Strife in Jerusalem sanctum

Hoping to forestall a repeat of last year’s scuffles on the spot revered by Christians as the site of Christ’s resurrection, Israeli police have given squabbling Greek Orthodox and Armenian church officials in Jerusalem until today to reach an agreement on the protocol of tomorrow night’s service. Otherwise, only 1,000 worshipers – a 10th of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher’s full capacity – will be allowed to attend the service celebrating the resurrection, according to Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky, who is in charge of Jerusalem affairs. «It is not the place of the Jewish State to intervene in Christian worship,» he said, «but we will ensure safety.» He warned that flaring tempers in the building, which has only one exit and is darkened for the resurrection service, could severely endanger the congregation. The fight between the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Church concerns which religious leader will be first to exit the inner sanctum of the Chamber of the Tomb – where Christ is believed to have been buried for three days – carrying a lighted candle that symbolizes the resurrection and spring rebirth. Worshipers then light their candles from the light carried in from the sacred chamber. Bishop Aris Shirvanian, director of Ecumenical and Foreign Relations at the Armenian Church, told Reuters yesterday that last Easter the Greek patriarch insisted on leaving the chamber first and, when the Armenian prelate tried to forestall him, grabbed his rival by the arm and blew out his candle. «Regrettably, a scuffle ensued,» Shirvanian said. The Orthodox Patriarchate objects to the Armenian official’s presence in the Chamber of the Tomb, claiming his proper place is in the antechamber, or Chamber of the Angels.