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Orthodox leaders call on international community to help protect Christians in Jerusalem

Christian Quarter street in Jerusalem city. The sign is in three languages.
Christian Quarter street in Jerusalem city. The sign is in three languages. | Getty Images

As violence against Christians in Jerusalem continues, some Orthodox leaders are asking the international community to help safeguard the holy city.

Hundreds of Catholic students took part in a march last week as part of a traditional event along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, the very path Jesus is said to have taken to the Cross of Calvary over 2,000 years ago.

And while this march is held every year commemorating the season of Lent, this year, students taking part in the procession wore identical red scarves on their way to the Church of the Flagellation, according to the Times of Israel.

On the scarves was an image of a broken statue of Christ in honor of a church statue that an American Jewish tourist vandalized in February, the Times reported.

In a video taken at the church, the assailant is heard citing Exodus Chapter 20, saying, "You can’t have idols in Jerusalem, this is the holy city.”

Worshipers kneel down around the Stone of Anointing, the place believed to be where Jesus Christ's body was laid after being taken down from the cross, during an Easter vigil mass on Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on April 3, 2021.
Worshipers kneel down around the Stone of Anointing, the place believed to be where Jesus Christ's body was laid after being taken down from the cross, during an Easter vigil mass on Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on April 3, 2021. | EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

Following the vandalism, Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Dormition Abbey, a Catholic monastery of the Benedictine Order in Jerusalem, appeared to suggest the attack was inspired in part by the “new Christian-hating” Israeli government. Some Christians have a favorable opinion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, and don't necessarily agree with this view.

Schnabel tweeted, “This morning, a Jewish extremist targeted the statue of the scourged Savior in the #Flagellation Chapel, the first stop on the famous #ViaDolorosa in #Jerusalem. Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!”

 

According to tradition, the church was built on the space believed to be where Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldiers back in the first century and presented with a cross to carry.

That attack marked the fifth incident within a month, according to Custodia Terrae Sanctae, which cited examples of recent vandalism that included attacks on a monastery and a local Christian cemetery.

In an Easter message from a coalition of “Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem” under Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, Christian leaders warned the rise in attacks have come “in spite of our agreements to cooperate with the governing authorities, and to accommodate any reasonable requests that they might present.”

The statement called on the international community and “local residents of goodwill” to “help secure the safety, access, and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims annually visiting the Holy Land — as well as the maintenance of the religious Status Quo.”

Noting the centrality of the holy city in both the resurrection of Christ and throughout the Gospels, the statement also noted it was “in Jerusalem that the angel first greeted the women at the empty tomb, proclaiming, “Do not be afraid ... He is not here; for He has been raised (Matthew 28:5-6).

“From those first encounters until today, the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Risen Christ has remained the Easter message. For just as Christ has been raised, so too have we been raised with him to a new life in the hope of that same resurrection (Romans 6:4-5),” the statement added.

Just last week, the Greek Orthodox Church denounced an attack on priests at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Gethsemane by an assailant armed with an iron bar. 

Police arrested a 27-year-old resident of southern Israel in the attack.

In a statement, the Greek Orthodox Church said: "Terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties ... have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays.”

The church pointed to stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as a factor in the attack, as well as the fact that in east Jerusalem, “230,000 Israelis live along with at least 360,000 Palestinians who want to make the sector the capital of their future state.”

According to the Times, a handicapped Greek Orthodox priest was “spat on by two religious Jewish youths” while making his way out of the Greek Orthodox monastery last week. After another priest confronted the attackers, they threatened him with pepper spray, the Times reported.

Late last month, Netanyahu intervened in an effort to pass a bill that would criminalize Christian evangelism, a proposal that drew concern from American Evangelicals. 

In a tweet posted on March 22, Netanyahu expressed his opposition to a bill proposed by members of the United Torah Judaism party to punish Christian proselytization with one year in prison.

"We will not advance any law against the Christian community," Netanyahu tweeted in response to the concerns of Christians worldwide.

The bill was introduced by two Knesset members Moshe Gafni, a long-serving lawmaker who has frequently proposed such legislation over the past couple of decades, and Yaakov Asher, according to a translation of the bill shared by All Israeli News.

Last June, the Office of the European Union Representative in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip warned that the heritage and traditions of the Christian community and the established religious equilibrium in the Old City of Jerusalem were at risk after Israel’s Supreme Court legitimized the takeover of Greek Orthodox properties by a Jewish settler group.

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