Monday, April 28, 2003

Happy Pascha to you too, buddy:

A raucous Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem

With a raucous crowd jammed shoulder to shoulder yesterday inside the fortress-like Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a parade of Greek and Armenian Orthodox clergy slowly walked to the tomb of Jesus.

And that's where the trouble began.

Priests from the competing sects pushed and shoved each other as part of an ancient dispute over who would emerge first with the flame they believe miraculously descends from heaven during the Easter Ceremony of the Holy Fire, marked this weekend by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Israeli riot police quelled the small disturbance, which had threatened to explode in violence yesterday.

Neither side could come to terms, but the priests did promise to avoid coming to blows - as happened between the clergy and worshipers last year - after Israeli officials threatened to limit the number of participants to just a few hundred. In the end, police let 6,000 into the stone church built on the spot where it is believed Jesus was crucified and buried.

Inside, police carrying clubs and guns set up metal barricades to segregate the crowds, which surged forward to touch or photograph the patriarchs and their entourages as they walked three times around the tomb.