I'm blogging from Jerusalem and walking into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place believed by many to be the holiest for Christians in the whole world. The church is located outside Jerusalem's old city gates where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected.
Evidence that this really is the spot where these events occurred is strong. But guess who holds the keys to the church and opens it up every morning for priests and worshipers alike? A Muslim! How can this be?
The church is divided into sections that belong to factions of the Christian faith: primarily Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolics. Groups with a lesser presence include Coptic (Egyptian), Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox Christians. Protestants don't enjoy a place or presence there. They came along too late, in the 1500's. They tend to venerate the Garden Tomb at another location anyway, even though experts now date that tomb before the time of Christ.
These factions share time and space in the Church, regulated down to the second and square inch of carpet. Once a candle caught an Armenian icon on fire but only the Greek Orthodox priest noticed it burning. Even with the possibility of the entire structure going up in flames, the Greek Orthodox priest refused to step foot into Armenian space to squelch the fire. However, he did run to find an Armenian, no malice intended.
On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas. In another incident in 2004, during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out resulting in several arrests.
The reason a Muslim holds the keys to the Church is because the Christian groups don't trust one another. As I made my way from territory to territory inside the church, Jesus' words just hours before the cross echoed in my ears: I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the Apostles) message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
What a warning to Christian believers today! If we allow petty skirmishes or selfish jealousies divide us we just might end up giving over the keys to Muslims! Selah.