The Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulcher offers masses only as a live stream

The heavy wooden doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem are locked. The spacious forecourt, on which people from all over the world crowd in ordinary times, is quiet and empty.

The Easter holidays are approaching, which would otherwise attract tens of thousands of believers from all over the world to Jerusalem to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus. But this year the doors remain closed to the public over Easter, after everything that is known, for the first time in its history. This is how Israel's Ministry of Health ordered it to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

At Easter, Christian tourism in the Holy City usually reaches its climax: Believers from all over the Via Dolorosa and crowd hundreds in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. People have to wait two hours or more in the square in front of the church before they can enter the legendary church that, according to tradition, marks the place of Jesus' crucifixion. Already in spring, the heat in the church is difficult to bear for many visitors, trapped between pushing and pressing bodies.

They crowd particularly close to the stone on which the body of Jesus is for them Funeral should have been anointed. Many believers touch his hand reverently, some even kiss the stone. Usages that have become unthinkable in times of the corona virus.

About 9000 Israelis tested positive

About 9000 Israelis tested positive for the virus until Tuesday, 60 there have been deaths so far . The largest sources of infection include synagogues. Churches, synagogues and mosques in the Holy Land had to close two weeks ago.

For a small group of selected clergymen, the gates of the Holy Sepulcher should open at Easter, as Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, announced. Several holy masses are planned, even solemn processions over the Via Dolorosa, named after the path of Jesus' suffering, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are to take place.

Services and processions only live on the Internet

All services and processions are broadcast live on the Internet. With this solution, the church officials hope to satisfy all sides: the Israeli government as well as Christians around the world, who are particularly longing for Jerusalem at this time of year.

The relationship between the state and the Christian institutions is not free from tension in Israel. It was not until the end of March that the Vatican representative in Jerusalem, Farid Jubran, wrote a protest letter to Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in which he complained about alleged discrimination: it was not fair that prayers were allowed on the Western Wall, the highest sanctuary in Judaism the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the other hand, would have to be closed to the public.

The argument that Jews could pray at the wailing wall at a reasonable distance under the open sky did not apply. In February 2018 the church officials had the gates of the iconic church closed even in protest against a draft law that could have brought them disadvantages in the sale of land.

Six denominations are at home in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In conflict with the state, the six churches that share the Holy Sepulcher cooperate exceptionally: in the Greek Orthodox, The Roman Catholic and the Armenian Apostolic Church are largely without administration, but the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Copts and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are also represented and have a say. This is what the status quo provides for in 19. Century was still decided under the Ottomans.

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However, they agree Far from self-evident: the conflicts between the different denominations, which often revolve around times of worship, building measures, finances and power relations, are legendary. In the past, there have even been isolated blows between supporters of different denominations.

Muslim family manages the key

So the disputes not escalate entirely, it is according to a centuries-old tradition that the Muslim family Joudeh manages the key of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A second, also Muslim, family called Nusseibeh closes the main door of the church in the morning and closes it again in the evening; Its members also act as mediators when there are repeated clashes between church denominations.

It is a peculiar and surprisingly successful form of interreligious cooperation in a region, in friendly cooperation between followers of different faiths is rare.

When the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can open its gates again to the public is uncertain; The Israeli government has indicated that after the Jewish Passover, which also starts this week, the first easing of the strict curfew and contact barriers may follow. Until then, Christians around the world have no choice but to pray from afar – and turn on their cell phones in time for the livestream from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.