Sunday, July 25, 2010

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I remember my first visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2000. I had heard of a mental illness that pilgrims get when they come to Jerusalem---called “Jerusalem Syndrome” and didn’t quite understand it. When I got to the church, we were prevented from going in to the tomb area because the Armenian clergy were there performing a ritual. They were going in and out of the edicule over the tomb, chanting and swinging their thuribles with jingle bells. Then the Syrian Orthodox started chanting in their chapel up on Calvary, and almost immediately, the Greek Orthodox started chanting in their chapel, which is in the Catholicon in the center of the Church. It was chaos, and they all sounded mad at each other. The final addition was the organ over in the Magdalene chapel----someone started playing “Tantum Ergo” at full volume.

Here I was in what Christians hold as their holiest site, and all I wanted to do was leave. The bridge, between what I held as a picture of Jerusalem in my mind, and the reality that is there, was fragile indeed. I understood what “Jerusalem Syndrome” might be. The very real conflicts between the various Christian groups that claim territory there are sad, to say the least. You can actually view the fistfights that happen there during the holiest of days on YouTube. Not a great example for us Christians to be setting. I have learned a lot here about how religion is used as a weapon---by all religious groups. It doesn’t speak well for any of us.

The chaos was somewhat less this time, but still present. It’s a holy place----the place where pilgrims remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus---and it may or may not be built over the actual sites of those events. The archeology is fascinating. The place is holy because the memory and the prayer make it so.

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