The white marble circle in the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem
is described in some literary sources and folkloric legends as the
"center of the world." Jerusalem's centrality, however, springs not
from geographic or scientific, but from spiritual and religious
considerations. Jerusalem is the place where Jesus Christ died and
was raised from the dead on the third day. Resurrection in
Christianity is the central and basic event, the core of Christian
belief without which Christianity doesn't exist and reli¬gion
loses its essence.
Therefore, through the Resurrection, Jerusalem became the core of
the Christian faith and religion. Indeed, it is the birthplace of
Christianity and out of it Christianity was spread to the whole
world by the Apostles and disciples.
Heading into Jerusalem
In this city, Jesus Christ spent most of his public life praying at
the Temple, teaching, preaching, explaining and performing
miracles. When we read the Holy Scriptures, we find that this city
has always been essential to Jesus Christ not only during the years
of preaching but even in the last moments of his life on earth.
This emerges from the words of the Apostle Luke: "As the time
approached when he was to be taken up to heaven, he set his face
resolutely towards Jerusalem ..." (Luke 9:51).
Jesus Christ's determina¬tion to head to Jerusalem on Palm
Sunday springs from the fact that he was able to foresee that
everything was to be ful¬filled in the Holy City. "We are now
going up to Jerusalem; and all that was written by the prophets
will come true for the Son of Man" (Luke 18:31).
These are Jesus' exact words as told to his disciples, but which
they didn't understand at the time. However, the actual events of
imprisonment, torture, crucifixion and resurrection clar¬ified
to them what was for¬merly ambiguous. Thus, the Resurrection
was the culmina¬tion of the teachings of the prophets and a
launching point for the spread of Christianity among the
In Jerusalem, the Church was established and it truly deserves the
name "the Mother Church" which was given to it by John of Damascus.
In Jerusalem, the first group of believers was formed to bear
witness for Jesus in Jerusalem and all over the world: "But you
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you
will bear witness for me in Jerusalem and all over Judea and
Samaria, and away to the ends of the earth" (Acts 8:1). So, out of
Jerusalem the message of Salvation and Hope emerged. All the
Apostles and disciples turned to the Holy City in times of hardship
to solve their disputes and to extend their understanding of their
faith and to strengthen their belief.
'Begin from Jerusalem'
The first Council which was held in Jerusalem and which is
mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles is the greatest proof of the
centrality of this city to Jesus, the Apostles and the messengers.
This importance is not only an inference of the teachings of Jesus,
but has been unequivocally stated by Jesus: "This, he said, is what
is written that the Messiah is to suffer death and to rise from the
dead on the third day, and that in his name repen¬tance
bringing the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all
nations. Begin from Jerusalem; it is you who are the witnesses to
it all" (Luke 24:47-48).
The disciples followed in the steps of their teacher and Lord. Paul
the Apostle always mentioned Jerusalem in his Letters, teachings
and preach¬ing, expressing in the process his desire to keep
the unity of its peoples (Ephes. 2:14-18). He always remembered
Jerusalem in his journeys and he used to ask believers from all
over the world to donate money to help the Church of Jerusalem and
its inhabitants. "For Macedonia and Achaia have resolved to raise a
common fund for the benefit of the poor among God's people at
Jerusalem. They have resolved to do so, and indeed they are under
an obligation to them" (Rome 15:25).
Since the time of the Apostles, believers have kept their special
rela¬tionship with this Holy City either by pilgrimage to the
city or by build¬ing convents in and around it. Our
forefathers have left us a massive spir¬itual and theological
heritage not only about the Christian faith and tradi¬tions
but also about the Holy City itself, its heritage and history. As
some monks described it in their letters to Emperor Anastasious,
Jerusalem is "God's Holy City" and "the Eye that Lights the
There is no need here to dwell on examples from history. However,
in regards to pilgrimage to the Holy City, developments since the
fourth cen¬tury, since the city enjoyed that religious freedom
which it lacked during the first centuries of Christianity, led to
positive signs. King Constantine embraced Christianity and saved it
from oppression. His mother St. Helena's visit to the Holy Land was
a turning point in the history of the Holy City, especially after
the construction of the Nativity Church, the Holy Sepulcher and
other convents and churches.
Pilgrims' visits to Jerusalem and the desire of some of them to
stay and live in the Holy City were the cause for the plurality in
religious rituals which have enriched the liturgy and the
spirituality of Jerusalem. Today, Christians of all denominations
live together in the Holy City, and have their respective churches
In addition to the importance of the city to the pilgrims and all
their writ¬ings about it, 1 the Fathers of the Church have
always glorified the city, giv¬ing it a great spiritual
importance. In one of his sermons, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St.
Sophronius, expressed the city's primacy in the following:
Here it is Jerusalem we proclaim,
where God has lived bringing about miracles.
Here we announce Golgotha,
where God took the Cross upon himself.
Here we sing the resurrection,
where God rose from the tomb.
Here we preach Sion ...
where Christ appeared risen from the dead.
Here we glorify the Mount of Olives from
where God ascended to the heavens.2
Thus, Jerusalem has always been an attraction for Christians from
all over the world. They have established more than one hundred
churches and convents there, and today, the Church possessions
inside the walls of Jerusalem represent 45 percent of the total
Jerusalem of Our Times
The Holy Sepulcher, the Holy Tomb, convents, churches, liturgy,
religious rituals, Church Fathers' teachings - all these
particularities are essential to the belief of the Palestinian
Christians as they are to all Christians. But Palestinian
Christians in addition consider themselves a continuation of the
Christian and Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and in the Holy
Land for almost two thousand years: they live in and about
Jerusalem, live the pains and troubles of the city and feel
deprivation and oppression.
One might wonder: How many Palestinian Christians were deprived of
entering the Holy City in recent years? How many have been
prevented from praying in its churches, from studying in its
schools (many of which belong to Christian orders), from recovering
in its hospitals, from visiting family and friends or just from
walking in its streets and inhaling its air. The so-called security
siege which is imposed on Jerusalem, and the prevention of
Palestinians from entering it, contradict Israel's continued
dec¬larations of guaranteeing religious freedom for believers
of the three monotheistic religions.
The only thing that can guarantee religious freedom and preserve
the security and the safety of the city is through the joint
participation of Palestinians and Israelis in sovereignty over
Jerusalem, so as to preserve the nature of this unique city and its
holiness. Preventing Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims,
from entering it, is a total degradation of the holiness of the
city and an assault against God, before being an assault against
Justice and Rights
For Palestinian Christians, who are first and foremost
Palestinians, Jerusalem is not just a spiritual or religious
locality; it has national and political dimensions as well. "The
local Church and all Christians are concerned first of all with the
question of justice and rights. Therefore the question is not
simply one of religious freedom, but more than that. Religious
freedom itself is linked by the giving to each one his own right
first in the sovereignty over the city and in its
This doesn't mean that Jerusalem isn't important to the Jewish
people, but there is no Jewish theological justification for
occupying other peo¬ple's lands by force. What Israel is doing
now contradicts the Jewish spir¬ituality and God's teachings.
Israeli exclusiveness and the desire to control others has probably
accomplished a lot for the Israelis but will inevitably jeopardize
the future of the city.
The heads of the Local Church assert in one of their documents: "We
invite each party to go beyond all exclusivist visions or actions,
and with¬out discrimination, to consider the religious and
national aspirations of others, in order to give back to Jerusalem
its true universal character and to make of the city a holy place
of reconciliation for humankind." For both Muslims and Christians,
this city means a lot for our political future and for our
spirituality. That is why we will never accept anything less than
the protection of our legitimate political rights in the city and
the proper supervision over the Christian and Muslim holy places in
This is the condition for the peace process. We want peace but
peace cannot be achieved without justice, and our strategy is to
see Israelis and Palestinians living together not only in the Holy
City but to see them liv¬ing in peace in all parts of the Holy
Land. This is to fulfill what Prophet Isaiah has spoken: "The wolf
shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the
kid and the calf and the lion shall grow up togeth¬er, and a
little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6).
1. Egeria's Travels to the Holy Land, translated by J. Wilkinsons,
2. Sophrone, Greek Patrology, Tom: LXXXVII, 3, published in 1863,
p. 3289, N.2.
3. Msgr. Sabbah, M. "A Few Remarks on the Status of Jerusalem," in
The Jerusalem Question! A Day of Reflections, April 20,
1995. Jerusalem: Al-Liqa' Center, 1995.