Easter in Jerusalem – Christians, Muslims & Jews work together

Posted By Levi

April 7th, 2012 5:44pm

 Update Below

As the Christian world celebrates Easter, I would like to draw your attention to an amazing story that plays out every year at this time in Jerusalem. It’s a story of how Christians, Jews and Muslims work together to facilitate the celebration. It concerns the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Here is a picture of the main entrance to the church.

The Church was originally built by Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. to commemorate the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial.  Eastern Christians called it the “Church of the Resurrection.”  It is situated within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a complex of cave-like rooms, winding corridors, a soaring domed roof, and ornate decorations alongside broken furniture.

The site is venerated by Christians because they believed it was the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.  Since the 4th century, the site has become an important pilgrimage for Christians.

Here is the amazing part. The building is shared by five competing Christian denominations — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox. There also is a small Ethiopian Orthodox chapel on the roof. Sometimes the tensions over the right to clean or to pray in a particular area of the church spill over into violence. (See this previous post on the violent conflict that took place in the Church of the Nativity this past Christmas.)

To keep the peace between them, for the past 1300 years, the actual key to the building is kept by a Muslim family.

“Every morning at 4 a.m., Wajeeh Nuseibeh walks through the walled Old City of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most revered shrine in Christendom. He takes an ancient 12-inch iron key, climbs a small ladder and opens the huge wooden doors to the place that most Christians believe is the site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus. Every evening at nightfall, after three raps of an iron doorknocker spaced out over half an hour, Nuseibeh closes up and places the key in safekeeping. He inherited the job from his father and grandfather, in a chain stretching back more than 1,300 years. But surprisingly, Nuseibeh, doorkeeper of the site of the crucifixion, is, like his ancestors, a Muslim.”

Nuseibeh’s family has helped keep the peace between them since Caliph Omar Ibn Kattab first conquered Jerusalem for the Muslims in 638. The only gap was during 88 years of Crusader rule in the 12th century. According to family history, when Salah A-Din recaptured Jerusalem in 1191, he promised English King Richard the Lion Heart he would invite the Nuseibeh family to resume their role as custodians.

About 100 years ago, the key was stolen. Although it was eventually recovered, a spare now is kept in a locked room inside the church. For his hereditary labor, Nuseibeh receives $15 every month, an income he supplements by giving tours of the church. But the ancient honor is worth more to him than the token payment. When tensions boil over between the denominations, Nuseibeh is the one who calms the waters. “Like all brothers, they sometimes have problems. We help them settle their disputes. We are the neutral people in the church. We are the United Nations. We help preserve peace in this holy place,” he said.

Here is a brief video of Nuseibeh opening the doors for worshippers.

 Today, the Old City is controlled by Isreal which provides security for the Christian pilgrims.

As we celebrate Easter and Passover, my only wish is to pray for evalasting peace for all the peoples in this region of the world.

Update -4/8/22 Here is an interesting piece on the origins of Easter.

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