Birthday stroll in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter…


ArmenianQuarter

By Ruth Wasserman Lande

JERUSALEM (Jerusalem Post) — Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday. Having chosen a rather unusual way in which to celebrate it, I had a rare, yet intriguing, glimpse into the life an Armenian priest, and an even rarer chance to examine, from within, the underlying tensions between Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians in an already complex Jewish capital…

We began by entering the usually unyielding Armenian priests’ compound in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Quite astounded, I discovered wide parking lots behind secret gateways, in an area where it is barely possibly to pass by, even with a small car. Likewise, the living quarters of approximately 100 Armenian monks, as well as approximately 150 more Armenians, who live with their families within the premises, were wondrously opened to us, a Jewish Israeli couple, by our friend, an Armenian Lebanese monk, who has been living in Israel for the past 30 years.

The Armenians follow their own Archbishop and Pope, whose seat is in faraway Armenia and provide services and protection to those following the Ethiopian and the Coptic Churches in Israel. Their undeclared enemies are neither the State of Israel, nor Islam, at least not in Israel, yet the Greek Orthodox Church and to a lesser degree, the Catholic Church in this country.

Following a heart-to-heart chat about the complexities of our region, I probed deeper into the life experiences of our friend, whose family members remain in Lebanon, dreading the likes of ISIS and other evils. Once more, it became abundantly clear to me, that despite all criticism of- and complexities in the tiny State of Israel, there remain certain pillars of virtue which are remarkable, one of which is the freedom of religion which is granted in general and to Christians in particular.

I was witness to just how difficult and sensitive my aforementioned observation really was, in the following part of the trip: Following a group of Armenian monks, my husband and I strolled with them in a ceremonious manner, from the Armenian Quarter towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — a half-hour walk, if one is not in a hurry… I was a Jewish-Israeli woman, strolling with a group of Armenian monks, cloaked in black with huge gold crosses on their necks and pointed tall caps, in the midst of a Christian pilgrim crowd, Muslim local merchants and several, particularly religious, Jewish passers-by.

As if this was not surreal enough, I was both surprised and proud to notice several Israeli security personnel securing the monks. When asked who they were securing them from, I was answered by one of the policemen that it was from several extreme Jewish individuals, who had taken the habit to spit at the monks during former such parades… During this particular parade, I was spared dubious pleasure of experiencing the above… What ensued within the Church itself was even more astounding- hordes of visitors, both pilgrims and local clergymen were organized in a miraculous fashion, according to a strict timetable, which enabled the Armenian followers to perform their rituals and ceremonies, then those who follow the Greek Orthodox Church and finally the Catholics to carry out their own such practices.

This surprisingly well-ordered, if somewhat tense manifestation of internal agreements between the three sects vis-à-vis their holy of holies, was not only respected and acknowledged by the State of Israel, but kept orderly by Israeli policemen, lest Greek Orthodox monks physically abuse those of the Armenian order, or vice versa. Quite surreal.

My birthday gift was clear: yet another astounding reminder and a greater clarity of just how complex, potentially explosive and wondrously fascinating this city of Jerusalem really is — for all people.