The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Holy Land says it will not cooperate with Israeli police orders to limit the number of people attending the Holy Fire ceremony a day before Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 24 for the Eastern Orthodox Church.
According to a statement from the church, police are allowing only 1,000 people to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on April 23, along with another 500 who can view the ceremony from outside the church.
“Jerusalem is sacred,” declared World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca. “It is sacred for all three monotheistic religions, and access to Jerusalem is an inalienable right for all people of these faiths. Christians have been living on this land and witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ for more than 2000 years. The resurrection is at the heart of our Christian faith and at the heart of all Christian communities in the world. We cannot accept measures that challenge the fundamental rights of our churches to celebrate this centre point of our faith.”
For many years, participating in prayers and even having access to churches in the Old City, especially during Easter holidays, has become increasingly difficult. The additional restrictions announced by the authorities for Holy Fire Saturday add to the violations and pressures on the churches in the Holy Land, including attacks on clergy, threats against churches and church properties, and limitations on access to worship.
According to the latest announced restrictions, only 1,000 people will be allowed to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and only 500 people will be permitted access to the Patriarchate yards overlooking the roof of the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Old City. Restrictions were also already imposed on Palm Sunday, with only four scout groups participating in the Jerusalem procession while the West Bank scouts that belong to Christian groups were denied permits. In contrast, during the Christmas parade in Bethlehem approximately 25-30 Christian scout groups participate.
“The World Council of Churches joins the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in rejecting and condemning these restrictions as unjustified and unjust,” said Sauca.
”In this Easter season when all Christians yearn to join in celebrating our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we call on World Council of Churches member churches, world leaders and all people of good will to condemn the measures that restrict freedom of religion, and to support the right of churches in the Holy Land to live and worship with dignity,” Sauca stressed. “We also call on the government of Israel to ensure just access to Jerusalem for all while honouring and preserving the Status Quo of this holy city.”
“Any violation of the Status Quo threatens the peace and security of all people of the region. It is our responsibility as members of the international community to protect the legal framework and the applicable international laws.”