BLOG 316 August 29, 2016
****Take a look at my new MIRACLES NEVER CEASE blog, the accounts of divine intervention
As summer comes to an end, if you haven’t already picked up a copy, now is a good time to get my latest book, BIBLE LANDS: An Illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places. The pages are an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the ancients and experience the drama of both the Old and New Testaments. Beginning in l969 when I first visited Israel, BIBLE LANDS takes you on a journey from Abraham to Paul, sweeping through over 4,000 years. Barbour Books did a great job in producing my color pictures of these holy sites. From rowing across the Sea of Galilee to climbing Mt. Sinai, I followed the journey of Israel from Egypt to Jerusalem and on to Rome. I think you’ll find the adventure exciting.
Through the years, I’ve taken many groups to the Holy Lands. They always look forward to stopping in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity marks the spot where Jesus was born and end by going into Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. Originally built on top of a rock quarry outside the Jerusalem walls where the Romans crucified their victims, the church was originally built by Helena, the mother of Constantine. Consequently, time has taken its toll.
Putting aside their historic differences, the monks who oversee both churches are now cooperating in the restoration of these holy shrines. Good will has not always been the case. Up until the time of the Crusades in 1099, the Eastern Orthodox Church largely shared the sites peacefully, but the Crusaders instilled the Roman Catholic Church in a new position of authority. From there on, leaders struggled for control of the keys to the church. In 1517, the Ottomans gained domination of the city and the issue became who could most effectively bribe the new rulers. Through the decades, the Orthodox and Catholic leaders along with the Armenian Orthodox Church had constant squabbles over who could do what and governed the rest of the site. Today, the church is shared by six denominations. The Orthodox, the Franciscans of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox have the largest portions of the church. The Egyptian Coptics have a small chapel at the back and the Ethiopian Orthodox have a small monastery on the roof of the church.
The fights over who has the rights to what with fist fights and confrontations have been an embarrassment to the larger Christian world. To settle matters, the keys to the church ended up being kept by a Muslim family with no stake in the Christian controversies. However, for the first time in centuries, all quarreling appears to be set aside as both the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Sepulcher are under going restoration. Mosaics are being cleaned and columns restored. The buildings are receiving a face lift.
In addition to the three major churches, the expenses are being underwritten by King Abdullah of Jordan. Until 1967, the old city was under Jordanian control. Hopefully the refurbishing project will also be a uniting force bringing new unity within the entire Christian Church.