Unprecedented ecumenical ceremony marks inauguration of restored Edicule of the Tomb of Christ

Posted on Mar 24, 2017

Photos © Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; © Custody of the Holy Land

by Myriam Ambroselli | Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem | March 23, 2017

HOLY SEPULCHER – On Wednesday, March 22, 2017, the Churches of Jerusalem gathered in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher to contemplate on the result of ten months of restoration of the edicule sheltering the Tomb of Christ in an ecumenical ceremony bearing witness to a unity that has made possible such work.

DSC_0293.jpgFor ten months, experts, technicians and workers took turns day and night to restore with utmost precaution the edicule that protects the place of burial and resurrection of Christ located in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. The edicule partially disassembled and then reconstructed and consolidated, is almost unrecognizable. And yet, only the disintegrating parts have been replaced. Exposed to lights today, its stone are in pink and pastel shades like the first glimmer of dawn. The dawn of the morning of the resurrection.

DSC_0190.jpgIn the front row facing the edicule were the representatives of the three Churches who signed the agreement that launched the work: His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch; His Beatitude Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch; and Father Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land. He was accompanied by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Custos of the Holy Land from 2004 to 2016, who signed the agreement in March 2016. Also present were representatives of the other Churches of the Holy Sepulcher, Ethiopian, Syriac, and Coptic as well as other Christian denominations.

Among the guests of honor was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, who last visited Jerusalem in May 2014 for a prayer of unity in this same place, in front of the Tomb of Christ, fifty years after the historic reunion of his predecessor Athénagoras with Pope Paul VI.

The ceremony was interspersed with hymns solemnly sung by the choirs of the three communities, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians and the Franciscans, celebrated the glory of the resurrection. Speaking one after the other, the representatives of the three communities holding the Holy Place: Patriarch Theophilos, Father Patton, and Patriarch Manougian, hailed the admirable restoration carried out during these long months of work, each emphasizing the ecumenical significance of this event and thanking experts and benefactors.

“This work is a sign of hope for future generations,” said Patriarch Theophilos, thanking all those who made this project possible, especially recognizing Archbishop Pizzaballa, and an “unprecedented collaboration”. The Custos, Father Patton, spoke of “the immense joy” of contemplating this work a few weeks before “celebrating the resurrection together at Easter on the same day.” The Armenian Patriarch, expressed gratitude for “the fraternal relations of genuine love and solidarity between communities” which enabled this project to be carried through.

Archbishop Pizzaballa (scroll down for full speech) was invited to speak and recalled the uniqueness of this restoration that opened “a new phase of relations between the Churches of Jerusalem”. Confident in the future, he said: “This work is not done yet, we are just at the beginning. I wish you all, your Beatitudes and your Paternity, that the Churches of Jerusalem may continue to enjoy this new attitude that exists between us, seeing to the continuation of this restoration for all the other parts of this unique Basilica. ”

After the address of Patriarch Bartholomew, under the sign of the unity brought by the resurrection, the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto read a message from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

At the end of the ceremony, His Holiness Garegin II, Catholicos of all the Armenians expressed his gratitude and thanksgiving. Then the Heads of Churches, religious and their guests proceeded to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for a presentation of the work by Professor Antonia Moropoulou, an engineer of the National Technical University of Athens and scientific coordinator of the restoration project.

Before an audience of experts and political figures including the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the professor explained the different steps and techniques used to rehabilitate the edicule sheltering the original rock in which the Tomb of Christ was dug. She emphasized the importance of continuing the restoration of “this living monument that speaks to all mankind”, indicating the various causes that could adversely affect the sustainability of the work done so far, in particular, the humidity from the subsoil that can weaken the structure of the building over the long term.

Inauguration Holy Sepulcher Aedicule Address of the Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem March 22, 2017

You Holiness, Your Beatitudes, Most Reverend Father, Your Excellences, distinguished guests, dear Friends.

It is with great joy and honor that I join His Beatitude the (Greek Orthodox) Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Paternity and His Beatitude the Armenian Patriarch in this celebration of the reopening of the Holy Tomb of our Savior.

I think that most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all those who have familiarity with the life in the Holy Sepulcher and generally with the life in the Christian Jerusalem couldn’t believe that it would be possible to arrive to this moment. Many times, when the pilgrims were asking why or when it would be possible to restore the Holy Aedicule, the common answer was: “we will never see that day”. And in our discussions in the various Church Committees, like the one of the Status Quo, this goal was considered “not achievable”. But now, despite the common belief, we are here to celebrate this event!

In the Gospel of Luke, the archangel Gabriel says to the Holy Virgin: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37). Yes, if we are with God, nothing is impossible. This apparently “Mission Impossible” (the restoration of the Holy Aedicule) became possible because we allowed God to enlighten our thoughts, our eyes and our relations. May the Lord be blessed in all those “who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Lk 11:28).

Things, in fact, do not change by themselves. If we are here, it is because the different Churches and their leaders have been able to hear the Word of God, to change their vision and with their leadership guide all to understand, to accept and to realize that it was time to build. Build a new model of relation among all of us, based on trust and respect.

This restoration marks, not only an important technical achievement, the end of an important professional work, but marks above all this new phase in our relations, it is the visible result of this newly restored building, which is the life of the Churches in Jerusalem.

The Holy Sepulcher, in which all the Christians make the memory of death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the custodian of our faith, but also of our respective histories, our identities. It is the mirror of what we are. And while we see in this building our wounds that our historical divisions have created, we want today to celebrate and to show also our desire to cure these wounds. Today the Churches of Jerusalem with the restoration of this physical building are putting also oil and balsam on the wounds of the one body of Christ, which is the church of faithful and peoples, like the women of the Gospel, who “had come to the Tomb to see how His body was laid” (Lk 23:55) and “prepared spices and ointments” (56) for the body of Christ.

This is cannot be the end of the work. We are just at the beginning. Mywish, for all of you, yourBeatitudes and your Paternity, is that we Churches of Jerusalem could continue to enjoy this new attitude among all of us in seeing the continuation of this restoration for all the other parts of this unique Basilica, and to continue enjoying at the same time the new spirit in our relations. I am confident that with your leadership you could overcome the inevitable problems and continue to give to all of us this important and long awaited testimony of the Risen Lord.
May the Lord bless all those who have the courage “to hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21),
here inour beloved Holy City of Jerusalem. Thank you!
+ Pierbattista