The Church of the Holy Fist-Fighters

Jerusalem has always been the holy city for the three monotheistic faiths but the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has always been Christian. The tragedy is that there is absolutely no unity among the six Christian denominations that claim ownership to the church.

Originally known as the Church of the Resurrection, it was built under the patronage of Queen Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, in the early years of the birth of Christianity. She had the belief (not factual) that a piece of the cross on which her savior had been crucified was located on the site. And under her guidance and financial support, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was born.

Since the earliest Christian centuries, six sects claimed ownership of the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscan Church), Armenian Apostolic Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. And for more than one thousand years the denominations have been fighting and abusing one another, each sect claiming to be the rightful owner.

Recently there were fist-fights between monks of the Greek and Armenian churches and Israeli police had to be called in to separate the fist-fighting monks.

Not too long ago, the Ethiopian Church, which shares a sanctuary on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre with the Coptic Church, locked the doors of the sanctuary and did not permit the Coptic monks to enter. Once again the Israeli police were called to separate the war-waging monks.

For many centuries, a Muslim family, the Judeh clan, have been the gate-keepers of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while another distinguished Muslim family, the Nussaibiyehs, are the key-holders to the main door which they open every morning and lock up every night.
This arrangement had to be made centuries ago to keep a semblance of “peace” between the battling Christian denominations. Thus, two Muslim families have protected the church for hundreds of years.

While the six Christian denominations believe that Jesus was buried in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the many branches of the Protestant Church do not. Their holy shrine is the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane where the tomb/cave of Joseph of Arimathea is located. Joseph, a disciple of Jesus, offered his own private burial cave for the body of Jesus following his crucifixion.

Protestants believe that this spot is the actual burial place of Jesus. Overlooking the Garden is a cliff shaped in the form of a skull. This is the biblical Golgotha and the Garden is a place of beauty and quiet dignity. Worshippers are permitted to enter the cave/tomb and recite prayers there.

There is dissent and division among the entire Christian world regarding the actual burial place of Jesus and very regrettably, the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, has for centuries been turned into the Church of the Fist-Fighting Monks.

Judaism, likewise, has its own divisions and battles between ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. Each one either detests or does not recognize the other.

While fist-fights are rare, the Orthodox worshippers at the Western Wall frequently throw chairs at the womens’ section and there have been many scuffles at Robinson’s Arch where Orthodox Jews have assaulted the movement of Women at the Wall who pray wearing talleisim and tefillin (prayer shawls and phylacteries, reserved in worship only for men), and who read aloud and chant from the Torah scroll.

It is again aspects of a religion which follows strict lines of separation between men and women and complete disrespect for any branch of Judaism which differs from Orthodoxy.

Sadly, our Holy City has been less holy for too long. And there is no possible way of correcting the situation without a complete religious holy war.

I wonder what the Messiah would say when he/she arrives in Jerusalem. If I were the Messiah I would turn away in disgust. As our prophet Jeremiah cried out “shalom shalom v’ain shalom”… peace, peace, but there is no peace.

That was two thousand years ago. Little has changed.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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