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
or   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.

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