Jerusalem Patriarchate – 14/12/17

You Excellency Mr. Levin,
You Excellency Mr. Halevi,
Respected Members of the Government,
Esteemed Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Beloved Fellow Heads of the Churches
and Leaders of Communities of Faith,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Once again we gather as our communities of faith are preparing to celebrate this season of light and hope. We in Jerusalem are keenly aware that at this time of the year the eyes of the world are especially focused on this Holy City and on our Holy Land. At a time of widespread difficulties and confusion for the human family, we remember that Jerusalem is the universal symbol of peace and of the vision of a new future for humanity, in which all will be reconciled.

We see evidence of this deep longing in the extraordinary number of pilgrims who flock to Jerusalem and the Holy Land each month, a number that grows with each passing year. Indeed because of the efforts of the Churches and our care and encouragement of pilgrims from every corner of the globe, we have seen the number of pilgrims double in recent times. Pilgrims come here to drink deeply of the wells of the spiritual refreshment of the Holy Sites, which must remain open and accessible to all, especially at the great feasts. We look to you, You Excellency, to help ensure that both pilgrims and the local faithful have the help and support they need from the civil authorities to be able to venerate the shrines and to worship freely.

We note the efforts of the Ministry towards facilitating access to the Holy Places, and for encouragement of pilgrims, and we recognise the tremendous logistical challenges of large numbers of faithful. And yet it is precisely in this respect that we must be committed to working together, since it is the divine-human encounter that gives our Holy City and our Holy Land its special character.

Given our commitment to working together, we must admit in this gathering that we are concerned with the recent developments regarding our Holy City of Jerusalem. The recent academic dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Judaism, hosted by us in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, highlighted the spiritual and religious significance of Jerusalem for all people. We emphasized that we must conceive Jerusalem as theocentric and not anthropocentric. Without this fundamental truth, it is impossible to understand the full significance of Jerusalem. And of course the most compelling evidence for this truth is that Jerusalem is the most important destination of pilgrims in world.

We all appreciate that the Status Quo, with its internationally recognized set of rights, rules and customs that enable religious communities and the civil authorities to carry out their respective roles in harmony, remains in full effect and that all are committed to working under its historic provisions without any alteration or amendment.

From this undertaking we can be certain that a stop will be put to the bill now circulating among some members of the Knesset that relates to Churches and intrudes upon the provisions of the Status Quo.

We are also hoping that present decision-makers will be assiduous in curbing radical elements in the society form attempting to undermine the integrity of Jerusalem and the Holy Land by making this an exclusive, rather than an inclusive society. We remain confident that this will not be the outcome of the Jaffa Gate case that is now before the High Court; otherwise this will be a very serious breach to the Status Quo. Jerusalem is a home for all peoples, and the true identity of Jerusalem and the Holy Land depends on the well-being of all our communities of faith. This is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious landscape, and without this diversity, the true nature of our Jerusalem is lost.

We take this opportunity of this blessed celebration to urge you, Your Excellency, to use your best efforts to proceed with the securing an adequate water supply to Mount Tabor, which is one of the most important pilgrim destinations in the Holy Land. This has become an urgent matter both for the Orthodox and the Franciscans, as well as the many pilgrims of other traditions who go there. We have every confidence that this issue can be speedily and successfully addressed by the appropriate authorities.

May this season of light and hope, in which all our religious communities are celebrating, be also a season of light and hope for our hurting world. May God bless you, Your Excellency, and your colleagues in your work, and may God bless all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.

Thank you.