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The Significance of Jerusalem: A Christian Perspective
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 nations.
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 Earth."
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 and institutions.

Attracting Christians

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 space.

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 the Palestinians.

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 administration."3
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 it.
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).

Endnotes

1. Egeria's Travels to the Holy Land, translated by J. Wilkinsons, London, 1981.
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.

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