JERUSALEM, November 10 (RIA Novosti) – The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who arrived in Jerusalem on Friday, was accompanied by a solemn procession of clerics and laypeople on his way from the Jaffa Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre inside the Old City.
Thousands of believers gathered in front of the church, which is the holiest site for Christians across the world, to greet Patriarch Kirill and Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, who met him. The two patriarchs held a short divine service.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has for centuries been one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for millions of Christians as the purported site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Patriarch Theophilos III addressed Patriarch Kirill, for whom it is the first visit to the Holy Land since he was elected to head the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009, with a solemn speech, in which he noted the importance of brotherly relations between the two Orthodox Churches.
Patriarch Kirill said each Christian dreams of visiting the Holy Land.
“For the first time I have come to the Holy Land to offer prayers on behalf of the entire Russian Church that chose me as its Primate,” the patriarch said, adding that he will in particular pray for peace around the world.
During his six-day stay, Patriarch Kirill is expected to visit Christian holy sites in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre earlier in November threatened to close its doors as its bank account was frozen over a debt to an Israeli water company. The church had been exempt from water charges in a tacit agreement with Jerusalem authorities for decades but the Hagihon company, which took over water supply to Jerusalem in the late 1990s, recently demanded payment of a $2.3 million bill dating back 15 years, including interest.
Theophilos III even wrote letters to the leaders of Russia, Israel, the United States, Greece, Cyprus and Jordan with an appeal to intervene with the standoff and put a stop “to this flagrant act against the church.” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the presidential administration will thoroughly study Theophilos’s request for help.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem shares control of the church with the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Franciscan Order through complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for centuries. The site, located within the Christian Quarter of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, attracts more than 1 million pilgrims annually.