The World Council of Churches (WCC) joins the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Custody of the Holy Land, and Armenian Patriarchate in expressing serious concern about the restrictions imposed by the Israel Police on the celebration of the ceremony of Holy Fire, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the forthcoming Holy Saturday. This Easter ceremony is one of the most important for the Orthodox and other Eastern churches, for the wider Christian community in the Holy Land, and for pilgrims attending from all over the world.
The restrictions include a limit of 2,000 on the number of worshippers (down from 10,000 in previous years), 200 police stationed inside the church, and security checkpoints throughout Jerusalem’s Old City (impeding access for worshippers and the subsequent procession). These restrictions affecting the Holy Fire ceremony are seen by the churches and Holy Land Christians as unnecessary and of profound impact on their religious freedom, spiritual wellbeing and morale.
Church leaders in Jerusalem have in recent years made several joint statements highlighting the growing threat to the Christian community of the Holy Land from radical extremist elements in Israeli society. As the statement from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem says, “[i]mpeding the religious freedom of our Christian communities is yet another example of the hostile environment faced by Christians in the Holy Land, life as a Christian is becoming increasingly untenable.”
The WCC calls on the Israeli authorities to reconsider these heavy-handed restrictions, and to refrain from measures that further imperil the continuity of Christian worship, life and community in the city and region from which our faith springs.
Statement by the status quo committee of the churches in regards to unreasonable restrictions by Israeli police for the holy light ceremony (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay
World Council of Churches