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Metropolitan Hilarion: The threat to the pres…

Metropolitan Hilarion: The threat to the presence of Christians in the Holy Land cannot but cause concern to the Russian Church

In an interview given to RIA Novosti news agency Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, spoke about the Statement on the current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land made by the heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem.

Recently an action initiated by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem aimed at protecting the Christian presence in the Holy Land was held in Jerusalem. A few days after, the heads of the Christian Churches of Jerusalem issued a statement. What is the reason for this concern?

–Jerusalem is a unique city which is held sacred by the three religions. Many wars had been fought for centuries to have it; there had been a lot of struggle and enmity. No one has won a victory, but this complicated process has resulted in the establishment of a certain balance of forces. It has been achieved through suffering of many generations, and its upsetting may have grave consequences.

Jerusalem is historically divided into the Christian, the Muslim and the Jewish quarters. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has been trying for many years to contest the unlawful purchase by a radical group of the Patriarchate’s property located by the Jaffa Gate in the Christian quarter. Actually, we are talking not only about an eventual loss of unrestricted access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the road to which starts from the Jaffa Gate, but also about the threat to the Christian presence in Jerusalem. This is a very dangerous tendency that may lead to the loss of the status quo and step-by-step ousting of Christians from the city which is the cradle of Christianity. This is the problem that not only the Orthodox, but all Christians are facing. That is why the heads of all Christian Churches in the Holy Land have sided with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos.

Can the changes and threats you have named affect Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church?

– The Church of Jerusalem and the Russian Church are near each other in the diptych, occupying the fourth and the fifth places respectively, but this does not explain our nearness; we are near because Russia has always deeply revered the Church of Jerusalem as the mother of all Churches since it is the first Christian Church founded in Jerusalem. Russia has always venerated the holy places associated with the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church of Jerusalem has been a diligent custodian of these holy places for centuries.

The tradition of pilgrimage to the Holy Land appeared in Russia right after the adoption of Christianity. During many centuries our ancestors have been longing to make their way into Jerusalem to worship at the holy sites and venerate the Holy Sepulchre. The rulers of Russia have always considered it their duty to help preserve Christian shrines.

The current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land cannot but cause concern to the Russian Church. We fully share anxiety of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and join it in calling the Israeli authorities to do all in their power to protect the Christian community of Jerusalem and respond to the request of the church leaders in the Holy Land to create a special Christian heritage zone in Old City for the sake of preserving the unique character of the Christian quarter.

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