The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has lashed out against gathering restrictions that Israeli Police have said will be necessary to ensure the safety of participants in this month’s Holy Fire ritual.
According to a letter disseminated this week by the Patriarchate ahead of Easter, the police have asked that only 1,000 people enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire ritual, although it is customary for many thousands of worshippers to attend. It has also said that only 500 people can enter the Old City and reach the Patriarchate yards and the overlooking roof of the Holy Sepulchre Church.
The Holy Sepulchre church is the site where Orthodox Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried. During the ceremony, participants witness a flame that appears to emerge above his tomb. The event takes place each year on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter, which this year falls on April 24.
The police did not readily respond to a request for comment.
“We affirm our strong and renewed commitment to our natural right to celebrate our holidays along with our communities, families and to participate together in prayers at our churches in the Old City of Jerusalem, including the basic right of all our communities to access the Church of Holy Sepulchre and its vicinity during Easter festivities including Holy Light Saturday,” the Patriarchate said in a statement. “Our communities have been exercising this divine right freely throughout the ages and different rulers, regardless of the circumstances that the Holy City went through in history.”
The Patriarchate claimed that “having access to churches in the Old City, especially during Easter holidays” has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and said that “there is no justification” for the additional restrictions put into place this year.
The Patriarchate “affirms its explicit, clear and complete rejection of all restrictions," saying it is "fed up with police restrictions on freedom to worship and with its unacceptable methods of dealing with the God given rights of Christians to practice rituals and have to access their holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Accordingly, the orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has decided, by the power of the Lord, that it will not compromise its right to provide spiritual services in all churches and squares. It also announces that prayers will be held as usual by the Patriarchate and its priests, hoping that believers are able to participate,” the statement concluded.