Four checkpoints later, many hours on the road, foreign passports and the Grace of God get local Christians into Jerusalem these days. A simple twenty-minute ride under Israeli occupation and military siege is a nightmare.
Four checkpoints later, many hours on the road, foreign passports and the Grace of God get local Christians into Jerusalem these days. A simple twenty-minute ride under Israeli occupation and military siege is a nightmare. If you use Palestinian roads, the Israeli soldiers detain you, if you use Israeli settlement roads, the snipers might shoot you. But, it was a special day in the history of Orthodox Christianity last Saturday for the enthronement ceremony of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I. And, as a Greek by birth, I was compelled to see it. I believe the Greek delegation from Greece including President Stephanopoulos and Greek foreign minister George Papandreou had an easier time making it to the Holy Sepulchre from Athens than local Palestinian Christians coming from their nearby villages. All faiths were present but this was strictly an Orthodox affair involving a beautifully chanted centuries old ecclesiastical ceremony. The choir members even flew in from Greece. For the first time in the history of Orthodox services in Jerusalem (that I have seen the last twenty years) there was strict and very tight security. And I don’t mean just hundreds of policemen and soldiers in every corner of the old city. Not only did you need an invitation card, which by the way I did not have one. Once you arrived at the entrance of the Holy Sepulchre, you must present your card, check your name on the invitation list, receive a sticker with a seat number on it and present the card with your seat number again before entering the church. And as you might know, Orthodox churches do not have seats on this side of the world, so the Greeks went to a lot of trouble to set up and organize this arranged check-in.
It’s Jerusalem and miracles of God do happen so I was able to have a nice seat right behind the American Consulate general at which time I expressed my deepest sadness for the tragic events that took place in New York and Washington. Most Palestinians expressed their unequivocal condemnation for this catastrophe in America. But unfortunately the media does not like to promote average Palestinians mourning the life of Americans in East Jerusalem so I won’t be surprised if you didn’t see this candle light vigil on your TV screen. Here in the Holy Land, we live and suffer with such terror, fear, and bombing everyday that we do not wish such horrifying attacks on anyone. The tragedy in America is a crime against humanity and shocking to all.
As hundreds of priests and dozens of bishops marched in the Cathedral of the Anastasis (Resurrection) right opposite the Holy tomb of Christ everyone started shouting “Axios” (worthy) as the new Patriarch took the throne. His all holiness received a standing ovation and blessed everyone with the cross in his hand. The Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos was the first to praise the new Jerusalem Patriarch followed by warmest wishes read from King Abdallah of Jordan and President Yasser Arafat for the historical position Irineos will hold. All of the major world Orthodox patriarchs sent official decrees read in Greek during the service with the exception of the Russian patriarch who sent his sermon in Russian. A large TV screen outside the Holy Sepulchre allowed everyone to follow the ceremony with translations available.
The patriarch of Alexandria sent a special cross as a gift to His All Holiness Irineos reminding him to be a strong witness for Christ in this sacred land while the Patriarch of Antioch suggested the Holy Spirit would help the new patriarch maintain this historic continuation of a big mission for God. According to Sister Maria Stephanopoulos the feeling of most Orthodox Christians is overall enthusiastic that good changes will take place to deal with old conflicts in the patriarchate. Most people want to stay positive, have faith in a new era and hope the new patriarch will be a “good shepherd” first and a “Greek” second.
It was indeed a special day for Orthodox Christianity in the Holy Land because in this small chapel overcrowded with high profile dignitaries and representatives of non government organizations, representative from thirteen Christian denominations and simple followers of Christ, one deeply feels the essence and power of faith. No matter where we live on earth perhaps God calls us to maintain a Christian presence and to be a witness for Christ. As Fr. Demetri Tsigas states with an internet letter: “We need to shine the light of God’s love in the world…Let us be a blessing to God that He may bless us all.” But for those of us that live in the Holy Land, this witness takes on even a more significant meaning because we really do live in the land made holy from the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ himself over two thousand years ago. Except the modern reality of living in this sacred land rips your soul apart at the injustice and destruction you see.
The same evening of the patriarch’s enthronement while diplomats were enjoying a spectacular reception at the King David Hotel, the Israeli army was invading the Al Sharayet residential neighborhood in Ramallah with thirteen military tanks surrounding the area with severe bombing. Several heavy armored jeeps patrolled the neighborhood and heavy gunfire coming from Apache helicopters could be heard in the villages all around including mine. All American money and American weapons killing us and injuring us daily. May God bring peace to the world.