Monks fight at tomb of Jesus. For the second time. This year.
This is embarassing. Armenian Christians and Greek Orthodox Christians got into a brawl at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the shrine which probably marks the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial—so it’s only about the holiest spot on the planet to Christians. Too bad we can’t say this is the first time it’s happened. This year.
The Guardian describes the action:
Armenian monks and their worshippers had been participating in a ceremony marking the 4th-century discovery of the cross on which Christ was crucified when they found their path blocked by a Greek Orthodox monk posted in Jesus’s tomb. Fists began flying, kicking monks lost their footing and 10ft ceremonial candlesticks and banners toppled to the ground. Police dragged priests from the melee in head locks and arrested two Armenian clerics, who were later released.
Here’s a video of the brawl that has been circulating on YouTube:
Monks get in fights at the church all the time—this is the second time this year alone that police have had to break up fisticuffs there. The situation is complicated, but these fights and ill will stem from a centuries old agreement that divides up the church amongst the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenians, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Churches; it governs which group controls which areas and when and how they can use common areas. The agreement was imposed by the Ottomans, who controlled Palestine at the time, in 1767 and divides the church among the claimants; it was confirmed and made permanent in 1852.
But the agreement hasn’t really helped things much; there is no sense of unity or charity amongst the various groups controlling the Holy Sepulchre. In 2002 a brawl resulted in eleven people being hospitalized. The cause? A Coptic monk stationed on the roof moved his chair on a hot day from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, who apparently had control over the shady spot, and a fight broke out. How Christian.
If that desn’t tell you how sad the situation is, maybe this will: above the entryway to the church—which, again, probably marks the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and buried—is a ladder. No big deal, right? Right. Except it’s been there for over a hundred and fifty (150) years because the various factions can’t agree about what to do with it. Here’s an idea: move the dang thing! Their inability to reach agreement has bigger consequences too. Recent inspections indicate that the roof is unstable and will collapse soon and destroy the whole church; it needs urgent repairs but the Ethiopians and Coptics who control the area can’t agree on what to do. For a simpleton like me, the solution seems obvious (fix the roof) but these holy men of God can’t reach an agreement on that so soon there won’t be any roof at all—shady spots and all will be destroyed in a massive collapse which will be well deserved if these simpletons can’t get their act together.
What happened to the unity that Jesus called for his followers to have? What happened to the charity that we are supposed to show others? Turning the other cheek, anyone? Or does being at the tomb of Jesus absolve one from the need to actually follow what he taught? Happily, the keys to the church are controlled by two Muslim families, who Saladin himself entrusted with that duty in 1192. Can you imagine how much worse this ridiculous squabbling would be if any of the Christian groups got their hands on the keys? If they don’t straighten out pretty quick there won’t be any church anymore. Maybe that’d actually be better; this fighting does more to sully Jesus’s legacy than the presence of the building can ever do to preserve it.
Wikipedia has a good article on the church, including the history of the building, and reasons to think it may be the real place. It also has lots of pictures of the interior and exterior, including the ladder.