Daily Archives: April 14, 2009

Easter in Jerusalem

Posted by on April 14, 2009

I got up Easter morning to the sound of bagpipes (yes bagpipes) and headed off to the Church of the Holy Seplechure. While it is Easter for Western Christians, it is Palm Sunday for the Orthodox Churches, and it is the anniversary of the fight fight breaking out between the Greeks and Armenians last year. After witnessing the spectacle which was this morning, fist fights do not surprise me in the slightest.

The thing to know about the church is that it is jointly administered by the Latin Patriarch, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch with minor involvement by the Ethiopian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptics, and Syrian Orthodox. It is run under a very screwed up system set in place back in 1852 called the Status Quo, which was basically….. the status quo in 1852. Parts of the church are under different responsibilities of different churches and any area in common has to be changed with the agreement of everyone…which means nothing every changes.

The center point of the church is the spot where it believed Jesus was entombed and rose from the dead. Inside the dome of the church is a smaller building about the size of a garage.

The Easter mass was being said by the Latin Patriarch (aka Catholic Bishop) in the front of the Seplechure structure while at the same time the Coptics were having the Palm Sunday service at the rear chapel. They are about 15m away from each other. There are also a lot more Catholics than there are Coptics.

Unlike most churches, there are no pews, no open space for people to gather, no sound system to hear what is going on, and no sort of permanent structures at all for the mass to take place. Everything is quickly dismantled before and after the service.

The Latin service and the Coptic service began at about the same time. The Coptics would chant and drown out the Latins and the Latin organ would start up and drown out the Coptics, and then the Greeks would fire up the church bells and drown out everyone. It was like a battle of the bands, except all the band were playing at the same time. I could just see the Greek Orthodox Patriarch giving an itnervew explaining how they have special church bells which can go all the way up to 11.

While everything was going on, they had ushers begin to take down all the chairs which were being used by the priests. Because of the arrangement, everything the Latin Patriarch uses for mass has to be set up and taken down every day. The Coptics had a procession right through the Catholic crowd and then the Catholics had a procession right through the Coptic crowd.

I found the Church of the Holy Seplechure to be so facinating that I am considering writing a book on it. There are so many things unique about it and that seperate it from any other church in the world, it deserves a more indepth treatment. The ladder I spoke of in my previous post is a great metaphore for all the problems the church faces: it hasn’t moved in over 150 years because no one can agree on anything.

Later in the day I saw a group of Arab Scouts playing bagpipes wearing Scottish Tartans. I had seen so many things in Jerusalem, but this one just took the cake. I bust out laughing when I saw this. I have no idea why they have a bagpipe band, but it was just another one of those things you will only find in Jerusalem.