The great 3rd century scholar Origin, whom I mentioned in my last post, was well acquainted with the holy land, since he was a native of Alexandria in Egypt and taught for a time in Caesarea Maritima, about 60 miles from Jerusalem. He’s one of the first Christian sources to speak of the cave at Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and he must have been aware of other places associated with Jesus as well.
I remember a pilgrimage I made to Mount Sinai years ago, with Origin’s commentary “On Exodus” in hand, traveling by bus from the Red Sea through the mountains on what seemed like an interminable, narrow winding road. “We go to God by a winding road,” Origin said in his commentary, and I knew he had traveled this road.
His commentary explored the spiritual meaning of the scriptural events, but he was there all right. He didn’t forget what was there.
As a pilgrim in Jerusalem he must have stood before the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem. According to early sources, Jews came regularly to the Mount of Olives across from the Kidron Valley to look upon the ruined temple and mourn its passing. Origen must have seen them there. The present custom of gathering for prayer and remembrance at the “wailing wall” or western wall today began with them.
Then as now, some thought of rebuilding the temple, because they couldn’t envision their faith without it. Others realized that the Presence they sought there could be found elsewhere in other towns and places. Their synagogues and homes became more important as places of faith and worship.
Origen thought like the Jews who looked beyond the ruins. “Troubles and persecutions” led to rebuilding, but somewhere else and in another way. At the same time, he looked upon the ruins and acknowledged their glory, as signs of the One “who is, who was, and is to come.”