The jerusalem post
19:44 | 12/27/17

Jerusalem’s Christian communities feel anxiety in ‘testing’ times

Christian worshippers in Jerusalem. ‘Early Christian writers spoke of a Jewish Restoration to the Holy Land. After the Reformation this became a movement. In English-speaking countries the 19th and early 20th centuries saw many strong Christian Zionists.’ (photo credit: REUTERS) Christian worshippers in Jerusalem. ‘Early Christian writers spoke of a Jewish Restoration to the Holy Land. After the Reformation this became a movement. In English-speaking countries the 19th and early 20th centuries saw many strong Christian Zionists.’ (photo credit: REUTERS)
Christian communities are increasingly worried about extremists who want to make the Jewish state one that is solely for Jews.
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Inasmuch as Christian communities enjoy freedom of worship in Israel, they are fearful of an intrusion into their rights by a proposed bill circulating in the Knesset.

Concern to this effect was voiced on Wednesday by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem at the annual pre-New Year reception for heads of churches, Christian communities and institutions hosted by the president of the state during the period between the Christmas celebrations of the Western churches and those of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Inasmuch as Christian communities enjoy freedom of worship in Israel, they are fearful of an intrusion into their rights by a proposed bill circulating in the Knesset.



Concern to this effect was voiced on Wednesday by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem at the annual pre-New Year reception for heads of churches, Christian communities and institutions hosted by the president of the state during the period between the Christmas celebrations of the Western churches and those of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

This year’s reception was co-hosted by the Interior Ministry and attended by Interior Minister Arye Deri, who also addressed the gathering.

“Our holy Old City of Jerusalem is passing the most testing of times,” said Theophilos in a direct address to President Reuven Rivlin. “Developments are placing huge pressures on our respective communities, making them experience unease, anxiety and disquietude.”



Acknowledging that the heads of churches are aware of Rivlin’s dedication to the status quo, with its internationally recognized set of rights, rules and customs enabling all religious communities and civil authorities to carry out their respective roles in harmony, Theophilos called for the status quo to remain in effect “without alteration or amendment.”

Due to reported sales of church lands on which residential properties have been built, a bill has been proposed whereby the state can confiscate church land.

This is the intrusion to which Theophilos referred. Most of the residential properties are occupied by Jewish citizens of the state who are worried that they might be evicted by the new owners of the land without recourse to compensation, even though apartment owners paid for their premises and are not renting.

In addition to a possible change in the status quo, Christian communities are also worried about extremists who want to make the Jewish state one that is solely for Jews.

“We are hoping that present decision-makers will be assiduous in curbing radical groups in our society who seek to make Jerusalem an exclusive rather than inclusive society,” said Theophilos.

The true identity of Jerusalem depends on the well-being of all communities of faith, he added.

Theophilos referred to the recent academic dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Judaism, in which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met with distinguished Jewish scholars, and where there was consensus that peace cannot be achieved by raising physical barriers, but, rather, by opposing prejudice and bigotry of all kinds.

After relating to “the great gift” which US President Donald Trump had given to the people of Israel by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, Deri said that even though Israelis naturally regard Jerusalem as their capital, Trump’s declaration “strengthens and encourages us.”

In Temple times, he said, 70 sacrifices were brought to the Temple to symbolize the 70 nations of the world. “This was the symbol of freedom and harmony that emanated from Jerusalem,” he stated.

Deri called on all religious leaders, “including our own,” to respect each other in all ways.

“There is room for people of every faith to practice in accordance with their traditions,” he said. Specifically referencing Jerusalem, as did Theophilos and Rivlin, Deri said: “Each of us can worship according to the tenets of his faith – but all of us must be together.”

Deri also said that his ministry is being as cooperative as possible in processing requests by Christian clergy to serve their respective communities in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.

Noting that both Christmas and Hanukka are celebrated in winter and that pagans also celebrated holidays of fire at this time of the year, Rivlin said: “These long nights are the time when God decided to give a great light to the world.”
President Rivlin meets with Christian leaders in Jerusalem, December 2017 (credit: Mark Neiman/ GPO)


Rivlin said that he is always delighted to meet with heads of Christian communities, because he regards such meetings as important; “but when we face troubled times, it becomes even more important.”

Relating to regional turmoil, Rivlin said: “We are living in a time of long dark nights. In the past years, our region has known so much bloodshed, so much pain, so much suffering. During this dark period, no community has been persecuted more than the Christians, in all the countries around us. I pray, together with all of you, for their well-being.”

He emphasized that “in Israel we understand what it means to be attacked, to be persecuted, just because of our faith, and we are heartbroken to see the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters. Our sympathy to you goes deep, our solidarity is full.”

Rivlin declared that he sees his role and the role of the State of Israel as guardians of Jerusalem. “As guardians, and in our sovereignty over Jerusalem, we will never compromise the freedom of worship and religion for all believers,” he pledged.

To make this absolutely clear, he repeated that “the State of Israel is deeply committed to ensure the religious rights of worship and activity of all communities of faith in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.”

Rivlin asked that his guests join him in praying that the coming year would bring peace and quiet to the Land of Israel and to the region, and that all residents of Israel should know prosperity and security. “And that a great, strong light will shine from here to all the world.”



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