This past year has been full of challenges for Window to Mount Zion, trying to enable all faiths and all groups to engage in their respective prayers and religious rituals, without infringing upon the rights and religious rituals of others, while maintaining mutual respect for all.
Last Sunday – Monday, June 19-20, was a case in point. It was the Pentecost for the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, the day according to Christian tradition that the Holy Spirit descended to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. For many this is the moment when the church was created, and when the Apostles began spreading the Christian religion, and visiting the Cenacle, the Room of the Last Supper, is a vital part of the holiday’s celebration. (You might remember that we discussed the Pentecost recently. That is because the Pentecost for the Eastern Churches is different than that of the Catholic church, which was a month ago.) The ceremony for the Armenian church took place on Sunday June 19, and for the Greek Orthodox church, on Monday the 20th.
The procession set out from the Armenian Quarter of the Old City toward Mount Zion and the Cenacle in the late afternoon. They prayed there for about 1/2 an hour, accompanied by a small number of members of the Armenian community. At the same time, Jews prayed in David’s Tomb without disturbance. For a moment Mount Zion was a symbol of inter-religious tolerance that enables everyone to fulfill his or her religious traditions.
The challenge came the next morning, on Monday morning, June 20, when the Greek Orthodox church held its ceremony. According to the ancient status quo agreements, during the Greek Orthodox ceremony a small number of priests go from the Cenacle on the second floor, via a special staircase that is opened only on this day, into David’s Tomb on the ground floor for a very short prayer. King David is a holy and important character for Jews, Christians as well as Muslims, and it is important for the Greek Orthodox to pray next to his grave. However, this event often creates a great deal of tension between the Orthodox Christians and Jews, who see this Christian prayer as defiling the holiness of David’s Tomb.
The police were prepared, with reinforcements in place, to ensure that order was kept. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there as well. They not only helped the police in keeping order, they were able to explain what is going on to both those involved and passersby, diffusing some of the tension that is sometimes inherent in interactions with the police.
This is from the Facebook post (in Hebrew).
The morning was not without incident. Over the two days a number of Jews tried to barricade themselves in David’s Tomb, in an effort to stop the Green Orthodox service. These people were arrested. Because of these events, the police closed off David’s Tomb to visitors in the morning, except for a small number of Rabbis. During the service some Jews demonstrated outside. Those who were violent were arrested as well.
We can’t emphasize enough that most of the Jews living, working and praying on Mount Zion throughout the year staunchly oppose violence against Christians in the David’s Tomb and Cenacle complex. Over the last year, thanks to the Window on Mt. Zion program, we have reached important understandings with all those who live and work here that have great improved relations between neighbors. And the more we are there, we see what a difference our presence makes.
On the morning of the 20th, a large, official Greek Orthodox procession, including the Bishop and many members of the Greek Orthodox community in Jerusalem, arrived at the Cenacle. There they held a short prayer service, during which a number of priests and the bishop descended into David’s Tomb as planned. Shortly afterward, they left the complex. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there to explain what was going on to passersby and to those demonstrating against the service. Except for a few incidents of violence, which were handled quickly by the police, the event finished peacefully and respectfully. Here’s the video of the Greek Orthodox praying in the Cenacle:
And here’s a video of their prayer in David’s Tomb:
Eetta Prince-Gibson, also a Window on Mt. Zion volunteer, wrote about the experience in the Ha’aretz daily. Here’s the link to the full article.
And here’s the article from the Window on Mt. Zion blog (in Hebrew).
Many thanks again to the Window on Mount Zion volunteers! Without your help, we are sure events would have ended more like they did last year. Just for comparison, Eran Tzidkiyahu, one of the co-leaders of the Window on Mount Zion project, posted a year ago a short video:
Here are some past news reports to show the contrast: