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Easter in Jerusalem

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.

  • 9 Comments... What's your take?

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  1. Doris says:

    I forgot to mention–the processions include girl scouts as well as boy scouts. Here in the U.S., we have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but the children who participate in these Christian processions in Israel are specifically “Christian Boy Scouts,” “Christian Girl Scouts,” and some are mixed “Christian Boy & Girl Scouts.” Very sweet and very committed.

  2. Doris says:

    Easter in Jerusalem is really surreal and quite impressive. After all, Jerusalem is The Holy City, so it’s no surprise that the various religious factions feel passionate about it. Passion is the complete opposite of apathy. If you’re Christian, it’s an absolutely surreal place, especially during the high religious time of Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. While we haven’t yet visited during Christmas, no doubt that’s also surreal. Last year we participated in every procession and every service at every venue in Jerusalem that we possibly could just to experience what each group observes. We found the services/processions down the Palm Sunday path, through the Via Dolorosa, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at the Church of All Nations (Gethsemane), at the Garden Tomb, etc. all to be equally fascinating and incredibly moving. There really is nothing gawdy about a holy site that’s been preserved for centuries. That was simply the architecture and the culture. Why change it? You see it in Rome, Greece, and other places with ancient archaeological excavations. I’m so thankful that someone has preserved these sites. Yes, there are differences of opinions and sometimes human frailties get in the way, but none should diminish one’s spiritual encounter at these sites. True, for example, work will need to be done on the Edicule or it will crumble. In time, they’ll figure it out. It’s their responsibility. Sensationalism, though, is part of the daily news everywhere. As for the Christian Boy Scouts and their bag pipes and uniforms, we know one of the scout leaders and, believe me, it is a tremendous honor for them to participate in the Christian processions. These kids come from the State of Israel, plus the Israeli government grants the Christian Boy Scouts from the Palestinian territories entry in order to participate in these high honor ceremonies. We couldn’t be prouder of them. These are the kids of the future as opposed to the ones being raised to become terrorists.

    There is just nothing like Easter in Jerusalem! I love it and hope others will have an opportunity to experience it one day!

  3. Twenga says:

    Very interesting reading many thanks!

  4. Wow, Easter in Jerusalem! I’ve been wanting to spend easter in Rome and Jerusalem. I just didn’t have the time to go there.

  5. Wow, that’s a great description and your holidays were very interesting.

  6. i’ve been to that church, but not for easter and was appalled that even the freaking stone that jesus was supposedly crucified on was split between two very icony and gawdy churches. even in this place there was no peace and unity. the main things that jesus wanted!!!!!!
    The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist

  7. Geez, how do they keep it straight? Well, from your description, I guess they don’t. “Can’t we all just get along????”

  8. This is soooo fascinating! What an amazing and strange place! From everything you’ve said about Jerusalem so far, I am really quite surprised there isn’t *more* violence. It’s amazing that all of these diverse groups manage to coexist without totally obliterating each other.

  9. jen laceda says:

    Arabs in Tartans? I’m so disappointed to have missed that ! Any photos you can share with us?

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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