In this a fascinating and informative book, Raymond Cohen, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes objectively about an example of the sad situation of the disunity of Christianity which is exhibited in the story of its holiest shrine: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.
The church built over this site has been claimed by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and to a lesser extent the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This holy shrine has been divided up among these churches, and guards its portion vehemently. Cohen recounts how these churches slowly worked together to repair the crumbling shrine, an objective that required many decades and much negotiation before anything could be done. The repairs continue to this day.
Negotiations between the three major claimants of the Holy Sepulchre must be conducted under the framework of the Status Quo agreement that the Ottoman Turks set up to keep the peace among the churches when they were in charge of Jerusalem. According to the Status Quo property rules, which are based on Muslim Sharia Law, the three claimants will not allow any changes to this agreement since it would allow another church to supersede them. The Status Quo is rigidly enforced; if one church wishes to have a procession or celebration, they must ensure that the other churches know about it - and they must not “trespass” on another church’s territory without permission, or else a major fuss will occur.
This also happens at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where more than one church claims ownership – it, too, is divided up like the Holy Sepulchre. Sometimes these dust-ups make the news, to the embarrassment of all Christians.
Raymond Cohen has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a research fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Watson Institute at Brown University. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, ecumenism, and church history.