The Orthodox Christian leader of Jerusalem, Patriarch Theophilos III, has written an op-ed that should serve as a warning that the Christian presence in Jerusalem is in jeopardy.
In the article, published by the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper, the patriarch shares how Christians have lived more than two millennia in Jerusalem, through wars and many different forms of government, in relative peace. He wrote their survival depended on “the principle that the holy places must be shared by and be accessible to all.”
When the successor of the prophet Muhammad, Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, invaded Jerusalem in 637, he was greeted by Patriarch Sophronios, the then ethno-religious leader of Jerusalem. Together they signed a covenant that paved the way for an era of peace. This covenant was based on an understanding of shared custodianship of the holy places.
Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.
Jerusalem is a sacred gift, hallowed ground, for the entire world. Attempts to possess the holy city, or to define it in terms of exclusivity, will betray its true nature.
Theophilos III also wrote about the recently proposed “church lands bill” in the Israeli Knesset, which seeks to restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. He also wrote about “unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate.”
The Jaffa gate is located just a few hundred yards from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—the place where Jesus was buried after the Crucifixion—in the heart of the Christian Quarter in East Jerusalem’s Old City. That is where not just the Orthodox church, but all Christian denominations, have established their headquarters in the Holy Lands.
He concluded that his office has formally lodged a challenge to the proposed law with the Israeli high court, but that if those efforts fail, it could allow Zionist settlers to “pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the city,” thereby “threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.”