Father Michael Tahan arrived in Flint Michigan sometimes in the early seventies.  He was to fill in at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church while they searched for a new priest as Father Alexander Znamensky, who had spent the majority of his working career in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Father Znamensky had come to the U.S. from Russia, where his former career was that of an opera singer.  There was no doubt of this when you heard him sing the The Lord’s Prayer.  He and his wife, Vera, arrived in 1944, she passed away in 1954 and his Church community had been a huge part of his life.  He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, he was a big smoker, and when he had gotten the diagnosis, he decided it was time to step aside, hence Father Tahan’s arrival. Father Michael Tahan was a mind mannered, slight man from Jerusalem.  He came to the Sunday school classes to meet the children and even though he knew his time at St. Nicholas would be short, he made a real effort to get to know the parishioners and do his work as the parish priest.  I remember my Mom and Dad having him over for dinner and get togethers for Name Days.  I always enjoyed listening to Father Tahan talk about living in Jerusalem.  He had served at the Church of the Sepulchre at one point, and his discussions about that sacred place, still to this day, are very vivid in my mind.  Not having the easy  accessibility that we have today of photos on a phone or iPad, these photos were only imagined in my mind.  How could one place, have both the spot of Jesus’s crucifixion and his burial/resurrection?  I did not know, but I knew that someday i would like to see it.  He told us how Jews, Christians and Muslims all lived and worked within the ancient walled city of Jerusalem.  Again I could only imagine this.  Father Tahan brought to life the places in the Bible and Sunday school lessons such as the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Temple.  He walked these places and to hear him describe them was a gift.  When I received my first Bible, Father Michael Tahan signed it.  His tenure in Flint ended when Father Boris Kizenko and Matushka (the name for the wife of the priest, the Matuska) along with their 7 children  arrived from Syracuse, New York.  His tenure too was short and it was not a good fit, but that is a story for another day.  He was a good man, a very good man, but when a clergy member and a church community don’t gel, it’s best to move on rather than stay and make an uncomfortable situation for all.

My first Bible, signed by Father Michael Tahan.

     Every year when Holy Week arrives, I think of Father Tahan and how he made the places where Holy Week took place more real.  Last September, just a couple weeks before the attacks in Israel, we traveled there to see the places I felt I saw in my mind all those years ago, brought to life by Father Michael.  Our tour guide was a Muslim man who so well knew the places Jesus traveled and lived his last days, he knew the history, the geography and the stories.  Like Father Michael, Amir knew the details.  He told us that his neighbors were, Jews, Arabs and Christians.  On the ride into Jerusalem he painted a photo of how they all lived together and worked together.  My husband notices that Amir had a smile not characteristic of most of the population and commented on it.  “Sir, my job depends on me speaking and communicating with my passengers, I must look my best.  I gladly spent the money to a dentist to help me look my best so I can do my job to feed my family.”

Brad at the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem 🇮🇱

     We first went to the Mount of Olives to over look the large city of Jerusalem and to see from a distance the ancient walled city.  There at the Mount of Olives, are cement walls inscribed with names of donor from around the world, but mostly Americans who have donated millions of dollars over the years to the development of Israel and Jerusalem.   Many from New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  People who saw the value and potential of Israel.  Driving in we saw development in the form of Universities, factories, facilities and pharmaceutical companies.   Israel is much more developed that I had imagined.  Over looking that metropolis of nearly 900,000 and about 35,000 living within the ancient walled city, you could see the outline of the wall, the gold dome and an expanse of populous.  

At the Garden of Gethsemane with the wall of Old Jerusalem in the background. To the far right, you can see the opening that is now closed where Jesus may have been taken through on the night he was taken into custody.

     Next stop, the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed and was arrested from.  As we stood in line to go into the Catholic Church of All Nations, there to commemorate this very significant place in the life of Jesus, I was shouted at to cover my shoulders.  This is an honored place and I should have known better, so I got my wrap out of my bag and covered my shoulders.  There are olive trees, well groomed to look as if it might have in the time of Jesus.  Amir pointed out as we looked across the street to the walled city, a place that had been an opening once, now cemented over, where Jesus was most likely taken through that gate into the city to be tried and crucified.  To see that and imagine a path in the dirt that he would have walked was almost eerie, even on that beautiful sunny day, to think of the fear one might have being led away into the night to await what he knew was coming.  

On the left, the entrance to the Church of the Sepulchre to the right is the area with the dome on top where they say Jesus was disrobed before he carried his cross.

     Once in the walled city, after going through all the security checkpoints, we saw the Wailing Wall and the Orthodox Jews waiting in line to approach the wall.  We walked the narrow streets filled with venders selling Christian, Jewish and Muslim mementos. There were coffee shops filled with people gathering for their Sunday breakfast and lunch.  As we approached the Church of the sepulchre, the line was filled with a variety of people from around the world who had traveled to see this sacred place. As busy and filled as this place was, it was quiet.  People walked and looked at each “station” with reverence.  As you walked the way to each significant place there were artifacts and Orthodox Icons depicting what happened there 2024 years ago.  I found myself crossing myself several times as I saw the place were they disrobed Jesus the place where he walked carrying his cross, the place he was hung on the cross, along with two others and the place where they laid him.  Now whether all these events really took place within the space that is now this hallowed Orthodox Church or not, I do not know and to me it doesn’t really matter. What does matter to me is that there IS a place that all these 2024 years later,  where Christian can come to see and honor those events that are the corner stone of what we believe and where it all began.  As people travel there and support the church, means that there is funding to keep the area around for future generations.  So much does come down to finances to keep such a special place vital and accessible.  

Top left, the spot where Jesus is said to have been crucified, top right the area where the tomb was, bottom right, the rock of Calvary at the place where Jesus was crucified, bottom left the paintings on the ceiling above the area where Jesus was crucified.

     That trip for me had so many highlights and lessons.  To observe the security to get into Jerusalem and Israel was one of the first things I told our family on the phone calls following our time in Israel and Jerusalem.  “Why was I worried about security and put this trip off for so long?  There were so many checkpoints to enter the country and to get into the ancient city.  There were young Israel soldiers in fatigues in all public places in plain view all with guns visible for all to see.  Good looking young people, healthy and fit.  I DID feel secure.  Who would try anything here? I would love to come back to this place where people of different faiths lived and appeared to get along. The rest of the world should take notice as to how it is here.”

     Amir shared information about the culture of Israel as we traveled. Such as, when asked about all the soldiers, “All Jews must serve at age 18 in the military.  For women, 2 years service and for young men a 3 year minimum.  Arabs and Muslims are not required but are welcome to if they wish.  He told us, when asked about the Arab/Palestinian conflict in Gaza that all Jews were required to leave Gaza. Any families that wanted graves exhumed and moved to other regions of Israel were given that option.  He also said that Gaza was given the option to elect their own government. He explained that with Gaza being on the Mediterranean Sea that there were hopes that the population would at some point make it a place that people would want to travel to, but he didn’t see that becoming reality, although it would be a good use of resources.  We left feeling good about out trip and all that we saw and learned.  

     We woke up that Saturday morning in early October finding it hard to believe what our eyes were seeing and what our ears were hearing. We were just there.  In fact, plans were most likely in the works for the attack while we were there.  We spoke to friends who had family members in Israel and heard how they were to be rescued out to safety. What a horrific scene it all must have been and how in just a manner of a few hours families lives were torn apart and changed for a lifetime, never to be the same again.  Over the the months that followed we saw that some chose to not remember or not do adequate research on see the events as horrific as they had happened or decided to believe not the truth of events but the loudest voices.  

      Very much like the time of Jesus’s crucifixion and death 2024 years, the time we are living in, good is bad and bad is good it appears.  Jesus was a mild man with a good message.  He didn’t come with a sword and vengeance, he came in peace.  Those in power, didn’t like that he stirred the crowds.  His message was simple, to treat one another with respect.  He came to live amongst not just the good but the sinners as well.  He preached a message of hope and forgiveness.  Those in power didn’t like what he preached.  They felt threatened.  They wanted people to live in fear under oppression of the Romans.  “Come follow me” Jesus said. 

Jonathan Roumie plays Jesus in the series The Chosen.

      If you have seen an episode of THE CHOSEN, you get a feel for what it might have been like to live in those times. The series depicts Jesus as an average young man and you see him as a friend and son.  You see him with a sense of humor at times and how he was with the children.  You see him as a carpenter and how he may have lived.  Times may change, but people don’t.  Human nature is human nature.  GOOD is GOOD and Bad is bad. Times may sway people to think other wise, but something don’t change.  God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  The Golden Rule, “Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self,” is a rule for the ages. This week and always.  Try to always err on the side of goodness and love.  You will never have less to feel guilty of and you will sleep well more nights than not when that is your modus operandi .   And when you do slip up , there is always forgiveness if you are willing to repent.  

     I am grateful to Father Michael Tahan who brought to life, those places in the lessons learned early on in Sunday school in a far off land and to Amir for showing them to us, in plain sight and for his candid explanations.  For me, Jesus is the way, the truth and the light.  When I get down about the tragedies of the world like Israel in October, the crime, the crisis at the border, the corruption around us and all the other headlines making news here in our own country that make you want to turn away, I know that there is more than all of this because of Holy Week and Good Friday.  Because of Easter, there IS more. Where there will be no more tears where I will see my loved ones and all of that makes the tragedies and catastrophes not so  monumental.  They are but a blip on the journey of life here on earth, to me.  When I look at life like that, the tough days aren’t’ that bad.  It makes me hopeful for the best each day and as mentioned last week, I manage my expectations because I know this isn’t all there is and there are even Greater Days ahead ❤️ 

Celebrating my birthday the evening after our time in Jerusalem. I cannot think of a better way to spend my birthday…Thanks Father Tahan for inspiring me to go see in person the places you imprinted in my mind all those years ago and thanks to my husband for making it possible…Happy Easter…Christ is Risen…He is Risen Indeed ❤️