to rejoin his brother's family in St. Catherine's, Ontario, and spend his retirement there, so this is the opportunity to say farewell as we both prepare to leave the Patriarchate for our homes in Canada.
I take one last opportunity in the afternoon to walk around the walls of the city of Jerusalem, about 4.5 kilometres, and to visit the Hasmonean tombs in the Kidron Valley. Then, in the early evening, Fr. Kegham and I are invited to a wonderful barbeque in the back garden (to the left in the photo, above) of the former seminary building near the monastic residence.
Following the barbeque, I finish my packing -- how did I manage to collect so many books!! -- and soon it is time to get ready for the airport and the trip home to Canada. I meet Sarkis at 1 a.m. at the entrance to the Armenian Convent, and it takes about 40 minutes to drive to Ben Gurion International.
Because Sarkis is not Israeli, we are given a mid-level going over by the security guards at the entrance gates to the airport property -- the Israeli drivers are simply flagged through. Security clearance inside the airport goes reasonably well, but things are more than a bit chaotic at the Alitalia check-in counter!
There is free wireless internet access in the great central hall of the new Terminal 3 passenger area, so I take advantage of the 2 hours before my flight to complete and upload the final post on the trip to Bethlehem -- "Palestinian Taxi" -- and to enjoy a great cup of cappuccino while I work.
My flight leaves at 5:30 a.m. and it takes four and a half hours to reach Milan, Italy. There's a bit more than an hour layover there before the nearly nine hour flight from Milan to Toronto.
Two friends and members of the Scholarship of St. Basil Committee, Canons Philip Hobson OGS and Harold Nahabedian, Ecumenical Officer for the Diocese of Toronto, are waiting to meet me when I arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto. The layover before my flight to Quebec City is long enough for us to adjourn to the local Kelsey's for a pint of beer, something to eat, and a very informal debriefing on my experience in the Middle East.
Then it's back to the airport, and before you know it, after 26 hours of travel, I finally arrive at Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec City. Cathedral parishioners Janice Anderson and Michel Falardeau are waiting to greet me and very kindly deliver me to my home near the famous Chateau Frontenac, pictured here, in Old Quebec City.
Four months have passed since I last climbed the stairs to my condo apartment, and I must say it does feel very good to be back home. At the same time, I must also admit that there is a part of me that already misses my new Armenian homes in Lebanon and Jerusalem!
... ce n'est qu'un aurevoir ... je l'espère ...
However, thus ends a tremendously fruitful and truly blessed time of pilgrimage among the Armenian communities of the Middle East.