Church slams Israeli 'unreasonable restrictions' on Holy Fire ceremony
The Greek Orthodox Church says the Israeli occupation's "heavy-handed restrictions" will limit Christians' access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Greek Orthodox Church on Wednesday slammed the Israeli occupation's "heavy-handed restrictions" on its upcoming Easter celebrations in occupied Al-Quds, urging Christians to attend despite curbs.
In an escalating row over attendance numbers at the Holy Fire ceremony on Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- where Christians believe Jesus' tomb lies -- the church said negotiations with the occupation police had failed.
"After many attempts made in goodwill, we are not able to coordinate with the Israeli authorities as they are enforcing unreasonable restrictions," said Father Mattheos Siopis from the Greek Orthodox Church.
"These heavy-handed restrictions will limit access to... the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and to the Holy Light ceremony," he told journalists.
Churches committee calls on Christians to participate in the Holy Light ceremony despite Israeli measures
The Higher Presidential Committee for the Follow-up of Church Affairs in Palestine today called on the Palestinian Christians to participate in large numbers in the Holy Light activities on Saturday in occupied Al-Quds despite the Israeli occupation measures.
It issued a statement whereby its chairman, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Ramzi Khoury, condemned the obstacles and restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation on the Holy City as the Holy Light events approach.
He maintained that freedom of worship is a right and no one must wait for permission from anyone to practice their religious rituals in the mosques and churches and in the capital of Palestine, occupied Al-Quds.
The Committee stressed that the Israeli repressive policies against the Palestinians and restricting their freedom of worship is a flagrant violation of international laws and covenants that guarantee the practice of religious rituals without any restrictions, pointing out that the Israeli occupation authorities impose unreasonable, unjustified and unprecedented restrictions on access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Presidency condemns Israeli restrictions on Christians celebrating Holy Light
On its part, the Palestinian Presidency condemned and rejected Israeli restrictions on Christians accessing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Al-Quds to take part in the annual Holy Fire ceremony.
"We strongly support the demands of the Jerusalem churches to allow free access and without problems for Christian pilgrims to attend the Saturday Holy Light ceremonies," it said in a statement, stressing that “the continuous attacks against the religious places in Jerusalem are a dangerous escalation, the consequences of which are borne by the Israeli occupation authority that insists on increasing tension and creating a climate of chaos and violence while bragging before the world of its commitment to preserving the historical and religious status quo in Jerusalem.”
The Presidency called on all pilgrims to head to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and participate in the celebration and the activities of the Holy Light on Saturday and to worship freely and in peace, calling on the international community, particularly the US administration, "to intervene immediately to stop these Israeli crimes, which affect the freedom of worship of Christian and Muslim believers alike."
The annual Holy Fire ceremony, during which priests bring a flame from the tomb which they believe sparks miraculously each year, marks the most important event in the Orthodox calendar.
In the past, some 10,000 worshippers holding candles would fill the church, with many more crowding into the surrounding alleys of the Old City, before the flame was flown to Orthodox communities internationally.
"The ceremony has been faithfully taking place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for nearly 2,000 years," noted Siopis.
The Israeli occupation has for the second consecutive year told church leaders that access must be considerably restricted.
The Israeli occupation police claimed that limiting church attendance to 1,800 people including clergy from the various Orthodox denominations is a necessary "safety precaution".
Last year, Israeli occupation forces prevented Christians from freely reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and attacked one of the priests while on his way to the church.
At the time, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia in Al-Quds, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, told Al Mayadeen that the occupation forces entered the Church with their weapons, encroaching on the sanctity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in an unprecedented targeting of the Christian presence in the city.
Siopis said these measures "made impossible" the access of Christians to the church.
With the breakdown of talks between Christian leaders and occupation security forces, the priest urged "all who wish to worship with us to attend."
"With that made clear, we leave the authorities to act as they will. The churches will freely worship and do so in peace," he underlined.