A monastery atop the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem remains in critical need of repair. In fact, part of the roof sits in such shambles that a recent engineering report by an Israeli institute deemed it in danger of collapse. So why not repair it?
Because Christian sects in the church can’t get along—both claim ownership to the site.
These disputes are routine. In July, a fistfight broke out between the priests after an Egyptian monk moved his chair into the shade that belonged to the Ethiopians. In another recent incident, the groups came to blows after an Armenian “ejected” a Greek priest from worshiping too long near the tomb of Jesus.
Father Jerome Murphy O’Connor, a professor at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, has lived in Jerusalem over forty years and bemoaned the constant disharmony in the church:
One hopes for peace, but the ear is assailed by a cacophony of warring chants. One desires holiness, only to encounter a jealous possessiveness: the six groups of occupants—Latin Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians—watch one another suspiciously for any infringement of rights (The Holy Land, p. 45).
In a recent interview, Father O’Connor commented on the quarrelling: “The whole spectacle is unedifying and totally un-Christian in nature.” He added, “I’m not hopeful—either for peace in the Middle East or for peace in the Holy Sepulchre.”
How ironic that the central shrine of Christendom demonstrates the need for the place it hallows. In other words, the site where Christ died still proves the need for Christ’s death—we need a Savior and our sin proves it.
It’s easy to wag our fingers at the holy war in the Holy Sepulchre. But we need to make sure we don’t display the same duplicity. Do our children hear us talk about Jesus’ love, but then see us obstinately stay in disharmony with other Christians? Do we with our tongues, as James pointed out, praise God but then also curse people in God’s image? “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:10).
Earlier this year when our tour group shuffled its way through the gaggle of pilgrims in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, my daughter raised her camera to photograph the tomb of Jesus. “NO PICTURES!” a monk exploded. With reactions like this, I understand why the tension exists there. After this monk blasted my daughter, I wanted to walk over and pull his arms off.
And by that confession, I admit I contribute to the problem. We don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to see the gospel obscured behind walls of religious hypocrisy, do we? If we’re not careful, a watching world will see our hypocrisy and miss our Savior. Our lives should display an open door of authenticity for others to come to God, not a barrier they must evade.
I’m a recovering hypocrite. Maybe you are too. Perhaps we can start a support group for those in the Holy Sepulcher. We could meet on the roof.