Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land
Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Christian factions have squabbled for years over who controls which parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s divided Old City.
Sometimes they even come to blows.
Priests and worshippers at an Orthodox Palm Sunday celebration on April 20 ended up brawling after Armenian clerics apparently kicked a Greek Orthodox priest out of a shrine at the church — one of Christianity’s holiest.
Police weren’t sure what sparked the fist-fight, but friction between the sects has been simmering for centuries. A Muslim keeps the key, and about 150 years ago, theTurks elaborately carved up territory in the church between the feuding Christian factions.
Police are braced for another punch-up when the eastern churches celebrate Easter on April 27 with the centuries-old “Miracle of the Holy Fire” ceremony.
Orthodox Christians believe the Holy Spirit miraculously lights candles when the Greek patriarch enters the shrine meant to mark Jesus’s tomb alone. The Armenians think their leader should be allowed in too.
I recently interviewed the director of a new Israeli documentary film called “Holy Fire”, which explores the religious fervour that grips Jerusalem’s Old City, revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Yoram Sabo, a secular Jew, said he was initially befuddled by the priestly quarelling at the Holy Sepulchre. But after three years of following the story’s twists and turns he came to understand that conflict was almost inevitable in a place endowed with such meaning for so many.
“It may seem trivial,” he said. “But you have to look at it through religious glasses — people fight for what they think is important.”