Above: Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem
Joint Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches
“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17
In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.
We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.
There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.
We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.
Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.
We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.
We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.
We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.
The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate +Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate +Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem +Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate +Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East +Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land +Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
We thank you for the work of your Spirit in the city of Jerusalem, from the time of the disciples until today. We know that amid strife and conflict you are still moving. We pray for the church leaders and Christians in the Holy Land, and especially in Jerusalem. Give them peace and perseverance in the face of trials and give them hope in the face of conflict. At a time when Christian presence in the Middle East dwindles, we pray that you would strengthen and encourage those who remain. Help us who are distant from conflict to continue in prayer and to pursue justice with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and beyond. Let us all be united in the task of bearing witness to your love.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Photo and prayer by Michael Santulli
Michael Santulli is a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.
Thy Kingdom Come
By Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5: 1-10
Jesus was no stranger to the Kingdom of God. He began his earthly ministry proclaiming his purpose to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:17-18). He lived his earthly life doing all of these things. After he departed to heaven he sent the same Spirit that anointed him to us, on the day of Pentecost. Today, Christians around the world celebrate the sending of the Spirit, because it is through the Spirit that we follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Dead Sea, which, in fact, contains life. Things are not always as they seem. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
Jesus did not come to immediately bring an end to sadness and suffering or poverty and injustice. He did not come to overthrow a government or to end political occupations. He came to show us a better way to live, amidst the many tribulations that plague our world. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, and to invite us to live by its rules here and now. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope
Written by Molly Lorden
Sea of Galilee. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10
Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news! Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”
Luke 23: 44-47
Jesus was no stranger to persecution and pain. Though he was unjustly accused and tried in court, “Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matt. 27:12). He faced an angry mob who chanted for his death, even though the ruling governor found him to be innocent. He was handed over to Roman soldiers who brutally flogged his flesh, beat his body, and mocked his holy name. Finally, Jesus endured the shame of a criminal’s death by hanging on a cross. (Matt. 27:12-44)
Throughout this evil tribulation he never once defended himself. He could have called on his Father to send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). But he did not. He did not raise his hand or even his voice in self defense. His meekness was the truest sign of strength that the world will ever know.
Checkpoint in Hebron. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
It is difficult to find a place where the conflict is more palpable, than in the city of Hebron, in the West Bank. A Jewish settlement was established within the city almost 50 years ago. The settlers are a small minority of Hebron’s population, but their presence is strongly felt and heavily protected. At any given time, there may be hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints within the city. The Palestinian people’s movements are closely watched and restricted. There are separate streets, like Al-Shuhada in the heart of the Old City, that Palestinians are not allowed use. And despite the powerful military presence in Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually permitted to openly carry large weapons as they move freely throughout the city. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Humble Service
Written by Molly Lorden
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
Jesus was no stranger to humble service. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continually putting aside his privilege to care for others out of humility. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he put aside his ability to be rescued by angels, and to turn rocks into food (Luke 4:1-13). Immediately after this, he returned to Galilee to begin his earthly ministry, proclaiming the good news to the least of these, and healing the sick. Once again, he shows us what it means to humbly serve. Knowing who he is, and what was to happen, his response was to serve his disciples, even the one who would deny him only hours later. He humbled himself to the status of the lowest servant in the house, washing the grime and muck from a day of walking off of the disciples’ feet. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Being Misunderstood
Written by Molly Lorden
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
Matthew 21: 6-11
Christian pilgrims carry palm branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. PHOTO: CNS/Debbie Hill
Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Palm Sunday. One week before Easter, we mark the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He entered the city riding on a donkey, as the crowds laid palm branches and cloaks on the road before him and shouted praises. Amidst the commotion, people wondered who he was. Some responded that he was a prophet. Traditionally, Jesus is known as the great prophet, priest and king. While Jesus was a prophet, this is certainly not an all-encompassing understanding of his identity. In this same scene in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is proclaimed as king. Yet, even this is not an adequate depiction. He is so much more. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to the Least of These
Written by Molly Lorden
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)
We are now in the fifth week of the Lenten season, one week before Palm Sunday. Many of you have given up something: maybe chocolate, Facebook, or meat. The spiritual practice of fasting creates space in our lives to intentionally focus on God, to repent, and to pray. Some of you have taken on something, rather than fasting, during this season. Maybe you are volunteering, or doing acts of charity. Regardless of how you are observing Lent, you may be longing for its end — waiting for the joy that comes with Easter Sunday. In these seasons of waiting and anticipation, it is important to consider where our priorities lie. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to the Cry for Justice
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Jesus was no stranger to the cry for justice. Through the Gospels, we see Jesus engaging with people in a calm and gentle manner. However, injustice against the vulnerable made him very angry. He acted upon this concern for the oppressed by taking a public stand and protesting in Jerusalem: “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts” (Mark 11:15-16). Jesus’ concern was not just because the house of God had been turned into a place of business. He was also protesting the exorbitant fees people were being charged for required sacrifices—fees that would have likely been burdensome to both the local poor and the people who had traveled a long way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. This corruption of the sacrificial system prioritized money over the ability of people to worship.
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
Often, Western Christians do not realize that Christians have been living in the Holy Land since the time of Jesus. Many of these faithful followers can trace their family histories all the way back to the birth of Christian community after Pentecost. But, for Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank, the daily pressures and hardships of living under military occupation for almost 50 years have contributed to a great migration of the native Christians from the land. In addition to the occupation, lower birthrates for Palestinian Christians than their Muslim counterparts, and the lack of economic opportunity within Palestinian society also contribute to the decreasing Christian population. It is estimated today less than 2% of all Palestinians living in the occupied territories self-identify as Christians. Today, these Christians are called the “living stones.” Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Death and Sorrow
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“When the righteous cry out the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
Jesus was no stranger to death and sorrow. Jesus lost loved ones during his time on earth. He knows that the death of someone we love creates a hole in the heart, which is seemingly impossible to fill. Pain and suffering are evident in our day-to-day lives, and in our world. Many Israelis and Palestinians have lost loved ones due to the conflict. There is great trauma and grief experienced on all sides, in deep and diverse ways. Many Israelis carry the trauma and history of Holocaust in their collective memory. They fear growing global anti-Semitism, as well as acts of violence and terror in more recent years. Many Palestinians have experienced the loss of family homes and land, and are continually struggling for self-determination. They fear the violence of a militarized society and the realities of living under occupation. All of the communities in the region have experienced loss, pain, and suffering. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to a Life of Poverty
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:20-21
Born in a cave to poor parents in the shepherding community of Bethlehem, Jesus was no stranger to a life of poverty. As an infant, his family fled to Egypt as refugees, trying to escape a genocide of the maniacal ruler, King Herod. Throughout his adult ministry, he had no home of his own. In a conversation with a would be follower, Jesus made his humble lifestyle clear: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). All his life, Jesus was reliant upon God to provide.
With Jesus’ background, how would he encounter people living in Gaza today? If Jesus walked through the streets, it would be apparent much of the territory still lies in rubble from the 2014 war. Controlled borders limit access to supplies desperately needed to rebuild. Many families are still displaced, living in crowded shelters like refugees in their own cities. Simple necessities like electricity and water are limited and largely unavailable. Feelings of isolation, sadness, and abandonment are abundant in the hearts of these impoverished people.
Little girl in Gaza
Children have few safe places to go and end up playing in the streets. I imagine Jesus pausing in his walk, sitting down in the dirt, and playing a game with these kids (Matt. 19:14). Perhaps the family of one of the children would invite him into their home for tea, as an expression of hospitality deeply rooted in their culture. As Jesus enters their humble home, he might see the extended family who lives there. He might sit next to a young, widowed mother, who has had to move in with her brother and his family. Read more