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Mooning the Tomb of Christ

Back in September Reuters reported on a clash at the Holy Sepulchre (or the “Anastasis” in the Orthodox tradition):

Fistfights broke out on Monday at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Christian sects that jealously guard their hold on sections of the shrine built on the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion.

“There was lots of hitting going on. Police were hit, monks were hit … there were people with bloodied faces,” said Aviad Sar Shalom, an Israeli tour guide who witnessed the fight.

The tussle between Franciscans and Greek and Russian Orthodox clerics erupted during a procession through the church on Holy Cross Day marking the fourth century discovery of the cross which some faithful believe was used in the Crucifixion.

I lived in Jerusalem a few years ago and I have to say that the Holy Sepulchre must be the most fascinating building I have ever been inside. The structure itself, rebuilt and damaged many times since the Fourth Century, is a rambling mess of Byzantine, European, African and Russian architecture, and is divided between six different Christian groups in accordance with an arrangement decreed by the Ottoman authorities in 1757 called the status quo. The Greek/Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches have the largest shares, but the Armenian Orthodox Church has two decent sized-sections. Around the back of the actual supposed tomb of Christ (an ornate cupboard-like building beneath the main dome) are small areas belonging to the Syriac Orthodox and Coptic Churches, while the Ethiopians have a monastery and a small chapel on the roof. A Muslim family has the key to the front gate, which is locked nightly with various priests and nuns inside.

So it’s a bit odd when into this extremely fragile religious ecosystem is injected Rev Moon’s Unification Church. John Gorenfeld links to this page from the Church’s website, a photo gallery of a pilgrimage last year during which the “burial of the cross” took place. This is a ceremony that reflects Moon’s decree that Christians should remove the symbol of the Cross from their churches. Apparently, part of this ceremony took place at the actual entrance to the site regarded as the tomb of Christ. One assumes that the various Christian groups within the building were so busy eyeing each other suspiciously that they overlooked what was going on.

An account of the Unificationist pilgrimage during which this event took place can be read here.

6 Responses

  1. Did you happen to stay in Petra Hostel? At least go to the roof?

    Meet the weird near-Protocols-level anti-Semitic, African-Connecticuttian who runs the place?

    He’s guarded. Knew me for weeks before showing me a book which explains how Jews rule the world.

  2. No, I missed out on that particular inter-cultural experience.

  3. I was on two interfaith peace missions to Jerusalem this year. It ws a moving experience for people of different faiths to listen deeply to each other and go together to each others’ holy places and pray. There are many walls, both visible and invisible, but sometimes the spirit breaks through anyway. One woman kneeling at the altar where the Catholics commemorate the crucifixion had a vision of her son who died as a teenager in an automobile accident. His presence was reassuring to her. When we were praying at the stone where Jesus’ body was supposedly laid out after being taken down from the cross, another person in our group had a vision of a young man beside her, and gave a description similar to what she saw at the altar. Regardless of one’s opinions about spiritual phenomena, there was a remarkable confluence that day.

  4. Thanks for that – as a blogger rather than a journalist I have to make do with trying to interpret published sources from the outside, so someone who can add a bit of personal experience is always welcome.

    But I’m still troubled by the event that took place last year. The Holy Sepulchre is open to the general public, but it is also a Christian building. I would be very surprised if any of the Christian groups who own the building would want an interfaith ceremony taking place there, especially one a) under the auspices of the Unification Church and b) dedicated to the removal of the Cross, a symbol venerated in Roman Catholicism and Christian Orthodoxy. It seems to me that therefore the ceremony was both disrespectful and, from the point of view of trying to create peace between religions, pointless.

    I would welcome any extra information that might cause me to reconsider.

  5. There has been a lot of historical conflict over ownership of historic sites in Jerusalem and various parts of Israel/Palestine.

    You raise a good point about interfaith ceremonies being disrespectful to the owners of buildings. Ownership is generally a consequence of wars. Are there other bases of ownership? People such as Native Americans may protest that nobody really owns land. (Geopolitics is a rather new field of study. Maybe we should be our best minds to work on georeligion.)

    Furthermore, it’s not always even conflict between religions. The periodic violent clashes between Christian groups is an embarrassment to Christianity. (That may be partly why a Muslim family holds the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and opens and closes it daily.)

    Throughout the large complex, it seems that there are always tour guides giving explanations, people praying individually or in groups, people reading aloud from the Bible, religious leaders from the broad Christian spectrum officiating at some kind of service, people lighting candles, people laying objects on something so they can be blessed, people kneeling, people standing in lines, people contemplating various images.

    I was not part of the group in May, when the “burial of the cross” took place. From the photos and reports, I understand that people prayed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and wrapped a small cross in a cloth. No cross was buried there — tt’s all stone anyway. A cross was symbolically buried outside of the city.

    The origin of the cross as a Christian symbol dates from Constantine, but it has a shadow side (see the book Constantine’s Sword, for instance). Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, and others attest to its misuse. Burying the cross was a symbolic act by Christians to atone for this misuse, and it opened the way to dialogue and deeper understanding between Jews and Christians that day and afterwards.

  6. […] I’ve looked at the activities of the Unification Church in the “Holy Land” a couple of times in the past: see here and here. […]

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