Heads of Jerusalem churches today challenged the Israeli authorities’ total ban on church services following the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter addressed to the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, heads of the churches administering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher decried the Israeli police’s attempts to ban indoor church services and liturgies.
“Regretfully, law enforcement authorities in Jerusalem, assigned with the application of the ordinances related to COVID-19 seem to not be fully aware of the nature of the place and are now attempting to prevent us, the heads of the three communities, from celebrating and presiding ]over[ the liturgies scheduled for this time inside the Basilica,” the statement read.
They reminded Rivlin of their “fervent duty to ensure that this place ]Church of the Holy Sepulcher[ is respected in its nature, in its singularity and also in its autonomy, which is under the intent look of the international community and of all Christians living in the entire world.”
While the church hierarchs expressed their deep concern about the pandemic spread and stressed their commitment to the precautionary sanitary guidelines to combat the highly-contagious virus, such as frequent cleaning and observing regulated distancing, they condemned the ban on indoor church liturgies as an infringement on the expression of religious freedom.
“We are more than willing to comply with the hygienic and sanitary provisions that provide for the closure of the celebrations to the public as well as the rules of social distancing, we however, cannot accept in conscience that our communities are prevented from celebrating inside the Basilica, each according to the provisions of its liturgical calendar and rituals,” they emphasized.
“This would go against the right of expression of religious freedom, the root of all freedoms, as understood by our conscience of believers,” they added.
The church hierarchs called for Rivilin to intervene and request “the relevant authorities so that they accommodate the fundamental rights and duties of our communities to celebrate in the Holy Sepulchre, the ceremonies and liturgies of Christian faith, including the right to an unhindered access to the Basilica for the heads of these communities.”
“We find it extremely illogical that several other less important places can operate regularly, while the holiest site for Christians must be closed, not only to the public but even to the religious heads of the communities living inside,” they said.
“For our part, we guarantee that, unless the current restrictions are lifted, the celebrations will be closed to the public, ing to 10 the number of clergy who will enter the Basilica and be present at the celebrations in the various designated places, while we will also be complying with all hygiene and sanitary advised principles as well as the guidelines for social distancing,” they said.
“Given the unique nature of the Holy Sepulchre, any eventual further restrictions should be mutually agreed upon, in order to preserve the abovementioned rights,” they concluded.
The Jerusalem churches, among others worldwide, offered the faithful who choose to stay at home the possibility to view the services online.