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Bethlehem: Armenian and Greek Clergy Clash at Christmas

Armenian and Greek priests have once again clashed, but this time at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, much to the astonishment and amusement of social media users worldwide. Apparently stemming from a dispute over which priests would clean which part of the church, such brawls are nothing new.

In November 2008, for example, Armenian and Greek Monks clashed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Lisa Shafer: A Writer's Blog comments.

Okay, so Christmas is one of the biggest holidays of the year for the Christian world — even though most of how we celebrate Christmas is actually pagan (Dec. 25, trees, greenery, lights, gifts — all pagan. Gotta love that irony, too.). And Bethlehem is where it all began…..

So, I found this pic on yahoo today: Greek and Armenian priests, cleaning up a Bethlehem church they share with Catholics, broke into an all-out broom war this week over who was cleaning whose part of the church.

The whole thing had to be broken up by Palestinian police, who are, presumably, Muslim. The layers of irony here are just too much. It'd be hilarious if it weren't so petty and childish — and sad.

Twitter users particularly enjoyed reporting on the brawl.

@pixie_pete: Will Bethlehem priest tag fighting become a new Olympic sport? […]

@TCofLondon: Rival priests in Bethlehem brawl. This really is hilarious! […]

@metalvicar Rachel: It's a turf war…Priests tell each other to ‘get off my manor, you muppet’ BBC News – Priests brawl in Bethlehem […]

@meneedbeer: Greek or Armenian priests: who's better at sweeping a Church floor? There's only one way to find out- FIGHT!! […]

@AhmNoHere: “No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God” WTF?!? […]

@Rohypgnosis: Phew! A good job they're all full to the brim of the ‘Love of Jesus’ or it might have got REALLY nasty :D […]

@nickjtaylor: Peace on Earth indeed: […] Just one more reason I can't take religion seriously.

Fr Ray Blake's Blog, however, took a moment to reflect:

Greeks and Armenians fight in the sanctuary: is this a brawl, muscular Christianity or just two factions convinced they are right. Such outbreaks in the Holy Land are not unusual.

Even so, Fr Stephen Smuts Blog was not impressed:

[…] this time it’s between clergy in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks who were armed with brooms got into it while cleaning the Church. Palestinian riot police were called in:

[…]

What a pathetic witness. See for yourself:

Globalisering, christendom en het Midden-Oosten, however, attempts to go deeper into reasons for the scuffle:

This is interesting stuff, especially because I suspect that today's broom fight reflects some of the increased tensions over the restoration of the church, badly needed for many years, initiated by the Palestinian Authority a year or so back, boosted by their recent UN bid, and contentious among the communities that use the church. Not that they are not convinced something has to be done, but paying for repairs, as much as cleaning, may alter the rights of usage of each and everyone in the church. Who’s to pay for what and when? Some tension over these major changes is quite understandable, as is some brawling by young and eager monks …

However, most of today’s commentators seem to have missed both its rituality and its link to current Palestinian affairs and this therefore does not explain the world wide fascination with these scuffles. Part of the fascination, of course, is the obvious tension between Christianity's ideals of peace on earth and its reality of fighting clergy – especially when the fighting is so visually satisfying with nice new brooms that seem to have been bought just for the occasion. No deaths, no seriously wounded … we all love to watch a good fight, especially when it confirms our preconceptions about Christianity, clergy, and the Holy Land – yes, of course, it must also have something to do with the fact that it happens in Bethlehem, in the Church of the Nativity, in the week following Catholic and Protestant Christmas, in preparation for Orthodox Christmas – if a fight seems out of place, then this one, there and now.

Indeed, any politics behind the incident were lost on most others, especially coming as it did at Christmas.

  • Saed Abu Hmud

    I wonder what are Those Armenian mercenaries doing in Bethlehem?! They act as if they posses any rights in the Nativity church, which it was built by Greeks and still owned and run by them. They (The Armenians) were granted the northern corner of the church to pray in just as a result of the Berlin treaty in 1878. I can’t understand why they don’t do that with the Turks who still refuse to apologise for the Armenian genocide?

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