Patriarch issues statement to the press warning of ‘catastrophic’ situation in Jerusalem

After meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III at Lambeth Palace last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: ‘I join other Church Leaders in calling for all parties to uphold the Status Quo and resist weakening it. I believe that a continued Christian presence in the Holy Land is of paramount importance.’

The Archbishop asserted that Jerusalem must remain a place where people of all faiths can live and thrive together.

The Patriarch shared issues of concern with the Archbishop and Cardinal Nichols, including proposed changes to land tenure in Jerusalem.

He highlighted a proposed bill signed by 40 Knesset members that would restrict the rights of churches, including the Episcopal Diocese in Jerusalem, to deal independently with their land.

The Archbishop restated his support for the Christian community throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories and across the Middle East.

Meanwhile Cardinal Vincent Nichols added his weight behind the Patriarch’s cause, saying: “Jerusalem’s Status Quo should be respected. It is a City holy to three faiths and Christians are an important and integral part of this community. The continuing presence of Christians as bridge builders across the Holy Land is essential for all who wish to live in peace.”

His Beatitude the Patriarch recently met Pope Francis in Rome, where the Pope said: ‘The Holy City, whose Status Quo must be defended and preserved, ought to be a place where all can live together peaceably; otherwise, the endless spiral of suffering will continue for all.’

The Archbishop praised close relationships which exist between the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, especially between the Patriarch and Archbishop Suheil Dawani, who is the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.

Over the last months the Patriarch has been warmly welcomed by religious leaders around the world.

The meeting between the Archbishop and the Patriarch closed in prayer in the Crypt Chapel at Lambeth Palace with the words of Psalm 122:

O pray for peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you.
‘Peace be within your walls
And tranquillity within your palaces.’

Patriarch’s statement:

Good morning and thank you for taking time to come and hear our story. We have served as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem since 2005; and We have the great honour to be with you representing the Christian communities from the Holy City of Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity as well as Our church which traces its roots back through one unbroken line to the very birth of Christianity in the first century.

We have come to the UK as part of an international tour and mission to meet with senior religious leaders, Heads of State and politicians. We have been mandated by all the church leaders in the Holy Land to share Our story and raise awareness of the challenges we are facing as a Christian community in Jerusalem.

Over the past few weeks, We met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and We met with His Holiness, Pope Francis. We are telling you today that which We told them. We have also shared these concerns with king Abdulla II of Jordan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and less than an hour ago with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.

Recently we have seen the emergence of a trend that threatens to undermine the Christian presence and destabilise the peace of the Holy City of Jerusalem. The “Status Quo” rules that has guaranteed the rights of Jews, Christians and Muslims to live, flourish and thrive together in Jerusalem for centuries is in grave danger. This code, that has safeguarded Our religious freedoms and provided access to the most Holy Places for all people, is being dangerously undermined. If we do not act soon it will be too late. And the outcome will be catastrophic.

Before, We stood silent, bearing patient witness to a harsh campaign against Us and against Our church. Every day we face false accusations, suspicion and slander. Our detractors target Our heritage and Our integrity. Today, Our calling and commitment to the Lord means We can accept this no longer and this has lead us to break Our silence and simply say: Enough is Enough.

Forty mislead members of the Knesset, last July signed a proposed bill for debate in the Israeli Parliament, which if passed, will severely restrict the rights of the Churches to deal freely and independently with their lands and more worryingly would threaten their confiscation; in what is a clear contradiction to the fundamental principles of the State.

This bill is an assault on the freedom and independence of our Churches which have served and supported Christians in the Holy Land for two millennia. Were it to be passed, this bill would be in clear violation of the “Status Quo” and arguably, numerous international treaties.

Furthermore, and as we sit here today a group of radical settlers are working to push Christians out of Jerusalem.

These groups have intensified their underhanded actions of expropriation of Church property; the latest of which is the so called “Jaffa Gate” case. The action of these groups in this case was ensued by a decade-long legal battle that unfortunately resulted in a wrongful decision which was despite the insurmountable evidence presented by the Patriarchate’s legal teams. This decision, if upheld at appeal, will certainly have a negative effect on the very heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and in turn the Christian presence in the Holy Land and will reduce the access of pilgrims to holy Christian sites. Beyond this it will serve to further increase tensions in Jerusalem, something that politicians, religious leaders and community members have worked so hard to reduce.

In September, the Heads of Churches issued a statement where we said:
“We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systemic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of Our society.”

We remain fully committed to upholding our pastoral and spiritual mission as entrusted to us by God Almighty. Even as We face these unprecedented and shocking assaults on Our history and integrity, we assure Our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land that we shall remain true to Our mission to be the guardians and the servants of the Holy Tomb of Christ and of all the Holy Sites. We shall do everything in Our power to uphold the status of the properties of the Patriarchate and Our fellow Churches, and we shall be constant in the protection of the Christian presence in Our region.

Having received the support of all the church leaders in the Holy Land, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope Francis; We were received most warmly by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as His Eminence Cardinal Vincent; and now we are calling on more religious leaders and Heads of State to support our righteous cause.

We pray to God Almighty to strengthen Us and our brethren in these harsh and difficult times. We thank God for all who care for us enough to write and share our story. May God crown all Our efforts with success, so that justice is done and God’s richest peace and blessing can reside with us all.
Thank you.