Christmas is supposed to be a time for sharing, and if anyone should be aware of that, it is members of the clergy – particularly when they are in one of Christianity’s holiest churches.
But apparently there was no such Christmas cheer last Wednesday, as dozens of monks celebrated Jesus’ birthday by brawling in his supposed birthplace – the Church of the Nativity.
The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations – Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox. Wednesday’s fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim.
The monks were tidying up the church ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, following celebrations by Western Christians on December 25. The fight erupted between monks along the border of their respective areas. Some shouted and hurled brooms.
Palestinian security forces rushed in to break up the melee, and no serious injuries were reported.
A fragile status quo governs relations among the denominations at the ancient church, and to repair or clean a part of the structure is to own it, according to accepted practice. That means letting other sects clean part of the church could allow one to gain ground at another’s expense.
Similar fights have taken place during the same late-December cleaning effort in the past.