Top Christian shrine may shut down over unpaid water bills
Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of the Resurrection, was founded during the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century and withstood invasions, fires and earthquakes. But now, more than 1,600 years later, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which maintains most of the complex, may close the temple’s doors as the city’s water company Hagihon demands payment of a US$2.3 million bill dating back 15 years, including interest.
“If nothing changes we intend to announce within a few days, for the first time in centuries, that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is closed,” Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III said on Friday, as quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.
For decades there has been a tacit agreement between the church and city authorities that exempted it from water charges. But in the late 1990s private company Hagihon took over water supply in Jerusalem and now insists that Israeli laws do not permit the company to make such exemptions.
The church says it is willing to pay for future utilities but finds it difficult to pay for the accumulated debt. It has asked Hagihon to write off the debt as it was the result of a past misunderstanding.
The patriarch, Theophilos III, appealed to the leaders of Israel, Russia, the United States, Greece, Cyprus and Jordan asking them to intervene with the standoff and put a stop “to this flagrant act against the church.”
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be built upon the Hill of Calvary and the site where Christ was buried and has been the top pilgrimage destination for Christians since the 4th century. More than 1 million pilgrims arrive to the site annually.