12 Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land - Patriarch Theophilos III

posted Jan 11, 2018, 12:02 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jan 11, 2018, 12:02 AM ]
January 7 is Christmas, according to the Orthodox Christian calendar. And Orthodox Christians are keeping the feast in the Holy Land, where Christmas – and Christianity – began.

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff.

Christians have lived a history in the Holy Land that spans more than two millennia. We have survived countless invasions, and have flourished under many different forms of government. We know that our survival has depended on the principle that the holy places must be shared by and be accessible to all. For it is the holy places that have given meaning to the region for both inhabitants and conquerors of all faiths. The protection and accessibility of the holy places are understood through a set of rules called the "status quo", which has been followed by all religious and governmental authorities of the region through the ages.

When the successor of the prophet Muhammad, Caliph Omaribn al-Khattab, invaded Jerusalem in 637, he was greeted by Patriarch Sophronios, the then ethno-religious leader of Jerusalem. Together, they signed a covenant that paved the way for an era of peace. This covenant was based on an understanding of shared custodianship of the holy places.

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

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