Armenian Jerusalem
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian

For a true, believing Christian, Easter is the most meaningful time

to visit Jerusalem, the city where Jesus the Son of Man lived and

taught and suffered, died and rose again in triumph.

       At   any   other   time,   the   city   lies   warily   somnolent   amid   the   political   turmoil gripping   the   Holy   Land,   playing   gotcha   with   the   coy   phantom   of   peace   -   the   luxury and   the   longing   of   every   single   person   living   in   the   Old   City   (and   of   people   of goodwill around the world)        Few   have   any   illusions   peace   will   be   attainable   within   their   lifetime.   But   they never    cease    to    hope,    their    belief    bolstered    by    an    unwritten    understanding between Arabs and Jews that Jerusalem must not become a free-for-all.        But   for   every   political   initiative   that   heightens   these   expectations,   there inevitably ensues a counter measure that dampens them. Jerusalem    is    sacred    to    the    monotheistic    religions    (Christianity,    Islam    and Judaism), and each in turn acts to safeguard its holy places.        For   the   followers   of   these   religions,   every   age-old   ritual   and   tradition   is   carved in   rock   and   no   deviation   is   conceivable.   Where   such   a   travesty   has   occurred,   the consequences    have    often    been    bloody.    Witness    the    outbreak    of    the    second Palestinian   uprising   following   a   controversial   visit   to   the   Dome   of   the   Rock   (one   of Islam's holiest shrines) by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.        For   the   various   Christian   denominations   in   Jerusalem,   the   question   of   holy   site control,   and   the   nature   and   timing   of   the   rites   conducted   in   them,   have   always been   a   bone   of   contention,   but   it   has   been   possible   for   the   churches   to   keep   a tenuous    peace    and    come    to    an    understanding    of    mutual    interests,    despite occasional   flare-ups,   thanks   in   great   measure   to   a   set   of   principles   and   guidelines first promulgated around 1850.        All   Christian   churches   have   bound   themselves   over   to   acceptance   of   this "status   quo"   which   encapsulates   a   pledge   made   over   150   years   ago   by   the   ruling potentate,    Turkish    Sultan    Abdul    Majid,    and    which    "defines,    regulates    and maintains,   without   change,   the   proprietary   rights   in   the   Holy   Places   granted exclusively   to   the   three   major   Christian   rites   -   Greek, Armenian   and   Latin   Catholic -thus   making   the   Armenian   Church   equal   in   stature   to   the   Catholic   and   Greek Orthodox   Churches   despite   its   relatively   small   size,"   according   to   the   Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.         Occasionally,    the    principles    are    flouted    ,    often    with    bloody    results    as clergymen    trade    blows    within    sacred    precincts,    in    full    view    of    disbelieving pilgrims   and   tourists.   Things   become   particularly   touchy   during   the   Holy   Fire ceremony commemorating the resurrection of Christ.         The   ceremony   takes   place   within   the   traditional   tomb   of   Jesus   Christ   in   the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christendom's most venerated edifice.        "We   believe   that   on   this   day,   the   Holy   Fire   descends   from   heaven   and   lights   up the   lamp   within   the Tomb   of   Christ,   thereby   symbolizing   the   resurrection   of   Christ and his victory over death," the Armenian Patriarchate notes.        It   calls   this   "descent   of   fire   from   heaven"   one   of   the   greatest   miracles   of Christianity.        The   material   part   of   the   ceremony,   acceptance   of   the   holy   fire,   is   conducted within   the   aedicule   of   the   Holy   Sepulcher,   which   consists   of   two   chambers,   the Angel’s Chapel and the Holy Tomb Chapel.        In   accordance   with   centuries-old   practice,   at   the   highlight   of   the   ceremony, the   Greek   Patriarch   and   the   Armenian   Patriarch,   or   their   representatives,   enter the   Holy   Tomb,   kneel   down   in   front   of   the   Tomb,   and   witness   the   miracle   of   the descent of the Holy Fire, together.        The   Holy   Fire   is   then   transferred   by   the   Greek   and   Armenian   celebrant   to other   members   of   the   Eastern   Churches   through   two   windows   located   in   the   wall of   the   Angel’s   Chapel   -   and   finds   its   way   around   the   world   as   pilgrims   light   up candles, lamps and torches from it.        Fire   brigades   are   always   on   standby   in   case   there   a   fire   breaks   out   -   but   there has not been a fire within living memory.      "That in itself is a great miracle," as one Armenian priest observed.