If we told you that violence had broken out at the very birthplace of Jesus Christ, champion of peace, just three days after millions of Christians celebrated his birth on the Christmas holiday, what would you think? The usual suspects, you say? Islamic extremists? Terrorists? Try clergymen. That’s right, today a schoolyard brawl broke out in the church built over one of the most sacred places in all of Christianity.
The Church of the Nativity is an ancient church that is built over what many believe to be the site of the birth of Jesus Christ. Three Christian denominations share the church and normally co-exist peacefully, despite a long-running feud over which areas of the church belong to which group. The church is shared by the Roman Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox denominations. On Wednesday, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy broke into violence, arguing over accusations of both sides encroaching on parts of the church to which they have no claim.
Monks were busy cleaning up the church for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations that take place in the first couple of weeks of January, mainly tidying up from celebrations in the church for Western Christians that traditionally is observed on December 25. Monks from both sides stood at the borders of their areas, shouting and brandishing brooms. Security forces were quick to arrive on the scene to quell the disturbance. There were no serious injuries, although it was clear that there were physical attacks involved.
Is it not enough that Christians in Israel have to try to co-exist with Muslims and Jews that all believe that this very small area of land is their respective Holy Land? Now, the Christians have resorted to fighting among themselves over territorial lines in the Church of the Nativity. What would Jesus Christ think if he could see this scene today?
Tensions between the factions within the church go back hundreds of years. The most recent falling out has revolved around the roof of the church. The roof is in great disrepair and needs immediate attention. Many pieces of historical artwork within the church have been damaged by rainwater leaking through the dilapidated structure, but the work has been delayed for years by disputes between the factions as to who is responsible for paying for the repairs. The roof is now so bad that the Palestinian Authority has superseded the denominations to go ahead with the replacement of the roof. This project should begin in 2012.
What happened to turning the other cheek?