21 February 2009



In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is a part of my series of reports featuring the
bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups

When I think of monks and priests (homosexual pedophilia aside) I usually think of quiet, pious men who care deeply about their God and their religion, men who may have differences with others, but who act respectfully and kindly. Like all believers, a monk may be deluding himself about God and Christ, but still, I think of him as someone who would set a good example for lay Christians by resolving differences with discussion, mediation, consensus, or other congenial means, perhaps simply agreeing to disagree.

In some cases, that would be true, but Christian monks have taken petty, centuries-old territorial disputes over two religious shrines to the point of violence, time and time again.

In October of 2008, it was reported that a rooftop section of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, is in such bad condition that it could cause the whole structure to topple. The entire building needs renovations but the roof has been classified as being in an “emergency state” according to an engineering evaluation.
Six denominations share the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the world’s holiest sites for Christians: Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopians, and Copts who are mainly Egyptian. In 1757, the area each controlled was defined down to the last inch. For six centuries previous to that, the rival sects had such bitter disputes that the keys to the church were placed in the hands of two Muslim families, the Joudeh and Nusseibeh, who have had to mediate disputes over matters as trivial as the position of a chair or who has the right to clean a particular step.
The dispute over the rooftop monastery dates back to 1970, when the Coptic monks who controlled that area left to pray in the main church and left the rooftop unattended. While they were gone, Ethiopian monks changed the locks. Coptics refused to give up their claim and posted a single monk there 24/7. In a heat wave of 2002, the guard moved his chair from a sunny to a shady spot. The Ethiopians took that move as a hostile signal. Eleven monks needed hospital treatment after the ensuing brawl.
Because the two factions still dispute who has the rights to that area, no decision can be made about the rooftop repairs. The Israeli government has offered to pay for repairs to the popular tourist site if the monks can agree who is responsible for that section of the church, but it seems unlikely that will happen anytime soon.

In December 2007, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Greek and Armenian factions fought with fists, brooms, and iron rods over how to clean the church, one group claiming the ladders of another encroached on their territory. Five monks and 2 Palestinian police officers were injured. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this church is shared by various branches of Christianity, each jealously guarding a part of the holy site.

In November of 2008, a dispute between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher turned violent while Armenians were celebrating an annual feast day. The Greek Orthodox monks claimed a long-standing right to have a guard in the tomb of Christ during the celebration. The Armenians denied that right, resulting in a fight between monks that was joined by worshippers and clerics on both sides. Kicks, punches, candlesticks and banners flew as shocked pilgrims and tourists watched. Police broke up the fight and detained two Armenian priests.
Archbishop Shirivanian said, “Regrettably, it doesn’t leave a good impression, since two Christian denominations were involved in the fight in the most holy place.”
There have been numerous disputes at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for more than eight centuries. A priest accused another of trespassing when he placed a ladder on a ledge above the main entrance. The ongoing disagreement has left the ladder there for more than 100 years. In 1995 the church resolved a 17-year dispute over how to paint part of the dome. In 2004 during a Greek Orthodox celebration, a door was left open which was considered a sign of disrespect. A fight resulted in several arrests. On Palm Sunday 2008 police were attacked by rival factions. Several of the injured were transported to a hospital.
Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, who has witnessed many disagreements during 40 years in Jerusalem said, "I'm not hopeful - either for peace in the Middle East or for peace in the Holy Sepulcher.”

1 comment:

libhom said...

That is so funny. I think the Protestants should start brawling to claim their space.

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