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Bethlehem, in Palestine is home to an Armenian Monastery for many centuries, attached to the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. The Armenian Church is one of the joint owners of the Church of the Nativity, which has seen fights break out by monks of different churches over rights to certain areas or times of worship.


Noyan Tapan Armenians Today Jan 23 2006

JERUSALEM, JANUARY 23, NOYAN TAPAN - ARMENIANS TODAY. The centuries-old Armenian tradition of celebrating the Nativity and Revelation of Jesus at the site of His Birth began on the morning of January 18, 2006, the day before Christmas for the Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Inspite of the inclement weather, the St. James Brotherhood, led by His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, began the journey from the St. James Monastery in the Holy City to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

At the Mar Elias Monastery near Gilo, the mayors of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, together with four Israeli cavalry officers on horseback, met and accompanied the delegation to near Rachel's tomb, where a mounted Palestinian honor guard took over.

According to the Divan of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the arrival in Bethlehem of the Armenian Patriarch and his entourage was heralded with the welcome by Mayor Victor Batarseh and the pomp and ceremony of drums, bugles, and bagpipes, played by the Armenian scouts. The ringing of the Armenian Monastery bells and the playing of traditional Armenian Christmas hymns added to the festive atmosphere.

In the afternoon, religious services began with the first of three Divine Liturgies, celebrated in the Grotto of the Nativity by V. Rev. Fr. Markos Hovhannisyan, from the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, Armenia. Also participating in the services were Archbishop Nerses Bozabalian, from Holy Etchmiadzin, and Archbishop Tirair Mardikian, Primate of Rumania and Bulgaria. In the evening, a reception, hosted by His Beatitude the Patriarch, was held in the recently renovated hall of the Armenian Monastery, with His Excellency, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority in attendance. President Abbas also attended the midnight services in the Grotto, during which His Beatitude the Patriarch delivered his Christmas message in Armenian. An Arabic translation of the message was read by a member of the community for broadcast on local television.

The second Divine Liturgy ensued, with V. Rev. Fr. Mkrtich Proshyan, from Holy Etchmiadzin, as the celebrant. The service concluded with the Blessing of Water ceremony. The blessed water was distributed to the worshipers, including a group of pilgrims from Armenia and from the United States. The third Divine Liturgy was then celebrated by Bishop Movses Movsisyan, Primate of Nor Nakhichevan in Russia, services coming to a close at 6:00am, on Christmas Day, January 19, with the traditional joyful greeting, "Christ was born and revealed! Blessed is the Revelation of Christ!"

On January 21, representatives of the Christian communities of Jerusalem, headed by their Patriarchs and Bishops, visited the Armenian Patriarch and the St. James Brotherhood to exchange congratulatory greetings for the holiday season.

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Bethlehem'S Church Of The Punch-Up

Giles Fraser Thursday 29 December 2011 16.00 GMT

The latest brawl between Armenian and Orthodox monks in Bethlehem is a product of Christianity's romance with buildings

A Greek Orthodox priest wears a face mask as he cleans the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as part of the preparations for the Orthodox faith's Christmas celebrations. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

It's become something of a Christmas tradition: the annual ecclesiastical punch-up at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

This year the Palestinian riot police had to be called in after it all kicked off again, with a hundred or so Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks bashing seven bells out of each other with brooms. Apparently one monk was provocatively brushing somewhere that was supposed to be the responsibility of someone else. In this feverishly contested space, if you clean it then you are maintaining it, and if you maintain it then you are making a claim to owning it: that is the logic, such as it is.

Which is why the three church traditions that share the administration of the Church of the Nativity still can't agree on who pays for urgent repairs to the church roof, despite the fact that water is now coming through and damaging the building. All sides want to pay, and refuse to let the others put their hands in their pockets. To pay would be to own.

Of course, it's been worse. In 1853, a similar jurisdictional squabble saw several Orthodox monks murdered and provided the Russian tsar with the excuse he needed to start the Crimean war. That time the row was between the Catholics and the Orthodox about who had the key to the main door and the hanging of a star over the manger.


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