BETHLEHEM, December 27 (AFP) - Seven people were injured on Thursday when Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests came to blows in a dispute over how to clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Following the Christmas celebrations, Greek Orthodox priests set up ladders to clean the walls and ceilings of their part of the church, which is built over the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.
But the ladders encroached on space controlled by Armenian priests, according to photographers who said angry words ensued and blows quickly followed.
For a quarter of an hour bearded and robed priests laid into each other with fists, brooms and iron rods while the photographers who had come to take pictures of the annual cleaning ceremony recorded the whole event.
A dozen unarmed Palestinian policemen were sent to try to separate the priests, but two of them were also injured in the unholy melee.
"As usual the cleaning of the church afer Christmas is a cause of problems," Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told AFP, adding that he has offered to help ease tensions.
"For the two years that I have been here everything went more or less calmly," he said. "It's all finished now."
The Church of the Nativity, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, is shared by various branches of Christianity, each of which controls and jealously guards a part of the holy site.
The Church of the Nativity is built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable more than 2,000 years ago after Mary and Joseph were turned away by an inn.
Jerusalem Boxing Day
In England the Feast of Stephen, Dec. 26, is also called Boxing Day. The name comes from the boxes that have to do with Christmas gifts. In Jerusalem, Boxing Day can be December 24, or the 27, depending on when tempers flare between the holy men of the Two One True Churches. If only 2007 had been an unusual year, but it wasn't. This almost annual event is merely a symbol of how well they get along in general.
The lesson for modern Anglo-Catholics is simple. Get over your inferiority complex. Stop looking to Rome or Orthodoxy with misty-eyed sentimentality. Instead, get a grip on reality in the following ways.
1. Grasp the fact that the Great Schism is between ancient imperial East and the ancient imperial West (i.e. Rome and Constantinople), not between the "ancient churches" and us. Sadly, they just don't get along with each other, especially without Anglican help.
2. The real consensus of the Church Catholic is best expressed in the pages of our very own Book of Common Prayer, better than any other single source. Why? Because it sets forth the catholick Faith of the Universal Church without regard for the styles and fashions that have blown it about since the early middle ages. It contains the Creeds in every major service, and teaches the Biblical Faith according to the most ancient universal Tradition.
3. For all the talk about the Church Fathers, it is the Book of Common Prayer that relies on the actual Patristic method for establishing doctrine, i.e. the Faith as received and set forth in the Bible. If you doubt that, then actually read the Fathers. You will be shocked, some of you, by how much they come across like Evangelicals--they even "proof text."
4. The real Anglo-Catholics have all departed this life, having lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you are among their true followers you will not denigrate or belittle the Book of Common Prayer, or their confidence in the Anglican position.
5. That Anglican position is that we are already fully part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The real Anglo-Catholics did not look to Rome or Orthodoxy to save them and give them authenticity. Rather, they asserted the claim that our Apostolic Succession is second to none, our Protestant doctrine fully Catholick, our sacraments fully valid, and they were confident that our very existence is a gift to help heal very old and very sad divisions. This last item they acted on quite energetically, humbly but firmly.
6. Only one Church exists in the Earth. The Holy Union is monogamous, Christ having one bride in that mystical union to which He is faithful as the Bishop of our souls and Husband of one wife.
7. Therefore, our antiquity is equal to theirs. This is for the following reasons.
a. The whole Church began at the same time, and the whole Church was baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the same day when the Apostle, St. Peter preached the Gospel to the crowd.
b. Our history is not merely five hundred years old. This is not simply because the Church existed in Briton from Apostolic times. Even more so, it is because the whole Church was born on the same day, which Church we belong to no less than the children of Rome and Constantinople.
c. Every Christian is part of one generation, as God has children, but no grandchildren (see this).
So, if you want to follow the Anglo-Catholics (who restored balance in their time no less than the Reformers did in theirs, or the Caroline Divines in theirs), then have confidence that your own Anglican heritage is catholick in that it is full and complete. That is what they stood for, humbly but firmly. They would not encourage the inferiority complex that too many of you have.