It often happens and I had to see that today. As it becomes more and more frequent in some “circles”, I prefer to shortly write a few lines.
Jerusalem, the Holy Land and Israel, Palestinian Territories, Jordan and the neighboring countries are on a move. The Churches as also Judaism and Islam go through in-depth updating of their cultural, theological, human, moral, societal attitudes and ways of living.
The Christians are on the spot. On the one hand, crowds of Christian tourists and foreign workers, internal displaced persons (Arab Christians that leave traditional Christian areas to settle in the center of Israel where they work and live in safety; yes it must be said) visit the country and enter through the State of Israel; then, on the other hand, they tour or work/settle in the Palestinian Territories such as Bethlehem, Jericho. This often creates a good opportunity for reciprocal relationships between Jews and Arabs and Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Christinity was born here and nobody will ever be able to erase the Church. I say that using the singular form because the more the Church “split entities” will fight, compete, require this or that or claim to be first and never last is a part of the endangering process of weakening.
Nor in Jerusalem or in any part of the Middle-East (and Turkey speculates all the time on this though denying any Christian historical background !!!! as if St. Paul was touring… where?) is it possible to wipe out or remove the influence and presence of Christianity. Today, all the Emirates and even somway Saudi Arabia that was the kernel of Christian kerygma in the first centuries, do have numerous Christians from many countries (Russia, Ukraine, Philippinos, Indians, Palestinians and other home countries).
In Jerusalem, the move that followed the liberation of former communistic countries and/or Asian dictatorial regimes, also from African areas is strong and can be felt with a rare impact on general Israeli and Palestinian/Jordanian ecomic life and development, economical prospects.
On the other hand, the Church is at pains with “updating” her practice. Historic “patriarchal or administrative territories” for the Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian traditional areas inter alia are not “reconsidered” but they have to face new State regulations, State laws (Israel, Palestinian authority, Jordanian, Qatar, Dubai, and others).
This is why the Church has to be strongly and honestly rooted in her history in the region. It can be very dangerous to “twist” in suc ha context. By the time of the visit and meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem in 1964 under the welcoming assistance of late Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem, the astern Orthodox Churches where mostly submitted to atheist and despotic regimes.
Freedom came slowly up and more or less clearly 20 years ago and different Patriarchates show again as rising and/powerful entities; they all have their local and external historic “pretence or claims”, not only in the Holy Land but everywhere in the world. This does not only concern the Orthodox Patriarchates but also the Ancient Churches. Some days ago the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate that is somehow in exile in Damascus was proposed by the Turkish government to reconsider some return to Antioch… This is a simple example.
At this point, the 20th century was a time that allowed scholars of both Western and Oriental traditions to define the role of the “local Church”. In Jerusalem, history has developed into several level and layers of contemporary and diachronic Church presence.
On the other hand, the decree signed by Omar Ibn al-Khattab in 636 in favor of the preservation of the Christian presence and faith in Jerusalem UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE MUSLIM POWER is an important document entrusted to Patriarch Sophrinos of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the spiritual benefit of all the Christians that then lived in the City and were present at the main historical Churches and holy sites of Christendom.
The decree was never suspended; it allowed the Christians to “journey” through the ages with much wisdom and they had to face terrible hardships. Just the same hardships that are going on in some parts of the Near and Middle-East.
But the “Decree/Achtiname” is important in the way the Church is able to discuss her status with the States that emerged in the two past centuries. It does not only concern a European “colonial” power conflict.
Patriarch Sophronios had to convince a newly Muslim convert, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, that Christian faith was not irrealistic but substantial. In this sense, the coming of numerous pilgrims or faithful from all over the world does not suffice.
Opacity to reality and historical traditions carried over centuries have to be updated adequately. This is why there are turbulences and they are “normal” because faith is on the way and also conducting us according to the changes of times.
The Decree entrusted to Patriarch Sophronios was for the benefit of the “One, Holy, Catholic (open to the fulfillment, totality thus all-ingathering) and Apostolic Church and the then-believers. It shows there were no “borders”, but a spiritual care for all the faithful that were residing in the country.
When scholars of any country come and speak of a specific Church tradition, the history of their pilgrimage, they ought to precisely know, to begin with, that Church respect does not consist in kissing hand and turn away to do whatsoever, but rather to be ready to acculturate and taken into consideration the different layers of traditional canonical rules in force.
People cannot speak of the Zulus if their only know how the Vikings were living in the 9th century! The same about the Church of Jerusalem.
People may come and carry on their surveys as socio-cultural subjects. It does not turn them into locals; this is another reality and this requires specific calls that must be accepted by the locals. It maybe difficult. Here, in Jerusalem, the usual tendency has always been to “kick out” both faithful, clergy and Patriarchs as in many Oriental Churches and at times in Rome.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)