Echoes of Christian Jerusalem

Jerusalem's various sects of Christianity remain divided, as each fights to preserve its ethno-religious identity.

Othodox Nuns (photo credit: Gali Tibbon)
Othodox Nuns
(photo credit: Gali Tibbon)
Come take a glimpse into a secret world – a labyrinth of chapels and altars, a kaleidoscope of color and texture, a unique fusion of people and cultures, tucked away deep in the maze of winding, narrow streets in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Over the past seventeen centuries, people from all over have been drawn to Jerusalem’s ancient stones as if by a magnetic power: pilgrims in ecstasy, enlightenment in their eyes, praying with the ultimate expression of devotion, not leaving before they have touched, kissed, prayed and knelt before every sacred altar.
Outside, transfixed worshippers carry wooden crosses as they retrace the last steps of Jesus along the winding path of the Via Dolorosa.
Jerusalem is not just the focus of international political attention; it is also the focus of the three great monotheistic religions. Ancient texts and maps describe it as “the center of the world,” the world’s point of beginning. Halfway between east and west, Jerusalem remains a mosaic in which cultures and religions mix yet never combine, each remaining as distinct as possible from the other.
Christians are an ever-dwindling minority in the Middle East, and so the different streams share a common concern about their future.
But instead of being united by belief, the various sects are often divided, each fighting to preserve its ethno-religious identity.
For example a centuries-long struggle over power and territory have left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre divided between six denominations. The fierce devotion with which each faction guards its turf is legendary. Three main sects – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian – have principal custody of the church under an edict issued in 1852 by the ruling Ottoman Sultan, known today as the Status Quo agreement. The additional denominations – Coptic (Egyptian), Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian – are given space and rights within the church. The Sultan’s Status Quo froze time.
Centuries of unchanged religious traditions and multi-ethnic domination combine in a unique and extraordinary collage of people and faith not seen anywhere else.