Canary in a Coal Mine: The Case of the Churches and the Status of Jerusalem

Canary in a Coal Mine: The Case of the Churches and the Status of Jerusalem

When one asks what the future for Israel and Palestine might look like, visions of what it could and should be — as opposed to what is taking place on the ground — are increasingly disparate. Here, Jerusalem is of utmost concern, since there is no conceivable negotiation that could take place without the Holy City at its center. And at the heart of the issue of Jerusalem lies the vital question of how to preserve the ever fragile Status Quo.

Jerusalem’s churches are natural advocates for maintaining the Status Quo, since it is built into their history, namely, the Ottoman firman of 1852, which preserved the status of the Christian holy sites. This preservation facilitates the churches’ general stance to allow open worship, without distinction or discrimination, and so it is built into their value system as well. Since the Status Quo was adopted into international law by way of the Treaty of Berlin and broadened to apply to all holy sites, even being recognized by the Israelis in 1967, although violated later in regard to the Al-Aqsa compound, maintenance and protection of the Status Quo has been crucial for peace. The churches’ advocacy extends to the protection of the compound, and all of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But there is an important distinction to be made in the churches’ understanding of holy sites, which makes them a unique target of the settler agenda. In the Christian view, holy sites are not part and parcel of a nationalistic framework, but rather are understood purely in terms of their spiritual significance; hence the policy of inclusivity, and the churches’ emphasis on remaining independent actors. It may be for this exact reason that the churches have become a “canary in the coal mine” to the extent that the coal mine is a quick and quiet breakdown of the Status Quo, and that Jerusalem’s ancient multifaceted religious, ethnic, and cultural character is being irrevocably damaged.

It is important to emphasize that the growing boldness and impunity of radical settlers is harming everyone in Jerusalem and not only Christians. However, the churches provide a unique and effective target — a fact sometimes overlooked by outside observers. As independent, visible, ancient guardians of holy sites, as well as the largest landowners after the state, they have emerged as a symbol of what radicals seek to change about Jerusalem. Thus, moves against the churches have proven to be advantageous for political aspirants during recent election periods, including in terms of the support they receive from settlers who in turn perceive sponsorship, direct or indirect, of their often criminal activities. At the same time, settler groups secure Western Christian funds — posing as charitable organizations — from donors who are often unaware of the activities they support.

In the last few years there has been a series of actions attempted or executed by radical entities within and spanning the Israeli political arena, interweaving local and national governments, toward a unified agenda of weakening the Christian presence. These include court rulings that legitimize underhanded means of acquiring land, the introduction of discriminatory legislation, police and governmental interference in religious ceremonies, expansion onto church land for nationalistic purposes, and turning a blind eye to violence committed by Jewish radicals.

How Do the Churches Respond?

These days, the churches act in tandem, particularly when facing threats to their autonomy as religious institutions. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem provides a solid example of both the church’s autonomy and the essentiality of that autonomy, being the oldest institution in the Holy Land, and uniquely autocephalous over its jurisdiction. Over millennia, it survived dozens of takeovers of the city, wars, and challenges to its own existence. This is due to the posture that the church assumed amid tumultuous political realities, often captured with the Biblical verse, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

An eminent example of this policy is found in the Arab Muslim takeover of Jerusalem in 637, when the Muslim Khalifa Omar Ibn al Khattab and Patriarch Sophronios, who emerged as a post-Byzantine ethnarch, signed a covenant in order to avoid war. The Patriarchate’s abdication of sole authority over Jerusalem not only saved lives but also provided a solution to a problem that leaders of that period foresaw would never have an ideal answer: How to share holy space upon which everyone lays legitimate claims.

Over centuries, the Patriarchate provided another benefit to the Abrahamic faith communities: it offered witness to their historical ties to Jerusalem and protected the sacred heritage which these faiths share — the places of divine-human encounter. To characterize the city thus is to see its inherent indispensability to all humankind. This reasoning informs the church’s policy toward inclusivity, which views Jerusalem as a city on a hill that can’t — that mustn’t — be hid. Ideologies to the contrary undermine the nature of Jerusalem, and deny people their natural right to venerate what is holy.

“Jerusalem is mentioned always as a model — not a theoretical, but a tangible model — of co-existence; a model of the Abrahamic religious co-existence, of civilization, and of cultures. This is what the world is in need of today,” says Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem.

He and other Heads of Churches, as well as the Status Quo Committee, have signed joint letters, held press briefings, and even agreed to close the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in protest in early 2018 in response to a surprise move by the municipality to impose retrospective taxes equaling around $200 million on historically exempt church property. This move was particularly startling considering the special status of the religious institutions, the Status Quo of 1852, and philanthropic services the churches provide to the general population, including schools, nursing homes, hospitals, food distribution centers, and health clinics, which would have been immediately closed. During the visit of United States President Joe Biden in July 2022, the Patriarch outlined the church’s deepening concerns in a letter, to which he received a strong, supportive response. The situation on the ground has reached a level which has caught international attention.

What Are the Issues at Hand?

A wave of attacks against the churches beginning in 2017 emanated from the judicial, municipal, and national levels. Often, such moves can be traced back to individuals who sympathize with, receive support from, or work in the name of the settler agenda. Moreover, the initiatives appear to have a tendency to move vertically through official channels. For example, municipal initiatives may be adopted by ministries or Knesset members, settler initiatives may find support in the municipality, or Knesset bills may be supported by settler groups. Consequently, there exists an effective apparatus by which the status of Jerusalem may be altered, to the detriment of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish indigenous communities, and in betrayal of Israel’s declared commitment to freedom of worship, the protection of all its inhabitants and the diverse fabric of society in the Holy Land.

Radical Influence in the Judicial Sphere

The Jaffa Gate properties case is one of the most blatant examples of how settler activity is destabilizing the Old City. In July 2017, the Jerusalem District Court ruled in favor of radical group Ateret Cohanim, whose mission statement is to “redeem” Jerusalem from non-Jews. At the center of the case was the question of whether the unauthorized sale of Patriarchate property, situated prominently at the entrance of the Christian Quarter, was indeed a valid sale.

The deal had been attained through Ateret Cohanim’s frequent underhanded tactics, as documented by Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson. In 2004 the group, working under the cover of four different off-shore shell companies, bribed a junior employee in the church’s finance office to sign lease deals that he was never authorized to sign, and of which the Church’s synod and patriarch were unaware. In court, the church provided concrete evidence of bribery, bad faith, conspiracy, and that the deal lacked due authority from the Patriarchate. However, these and other strange circumstances surrounding the case were disregarded, including Ateret Cohanim’s failure to produce material evidence that was in their possession, or to bring the group’s leader, who was directly involved with the deals, as a witness.

In March 2022, while the properties’ legally protected tenants, the respective Dajani and Kirresh families, continued their own court battles, members of Ateret Cohanim unlawfully seized a portion of Petra Hotel – one of the properties in question – with police protection. Although the tenants went to the Magistrate Court with an urgent procedure request in order to address the break-in and takeover, the judge published his decision two weeks later, ruling not to evacuate the settlers. Moreover, he granted Ateret Cohanim permission to renovate the property, although this was later suspended so that the tenants could appeal. The final decision regarding the legally protected tenancy rests with the Supreme Court.

The pattern of settlers gaining Church-owned property in the Old City using deception, violence, and squatting is well-established. In 2016, members of Ateret Cohanim broke through the walls and roof of an Orthodox chapel adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the early hours of the morning, then erected iron bars to seal off the area they intended to steal. The group had already seized the neighboring St. John’s Hostel, also across the courtyard of the Holy Sepulcher, in the 1990s by deceiving police and breaching a judicial agreement. Church properties which aren’t subjected to these types of takeovers, are often vandalized or torched, such as the Catholic Church of All Nations in Gethsemane in 2020, and a Romanian Orthodox Church near the Old City in 2021, among others. The outcomes of the Jaffa Gate properties case underscore the fear that coercion, violence, and disregard for the law, are being normalized in Jerusalem. Moreover, the strategic takeover of Jaffa Gate by Jewish settlers assures that a climate of intimidation and criminality will infiltrate the Christian Quarter, as is evident of Ateret Cohanim’s pattern of activity. “This is not about the individual properties, but about the whole character of Jerusalem including the Christian Quarter,” wrote the Heads of Local Churches in a statement. “If the properties are occupied by radicals, we know what is going to happen,” says Patriarch Theophilos.

Radical Influence in the National Sphere

One of the most disturbing trends is increasing interference in the Church’s administration of the holiest place in the world for Christians – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The policy of the Major Communities, i.e., churches that administer the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is to cooperate with officials to ensure that pilgrims can safely visit and venerate site. This is especially important during large feast days which welcome thousands of believers. However, the churches note growing interference by police and government in their services, including strictly limiting who may enter, using police violence toward congregants, and intrusion into their regular administrative affairs.

Archbishop Isidoros, the Superior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, says that police are increasingly requiring permission for internal decisions and asking excessive questions in an unofficial manner. Typically, they report back to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which subsequently inserts itself into various works within the church. For example, the archbishop said that when he began construction on the Monastery of Abraham, situated on the church roof, the authorities first asked questions related to security, then asked for building plans, and finally began asking personal questions about the workers.

After police illegitimately, and without prior notice, closed the Holy Tomb in 2015, citing safety concerns, the churches banded together to restore the site and remove any doubt of its safety. Presently, they are restoring the floor and sewage system underground. However, the reasons for governmental interference continue to shift in relevance to the times. For example, after complying with safety ordinances during the COVID-19 pandemic, the churches found that historical precedents around the Holy Light service did not return to normal. In 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the impression to the diplomatic corps that it was responsible for coordinating the service, which is irrelevant to the ministry’s official role and historically unprecedented. Videos circulated, in the meantime, of police brutality at the Old City gates. In 2022, at a time when Israel imposed no vaccine or mask mandates, the churches were notified by police 
of new regulations and an extreme limitation to the number of worshippers allowed at the service — less than one-tenth the usual attendance. The Major Communities wrote to the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, expressing their “deep concern and disagreement to this unfair decision that limits the rights of Christian pilgrims to worship freely on our faith’s most important day of the year.”

In the same month as the Jaffa Gate decision in 2017, the discriminatory Bill of Church Lands was presented to the Knesset and immediately received 40 signatures as well as vocal support from the former minister of justice. Its author, MK Rachel Azaria, had previously been deputy mayor of Jerusalem, and likely would have been familiar with the churches and the social services they provide. However, her bill attacked the churches in a way that found no parallel in Jewish or Muslim communities. It proposed to give the state the right to nationalize (expropriate) church lands if they met particular conditions related to their leaseholds.

In the early years following the establishment of the State of Israel, Patriarchate lands, particularly in the West Jerusalem area of Rehavia, were subject to an ultimatum: be confiscated for national use, or otherwise contracted under long-term leases with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Decades later, when the JNF sought to renegotiate these leases at an unfair value, the church sold part of their rights to a third party. This effectively allowed the church to free itself from the dead weight of the properties, and redistribute the resources to relevant church or community projects. The proposed Bill of Church Lands was designed for the Rehavia case and others like it. It directly interferes with the church’s property rights and exploits the artificially generated fear of the residents of those properties.

International pressure garnered through the Patriarchate’s awareness campaign paused the bill’s passage several times. However, it teems with radical support and could be brought back to life at any time.

Radical Influence in the Municipal Sphere

Earlier this year, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) advanced a plan for large portions of the Mount of Olives to be designated and declared a national park. The proposal, which resembles controversial gerrymandering maps around U.S. political districts, allows for nearly 20 Christian sites to be included or encircled by the park boundaries. The churches were never consulted, informed, or brought into the conversation.

“This is an initiative of the Municipality,” says Patriarch Theophilos. “First of all, they don’t want the Churches to develop their own lands or to build housing projects to accommodate the local Palestinian population. Secondly, they are trying to reduce the influence and authority of the Churches here, on the environment of the Holy City and around the city walls.”

Upon hearing of the INPA plans, the Heads of Churches wrote to Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg. “Although the plan is officially presented by the INPA, it seems that it was put forward and is being orchestrated, advanced and promoted by entities whose apparent sole purpose is to confiscate and nationalize one of the holiest sites for Christianity and alter its nature,” they wrote.

The INPA claims that the purpose of the expansion is to restore lands “neglected for years and (which) suffer from vandalism and arson,” according to a Times of Israel article. However, it is precisely the threat of settler vandalism and violence which the Church is calling attention to, which is being on the whole unaddressed by local authorities.

In addition to the Mount of Olives, massive developments on Mount Zion extend down through Silwan, into the Kidron Valley. For decades, the City of David Foundation has worked to move Jewish populations into Silwan and facilitate tourist experiences. Documentation by Haaretz and Peace Now reveals that the group uses various techniques, some illegal, to alter Silwan’s demographics.

On Mount Zion, in June 2022, a group of about 50 radicals broke into an ancient chapel on Patriarchate property, telling the guard, “We know where you live and we will kill you,” he reported. The municipality uses such complaints in order to propose permanent changes to the site, including on Church property. These include removing trees, adding lights and concrete, and building a cable car apparatus for tourists, rather than addressing hostile conduct at the holy site.

Efforts of the local government to serve tourism objectives or radicals are not conducive to the protection of holy spaces. For example, each year, the municipality requests that Patriarchate grounds, some of the only natural green spaces left in the area, be open for settlers to camp out on during particular Jewish feasts. According to Father Matheos Siopis, who is in charge of the Patriarchal Seminary School of Mount Zion, every time the Church has complied in good faith, the groups engage in drug use, play loud music, build fires, uproot trees, threaten students who board at the school, and refuse to leave. Conversely, on the Christian feast of Pentecost, significant police protection from armed settlers is required in order for the clergy to complete one litany around the Upper Room and their own chapel.

The municipal strategy of development as a front for altering the character of Jerusalem is also visible within the Old City. About a decade ago, Jaffa Gate became the site of secular summer spectacles which attracted thousands. The activities blocked movement within the Christian Quarter. Without Church consent, speakers were placed near monastery windows, playing loud music on sound loops late into the night. Activity maps were distributed which brought droves of people into the heart of the quarter, disrupting the privacy of residents and clergy, and turning reverent spaces into an obstacle course. The churches addressed the municipality, arguing for due respect to religious life within the Old City.

In 2022, New Gate became a center of similar activity. Most of the area is owned by Greek Orthodox and Franciscan Brotherhoods, respectively, which operate monasteries, religious offices, and schools there. However, neither of these institutions was consulted when the municipality converted most of the street extending from New Gate into bars and a zone of disruptive activity. For the duration of summer, the street was completely blocked by concerts, yoga sessions, circus acts, and other non-traditional activities. While local shop owners may have benefited economically, it came at the expense of benefiting only on the municipality’s terms.

Often, when the churches request permits on their own property, they are denied. For example, after the municipality re-paved the Patriarchate Road in late summer 2022, it gave away Patriarchate parking spaces to non-church affiliated individuals, even after several attempts by the church to acquire one space for a priest who is fully handicapped.

Safeguarding the Status Quo, a Key to Peace

Blatant assaults to the Status Quo, which find support among members of Israeli governmental bodies, are indicative of a huge tide shift. They beg the question: To what extent and by whom is the Status Quo seriously upheld in Jerusalem? As can be inferred from the above examples, the pattern here is this: While the churches extend their cooperation, entities animated by ideology systematically undermine their missions and move the goal posts. It would be prudent for all people of good will in politics and civil society to heed the warning of these ancient institutions who have witnessed every occurrence in Jerusalem for 2,000 years: Safeguarding the Status Quo, respecting the right of all people to worship freely, as well as the institutions which guarantee this right, and nurturing co-existence, if not symbiosis, is the only true path to peace. The word has become meaningless in the political arena, and will degrade further if not honored by those who call Jerusalem home. True peace is respect for one’s neighbors, including their right to exist on the two fundamental levels which humans seek to exist: the human and the spiritual.


A historical event took place today, Friday March 3, in Jerusalem where the oil that will be used for the anointing of His Majesty King Charles III in the coronation ceremony on the 6th May 2023, was consecrated by His Beatitude our Father and Patriarch Theophilos III, and later by the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum.


Below is the press release issued by Buckingham Palace.




All captions start with: This photograph can not be used after Wednesday 31st May, 2023, without prior permission from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Buckingham Palace. Any questions relating to the use of the photographs should be first referred to Buckingham Palace before publication. 
MANDATORY CREDIT: Patriarchate of Jerusalem/Buckingham Palace.
Editorial use only. The photograph is provided to you strictly on condition that you will make no charge for the supply, release or publication of it and that these conditions and restrictions will apply (and that you will pass these on) to any organisation to whom you supply it. There shall be no commercial use whatsoever of the photographs (including by way of example only) any use in merchandising, advertising or any other non-news editorial use. The photographs must not be digitally enhanced, manipulated or modified in any manner or form.
All captions end with: Picture date: Friday March 3, 2023. PA Photo. The King will be anointed, blessed and consecrated with the oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a sacred ritual during his coronation on May 6. The anointing is the most sacred part of the coronation ceremony, and takes place before the investiture and crowning. The Archbishop anoints the sovereign on the hands, breast and head. See PA story ROYAL Coronation. Photo credit should read: Patriarchate of Jerusalem/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire.


His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III attended this morning, Monday January 30, the opening session for the annual International Religious Freedom Summit (IRF) held in Washington DC, United States. 

 After greeting the attendance with the peace of Jerusalem, His Beatitude took the opportunity to relay the current circumstances of Christians of the Holy Land and Jerusalem to the audience. Pointing out that the “peaceful mosaic that we have known for hundreds of years is under threat” explaining that for years now “the Christian community has faced hate crimes and acts of vandalism” that are no longer targeting properties alone but carrying subtle messages with every attack, that being “that Christians are not welcome in Jerusalem”. In addition, Patriarch Theophilos III underlined that those attacks are intensifying and targeting the Christian pilgrim route at Jaffa Gate, New Gate, as well as the Mountain of Olives, which will impact the Garden of Gethsemane. 

 Being a main speaker at this summit, representing his fellow Church leaders as well as the faithful communities of the Holy Land, His Beatitude utilized the joint statement published yesterday by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem regarding the increasing cycle of violence in the Holy Land, “we have been constantly warning of an exploding, senseless cycle of violence that will only cause hurt and suffering to everyone. Such a state of affairs will almost certainly bring further atrocities and anguish, driving us away from the much sought-after peace and stability that we all seek.” 

 Towards the end of his speech, His Beatitude called on Members of the Congress and leaders of American civil society to support the Christian existence in the Holy Land to thrive alongside other communities, highlighting that although “we are small in number but large in mission” and to ensure that the upcoming generations would be able to visit the Holy City and walk in the footsteps of the Prophets and Christ, and be welcomed not only by stones “but by a vibrant Christian presence.” 

 The IRF summit of 2023 is going to be held for three days in Washington D.C., starting January 31st and ending on February 1st. 


Article by: Heba Hrimat


The website of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem publishes the letter sent to it by the honourable Architect Mr Leonidas Kollas from Corfu, which refers to the Restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the years 1961-1965, sponsored by the pious source of Greece.

In April 1961, during the Patriarchal Office of the memorable Patriarch Benedictus, Mr Kollas, serving in the Management of the Directorate of Restorations of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Restoration of the Ministry of the Presidency of Greece, was sent to Jerusalem as a representative of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Restorations of the Ministry of the Presidency, by the General Director of the Ministry of Antiquities at the time, Mr Ioanniss Papadimitriou, in order to undertake service in the Joint Technical Clerk established in 1958, by a joint decision of the three Major Pilgrim Communities, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan, for the purpose of the Restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Mr Kolla’s letter covers a gap in the space on the website of the Patriarchate, which is unable, due to workload and lack of personnel, to refer to the signed historical Status Quo Agreement and conservation and renovation work carried out very successfully with fixing, conservation and renovation work in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the period 1695-1961, during the Patriarchal Office of the late Patriarch Benedictus. These were the forerunner of the completed historical work of the renovation of the Sacred Edicule and the now completed maintenance works of the floor of the Rotunda and Seven Arches area, at the blessed initiative of the current Primate, His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III.

Warmly thanking Mr Kollas, we wish him the grace of the Holy Sepulchre to continue his scientific Pilgrimage research through his personal archive of the period 1961-1965, as he served on the project.

We quote this letter in detail, in this link: https://jerusalem-patriarchate.b-cdn.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/1%CE%B7-%CE%95%CE%A0%CE%99%CE%A3%CE%A4%CE%9F%CE%9B%CE%97-%CF%80%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%82-%CE%93%CE%AD%CF%81%CE%BF%CE%BD%CF%84%CE%B1-%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B9%CE%B3%CF%81%CE%B1%CE%BC%CE%BC%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%AD%CE%B1-%CE%B5%CF%80%CE%B9%CF%83%CF%84%CE%BF%CE%BB%CE%AE-%CE%A0%CE%B1%CF%84%CF%81%CE%B9%CE%AC%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B7.pdf:

From Secretariat-General


On the evening of Wednesday, October 6/19, 2022, the emeritus professor of the National Technical University of Athens Mrs Antonia Moropoulou gave a lecture in the context of the Conference “New Studies in the Archeology of Jerusalem and its region” in the Auditorium / ceremonial hall of the Friends of Israel Museum, in the centre of the New City of Jerusalem. The lecture was about the restoration of the Sacred Edicule, a historical and symbolic work, according to the study of the Interdisciplinary Team of the National Technical University of Athens, of which Mrs Moropoulou is the architect. and in accordance with the agreement of the three Major Pilgrim Communities, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Patriarchate of the Armenians, the guardians of the Status Quo.

Mrs Moropoulou presented this work through her clarifications and relevant images on a screen to a group of experts in Archeology and other experts, in the presence of the representatives of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Geronda Secretary-General, His Eminence Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina and Hierodeacon Dositheos.

This in-depth lecture is published for those interested on the website of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, see link:

On the eve of the lecture on Tuesday, October 5/18, 2022, Mrs Moropoulou was accepted into the Secretariat office by the Geronda Secretary-General His Eminence Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina and the Patriarchal Commissioner, His Eminence Metropolitan Isychios of Capitolias, and the day following the lecture, by H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos.

In both visits, the decisive role of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the preservation of the Status Quo and the Status of the city of Jerusalem and peace in the Holy Land was underlined, as well as that of Mrs Moropoulou for the accomplishment of this historic work.

From Secretariat-General



His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III wrote the following article for The Times newspaper.

Having served as a priest in the northeast of England many years ago, I remember the cloudy days of January. Here in Jerusalem, while we enjoy a brighter and warmer climate, we know what it is to live in the darkness. As Patriarch of Jerusalem I have the privilege of leading the Greek Orthodox church in the Holy Land. The first of my 140 predecessors was St James, the first leader of the church in Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus Christ. Along with a number of other leaders St James was martyred for his faith. As a community we have seen empires rise and fall. We have survived sieges, invasions, plagues and persecutions. And through it all, we have remained faithful to our Lord, because in the darkness we know that he is our light and our life.


In the Gospel of St John the Evangelist we read that St John the Baptist “came as a witness to the light” of Jesus Christ. As churches this has been our mission for two millennia. We are not simply the custodians of holy sites; we are living witnesses to God’s light.


As witnesses to the light we seek to be a blessing in the changing and challenging societies in which we live. We provide healthcare, education and community services. We look after the elderly, welcome refugees and care for the destitute, regardless of their faith, nationality or background. We welcome millions of pilgrims and preserve and serve Christianity’s most holy sites. In all of this we direct people to the light of Christ.


Despite these good works, our presence in Jerusalem is under threat. Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalised. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation. The sworn intent of these radical groups is to extinguish the light of the Christian community from the Old City.


A short walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the pilgrim route, stands the Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the Christian quarter of Old City Jerusalem. To walk this way is to share in the journey of the Christian community; one is immediately surrounded by church groups from around the world as crowds of pilgrims process to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. On Christmas Day I am among those who pass through the Jaffa Gate as we travel to Bethlehem to celebrate Christ’s birth.

It is at Jaffa Gate that an Israeli radical group is seeking to occupy two big buildings, acquired through illegitimate transactions. Quite disingenuously they claim that their physical presence in there will not affect the integrity of the Christian Quarter. However, we know from their previous actions at St John’s Hostel, a site even closer to the Holy Sepulchre which was also deceitfully taken over by them some years ago, that this is not true. Their behaviour will be devastating for all Christians. Local families, who have lived here for generations, will be made to feel unwelcome in their own home and pilgrims who have longed to visit the birthplace of the Christian faith will have their experience diminished.


The change of status of the Jaffa Gate properties would not only be a misfortune for local families and the global Christian family but for the Holy Land itself. Jerusalem is home to three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and has long been an illuminating example of a mosaic community. It is the spiritual capital of the world, comprising a family of faiths, all of which enjoy a long and unique rich heritage. The beauty of this city rests upon its cultural and religious diversity. By working to exclude one community, the Christians, these radicals pose an existential threat not only to the Christian family but to Jerusalem itself, a point upheld by so many of our Jewish cohabitants of the Holy Land.


We all share the vision that these radicals are not representative of the state of Israel or the Jewish people and that it is essential for the diversity and distinctive characters of all quarters of the Old City to be protected for the benefit of Jerusalem and the whole world.




An article by: Heba Hrimat

Whether it is for getting clarity in times of difficulties, or going in the footsteps of Jesus where the miracles of Christmas and Resurrection occurred, the reasons of pilgrimage may vary, but pilgrims to the Holy Land may not realize that their intentional, or sometimes unintentional trips, form a monumental contribution to the Christian existence in the Holy Land, where Christians are undeniably suffering from all sorts of problems, but mainly an existential one.

In a complex region such as the Middle East, where religion and politics clash all the time, pilgrims are considered a bless to the Holy Land and an element of stability, not only because they allow a population that is mostly Jewish and Muslim to breathe a different air, but they are also significantly different from tourists, because they have a horizon of faith that moves by looking at God and the people they meet.

That unfamiliar sight of watching the streets of the Holy Land and mainly Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which used to hustle and bustle with endless tourists’ movement, empty, for the past two years have shut down life as we knew it for families and brought unimaginable suffering to communities which were 100% dependable on income from pilgrims. Hotel employees, tour guides, restaurants’ workers, souvenir shops’ owners and handicrafts makers lost their chances of making any profit and were pushed to the corner with no way out.

Despite the efforts of the Churches of the Holy Land to financially and spiritually aid the different Christian communities (and in many cases the non-Christians as well), the Churches themselves were suffering from the same issue; No real income was pouring in and expenses kept piling up drying out sources of the Churches.

And while everything in the time of Covid seemed possible to be replaced with a virtual alternative; learning at schools and universities swapped with online classes, shopping in stores with online shopping, etc. one thing remained irreplaceable: pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the after effects of that will unfortunately remain for years to come.

Christians used to account for the largest percentage of annual tourists to the Holy Land. In fact, before the beginning of the pandemic, and specifically at the end of 2019, a whopping 2.5 million Christians visited Israel that year alone, out of the total 4.5 million, according to data from the Israeli Tourism Ministry.

With most pilgrimage aimed at Jerusalem; it comes as no surprise that 85% of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is focused towards the Holy City.

But there’s a silver lining, both Israel and Palestine have been slowly emerging from the pandemic with the prime focus of bringing back tourism ‘hopefully’ to where it once was.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office recently announced that starting the beginning of this month Israel is allowing tourists who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the virus, to enter its territories. Meaning that groups of tourists will be allowed to enter the country without Covid booster shot, to further encourage tourism.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Territories, which had almost two years of zero pilgrimage income; completely paralyzing the local economy in tourism-based cities like Bethlehem, which was affected more than the others, is now given (since November 6) the green light to allow tourists for overnight stays.

A gradual recovery is now expected for the first time since the pandemic, people are finally starting to hope again, to believe again. Churches and communities of the Holy Land have never been so eager to warmly welcome back pilgrims who now have the opportunity to visit from around the globe.


In October 2021, under the technical supervision of the Patriarchate’s Architect Mr Theodosios Mitropoulos and the Mayor Mr Nicola Hamis, that is the co-operation of the Patriarchate with the Municipality of Beit Jala, the cistern of the Hegoumeneion of Beit Jala was restored and carved a little. This was necessary due to the broadening of the main street to facilitate the traffic for the Beit Jala inhabitants. Details on the restoration work are in Mr Mitropoulos’ article below:

“The historic cistern (Well) of the Abbeys residence of Beitzala

By Architect  Dr Theo Mitropoulos

This cistern is located northeast of the Abbeys residence of Beitzala 1 * where it is adjacent to it, occupying the entire subterranean area of the garden while its mouth is located inside the garden. This cistern has a rectangular plan of dimensions (5X8X6M ) and is carved in the rocky subsoil of the area while its vaulted roof is made of limestone and hydraulic mortar. This technique is also found in the cisterns of David located in Bethlehem, which are also made in the same style.2 * Internally, the cistern is lined with a thick layer of kurasani 10cm thick. to prevent water leakage. This cistern is very ancient, and historically, it must be related to the cisterns (wells) of David located in Bethlehem. The Abbeys residence of Beitzala will be built after 1862 (year of construction of the  Church of Panagia in Beitzala) in this historic site of this cistern. With the current configuration of the road around Abbeys residence ( Igoumenio ), a large rocky mass of the cistern will be excavated (removed) and in its place, a stone wall over 4 m high will be constructed in order to hold the hydraulic pressures coming from its waters. Because the overflow port of the cistern was covered by the outer perimeter wall, this resulted in the water level rising very high inside the cistern resulting in increased pressures on the stone walls and the creation of vertical alarming faults. stone dome of the cistern. Today, the City Hall of Beitzala, which is carrying out reinforcement work in collaboration with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in this cistern, is proceeding with the partial removal of the existing cracked stone structure and its reconstruction from reinforced concrete with concrete and stone. With this intervention of the restoration of the cistern, its water supply should be stopped and this area should be utilized by the Patriarchate both archaeologically and for tourism (religious tourism) due to its great historical value.

1*. The construction of the Igoumenion dates back to 1862 during the patriarchate of Cyril II (1845-1872) and the abbot Christoforos, a monk of Cyprian. The 19th century. The 19th century is the period when there is a great upsurge in the construction and decoration of Orthodox churches in the Ottoman Empire where the conditions for Orthodoxy change and become more favourable after the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829 and especially after the Hati Serif of 1839 and the Hati Humayoun of 1856, where the change in the internal policy of the Ottoman state with the establishment of the equality of all its subjects can be seen. The construction of magnificent temples in Asia Minor, Smyrna, Constantinople, Cyprus and the Middle East began more systematically. 2* The cisterns in Bethlehem will stop being used for drinking water after 1200 when a Saracen woman fell into the well and drowned, since then the water has only been used for drinking, according to the travelogues of the time.”

From Secretariat-General




An article by: Heba Hrimat


“And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.” Matthew 27:6-8


Akeldama, an Aramaic name meaning the field of blood, is the piece of land known as the potter’s field, according to the Holy Gospel, which the priests bought with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas Iscariot returned, and they allotted it to be a cemetery for strangers – the non-Jewish.

It is the same place where Judas hung himself, after he was filled with remorse and tormented with guilt following his betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, which eventually led to His crucifixion. Thus, it was called “Field of Blood” and the ancient name lived on. (Matthew 27:8 and Acts 1:19).  

The Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Onuphrius stands today on the same plot of land known as the Potter’s Field. The traditional site of this field, which dates back to the era of Jerome in the fourth century, is on the southern side of the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem, and may have been the same or close to it, because the area contains porcelain stone. It was used as a burial place for the dead for a long time, and many Crusaders were buried there as well.

The hills on which the monastery stands are full of caves and burial tombs, some of which hold the bones of pilgrims of past centuries who came to Jerusalem but died before they could return to their homelands. Among the many tombs in the monastery is the tomb of Saint Juvenalius, the first Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (442-458).

In the Byzantine era, many monks and hermits took a number of these caves as homes and places for worship. Sixteenth century tradition suggests that eight of the apostles hid there after Christ was captured in Gethsemane before his crucifixion.

The Monastery of Saint Onuphrius, built in 1874 over the ruins of a former church, now can be seen occupying the southern facade of the valley, facing Mount Zion and the walls of the old city.

The monastery bears the name of the monk Saint Onuphrius, who came from Egypt to the Holy Land during the third or fourth century, and was ascetic in a cave in the desert for over sixty years in strict isolation.

Besides his holiness, Onuphrius was famous for his very long and luxurious beard, which was his only clothing beside an apron of leaves, as he can be seen portrayed in his icons.

Today, the monastery is being taken care of by a small number of Greek Orthodox nuns from the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

The annual feast of St. Onuphrius is held in his monastery on June 25 every year, in a beautiful divine liturgy that is normally led by His Beatitude Patriarch of the Holy City, Metropolitans and Fathers from the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre.




An article by: Heba Hrimat


Constantine was the son of Constantios Chloros, the ruler of the westernmost parts of the Roman empire, and his consort, Helen. He was born in the year 272 in Naissus of Dardania, a city on the Hellespont. By the age of 34 his father died and thus Constantine was proclaimed successor to the throne.

Six years later, Constantine learned that Maxentius had joined forces against him, and so he marched into Italy, where, while at the head of his troops, he saw in the sky after midday, beneath the sun, a radiant pillar in the form of a cross with the words: “By this shalt thou conquer.” 

The following night, Jesus Christ appeared to him in a dream and declared to him the power of the Cross and its significance. Upon arising in the morning, Constantine immediately ordered that a labarum be made in the form of a cross (labarum: a banner or standard of victory over the enemy), and he inscribed on it the Name of Jesus Christ.  

On the morning of October 28, Constantine attacked and conquered Maxentius, who drowned in the Tiber River while fleeing.

The following day, Constantine entered Rome in triumph and was proclaimed Emperor of the West by the Senate, while Licinius, his brother-in-law, ruled in the East. But out of malice, Licinius later persecuted the Christians.

Constantine fought him once and again, and utterly destroyed him in 324, and in this manner, he became monarch over the West and the East. Under him, and because of him, all the persecutions against the Church ceased. Christianity triumphed and was announced the main religion of the Empire and idolatry was overthrown.

In 325 he called the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, which he himself personally addressed, to create the Creed that forms the belief system of Christians. In 324, in the ancient city of Byzantium, he laid the foundations of the new capital of his realm, and solemnly dedicated it on May 11, 330, naming it after himself, Constantinople.

Since the throne of imperial rule was transferred to Constantinople from Rome, it was named New Rome, the inhabitants of its domain were called Romans, and it was considered the continuation of the Roman Empire.

Saint Constantine died on May 21 or 22 in the year 337, having lived sixty-five years, of which he ruled for thirty-one. His remains were transferred to Constantinople and were buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles, which had been built by him.

As for his holy mother Saint Helen, after her son had made the faith of Christ triumphant throughout the Roman Empire, she undertook a personal pilgrimage to Jerusalem and found the Holy Cross on which our Lord was crucified.

After this, Saint Helen, in her zeal to glorify Christ, erected churches in Jerusalem at the sites of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, in Bethlehem at the cave where Christ was born, another on the Mount of Olives where ascension occurred and many others throughout the Holy Land, Cyprus, and elsewhere.

She was proclaimed “Augusta,” her image was stamped upon golden coins, and two cities were named Helenopolis after her, in Bithynia and in Palestine. She died of old age in either in 330, or in 336.

To honor their monumental contribution to the Christian Orthodox faith, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem dedicates a church within its walls in the Old City of Jerusalem, which holds both names of the Saints: the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen; where an annual patriarchal divine liturgy takes place on June 3rd to celebrate their memory.