The conflict over unpaid water bills of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been resolved, the spokesman for Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said.
“The Holy Sepulchre Church’s water debts have been written off, not without the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church after Patriarch Kirill met with Israeli President Shimon Peres,” Deacon Alexander Volkov said on Wednesday while summing up the five-day visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to the region.
Volkov, who heads the Patriarch’s press service, added that the news was announced by Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov at his meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian Church’s Department of External Church Relations.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which 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, 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.
Volkov said the Israeli authorities have written off the Holy Sepulchre Church’s water debt for the past seven years. Regarding the remaining water bills for previous years, a special commission will look into the issue, he said. From 2013, the church will have to pay water bills, but on favorable terms.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III earlier in November 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.
Patriarch Kirill arrived in Jerusalem on November 9. It was his first visit to the Holy Land since he was elected to head the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009. During his stay, the Patriarch visited Christian holy sites in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. He also met with Peres and Jordanian King Abdullah II.