Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land

April 22, 2008

Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Worshipper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 8 2007

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.”


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That religious figures are so passionate about holy sites is no surprise. If one’s entire identity is based soley on one’s beliefs, (which can change), then the ego literally percieves any challenge to that identity as a life or death struggle. However, isn’t there more to the story of Jesus of Nazareth than just the religion he inspired?

Don Daniel Ortiz
“The 99 Success Secrets of Jesus”

Posted by Don Daniel Ortiz | Report as abusive

I think that feud is a very strong word for this, Besides there isn’t total agreement on the fact that this is the actual site.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Wake up humanity. This is another example of the stupidity of religious faith. Muslims, Christians… everyone is wrong. Get over it and devote your energy to reality.

Posted by John Kokonas | Report as abusive

John K.
At a time when religious tolerance, human rights etc is most pertinent, isn’t it narrow-minded of you to denigrate people’s beliefs just because you don’t have any?
Did it ever occur to you that if all humans followed their religions with piety, given that most religions are about peace and love, there would be no wars?

People tend to think that religion causes wars, but what they do not seem to realise is that evil people hide behind religion to carry out evil acts, which in themselves go against their professed religions.

Posted by Carla | Report as abusive

@Carla: I’m afraid I partly have to agree with John K. Religion is a stupidity, and a vicious one at that. You just need to look at all the harm that has been done in the name of “religion”. And it’s not the occasional evil person that hides behind religion, it’s the system which demands blind obedience and cult-like adherence to the rules of brotherhood that causes the harm. Have the catholic popes all been evil persons because they have all closed their eyes for the well-known abuses of all kinds of vulnerable classes of people throughout history? This has nothing to do with beliefs or faith. I consider myself religious in the sense that I believe there is a higher “system” and that I should live according to some moral principles (actually, just one that encompasses them all: “do no harm”), but I shun “religion” as the plague it is.

Posted by Luc | Report as abusive

Religion, per se, is an invention of humankind in response to faith. Faith, i.e. what we believe, should be our life’s guidance. Because religion is a translation of faith into action by humans, it has a tendency to become institutionalized and, unfortunately, can become distorted in its purpose over time. I understand the vehemence expressed by Luc and Mr. Kokonas. The arrogance and intolerance that form the undercurrent to most religions today are not appealing to people who see the disconnect between a benevolent God who loves us and religions that can make our lives hell. It is faith that must be our compass.

Posted by Deacon Pete | Report as abusive