The history of the Church of the
In 313AD, Flavius Valerius Constantinus or Great Constantine, ceased the persecutions of the Christians through the Mediolan decree. In 324AD he won over Licinius and became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. On 20th May began the work of the 1st Ecumenical Synod at Nicea of Bithinia to deal with the Arian heresy. At the Synod, the Bishop of Jerusalem Makarius took part (the Jerusalem Patriarchate was not yet founded). During some of his conversations with the emperor, he raised certain matters concerning the Holy Places. One of these concerned the temple of Aphrodite that was built by idolaters on the Golgotha hill, to impede the Christians in their pilgrimage at the spot of the crucifixional sacrifice of the Lord. During the same time, the mother of Great Constantine, Saint Helen travelled to Jerusalem with the intention of restoring the Christian rule and worship on the lands where the God-man walked and the building of the Holy Churches at the most important places of His presence.
Special care was required in the area of Golgotha. In that area, excavations were done during the time of the emperor Adrian, to install the idol and temple of Aphrodite on the Tomb of the Lord, with the intention of impeding the Christians from pilgrimages at the area. The first task of Saint Helen was the discovery of the Holy Cross. The attempt succeeded with the Holy Cross being found inside a cave together with the other two of the crucified robbers and the rest of the utensils of the crucifixion. The miracle of the resurrection of the widow confirmed the cross of Christ. Afterwards while the place was being cleaned the signs of the Crucifixion, unnailing and burial of the Lord, came to view. The items that comprised the temple and the idols were removed and the area was consecrated. We could say there was an archeological find by Saint Helen and the restoration of the Holy Monument. With royal donations the Church of the Resurrection was built for the first time. Eusebius of Caesaria saved in his "Ecclesiastic History" the letter that Great Constantine sent to the Bishop of Jerusalem, Makarius: "Victor Constantine, most reverend Makarius. So great is the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that it does not appear to be worthy of the present miracle by any extent of expression. Because even that spot of the most holy despotic passion, which was hidden for so long under the earth and was unknown for so many periods of time until when it elected to shine in his own restorers, that were freed with the retraction and wearing out of the common enemy of all, truly it goes beyond any human mind and causes great surprise and admiration that if all the world's wise came together and tried to praise according to its worthiness, they would not be able to say the least. That much this miracle goes beyond any human understanding, as much as the heavenly surpasses the worldly. For this therefore I always have this intent, that first and only first, that as the true faith reveals itself with continuously newer miracles, in the same way, the souls of all of us should eagerly study the holy rule with all prudence and grateful willingness. Also I wish for everybody to be completely certain, of what I believe is obvious to everybody, that above all I intent through divine beckoning of the sacred place which I lightened from its burden of obscene idols that were added to it, to decorate with beautiful buildings, as this place was sacred by God's judgment from the beginning and appeared more holy since it brought forth light to the belief of the salvific passion".
Continuing, the letter of Great Constantine provides some instructions on the construction allowing though a relative freedom of selection by Makarius. According to Theodoritus Cyrus, the bearer of the letter, was Saint Helen. Socrates in his "Ecclesiastic History" informs us that the Church was built in her presence with the plans of the architect Zenovius. Elements of these plans were retained in later constructions, such as the open vault (rotunda) above the All Holy Tomb (it was believed that only the heavens could cover the Tomb of the God-man). A great care was taken in the shaping of the surrounding grounds. We earlier mentioned that a great quantity of earth was removed and the area around the cave was leveled. We should add that the same cave was shaped accordingly to enable the construction of a cabin around it. Most of the archeologists agree that the hill of Golgotha was included in the first church and moreover in its present form. This we can conclude from the historical descriptions, such as in the internal testimonies that are in the "Catechises" (specifically in # 24) of Holy Kyrill of Jerusalem.
The construction work was concluded in 335AD. The inauguration took place on 13th September 336AD by the Bishops who took part in the Synod of Tyre. The first church is known to us as the "Constantinian Basilica" of Eusebius of Caesaria.
In 614AD a general of the Persian king Hosroe 2nd captured Jerusalem. A terrible destruction occurred. Large number of Christians were slaughtered by the Persians as well as of the accomplice Jews. More than 300 monasteries were burnt down. The same result had the Churches of the City, like the Holy Church of Sion, the Church of the Theotokos donated by the emperor Justinian, the Church of the Assumption on the Mount of Olives etc. The Church of the Resurrection became the focus of the hatred of the Zoroastrians and was burnt down. Provisions of more than 300 years were stolen. Offerings by Great Constantine, Saint Helen and Queen Eudocia were confiscated. Among the other heirlooms was the diamond studded cross of Theodosius 2nd that was installed on the Holy Golgotha, the priceless Cross donated by empress Theodosia, the onyx cup from which it is believed that the Lord drunk during the Last Supper, the diadem of the king of Ethiopia Elisvan, the utensils of the Temple of Solomon that were donated by Justinian. The most valuable heirloom that was taken was the Holy Cross which was inside a golden case, sealed with the seal of the Patriarch. This event greatly disturbed the Christian world. The Holy Cross was transported to the Capital of the Persian nation together with many prisoners. The patriarch Zacharias was also taken prisoner.
The abbot of the Monastery of Holy Theodosius that time was Modesto. He took over the comforting of the people of Palestine with the backing of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Saint John the Merciful. He bought back lots of prisoners, fed the hungry population, returned the monks to their monasteries. With monk Antishus they started a fundraising in all of the East, for the restoration of the Church of the Resurrection. Saint John the Merciful, apart from the monetary sums he donated, he sent a thousand workers, materials, transportation animals fully laden with foodstuff. The restoration of the Church of the Resurrection was completed in 626AD. Unfortunately the ugly economic situation of the destroyed region and of the empire in general did not allow the return of the Church in its original magnificent form. History tells us that the first person baptized in the Church was a Persian soldier, the later great martyr Saint Anastasius the Persian. In continuation, the emperor Iracleus trounced the Persians and forced them to free the prisoners and the Patriarch Zacharia. He personally took the Holy Cross and brought it to Constantinople and afterwards to Jerusalem in 630AD. The Raising of the Holy Cross took place on 14th September which event is commemorated every year since. Iracleus donated great sums of money for the restoration of the monuments and granted tax exemption for the area, for the relief of the people. The new Church was of a byzantine style, simpler as we already said. The description of the Church we find in the narration of Arkoulfus, written in 680AD.
In 637AD Caliph Omar became the ruler of Jerusalem. Following exchanges with Patriarch Sophronius, he delivered a decree (Actiname) by which it secured the domination of the Romans (Greeks) on the Holy Lands and regulated the responsibilities and rights of the Christians. The text of the Actiname was as follows: "........The present is a letter of I, Omar, son of Hattab, and was delivered to the respectable and honourable Patriarch Sophronius of the Royal Nation (namely the Greeks) at the Mount of Olives, the holy place of Jerusalem, as a treaty and promise regarding the citizen priests and monks and nuns wherever they may be and wherever they may wish to be. That they have security (when the subject keeps the responsibilities of the subject, must have security and protection from us faithful and by us leaders) and to remove from the causes of disturbances according to the displayed submission and obedience, and so that they have security, they as well as their Churches, monasteries and everything under their control shrines both within and without such as the Kamames (namely the Church of the Resurrection) and the large Church at Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus (as long as there is peace) and the cave which has three doors, the noon, the arctic and the western one, that they have security the Christian nations that exist there, namely, the Iberians and Ethiopians and those coming for pilgrimage, Franks, Copts, Syrians, Armenians, Nestorians, Jacobites and Marionites, the followers of the said Patriarch, who shall have primacy over them (the Royal Nation) because it has received grace by the honourable and beloved prophet (namely Mohammed) who was sent by God (namely Allah) and honoured the seal of his honourable hand and ordered that they have favour and security. Thus the faithful benefit those in honour of those that benefit them. They are exempt from the "harage", the "kafar" and from the taxes and are also exempt from both land and sea service. Entering the "Kaname" (Church of the Resurrection) and the rest of the shrines they may pay nothing. Of the Christians who come to the Kaname to worship let each of them give to the Patriarch one gram of silver or one third of a gram. Every faithful man and woman therefore let them keep what we decreed, whether be king, or judge, or leader with worldly authority, rich or poor from the muslim faithful men and women" The testimonies of the present Arab officials followed who validated the document, with directions on its use.
The above document guaranteed the security of the Christian people and the pilgrims of the Holy Lands as well as of the shrines. Other decrees of subsequent Caliphs detailed the regulations of property ownership. In 813AD during the caliphate of Al-Mamoun, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Thomas, started work on the repair of the dome. The necessary expense was paid by somebody from Egypt by the name Vocam. The required lumber was imported from Cyprus and the repairs were completed in 814AD. In the middle of the dome, the Patriarch installed another small dome, of approximate height that of a man, to help impede the torrential rains from entering the Church. A certain muslim by the name Obeidawlah (the suffix Dawlah indicates that he was an official) sued the Patriarch, accusing him for the additions he made which resulted in the Church of the Resurrection becoming taller than the mosque of Omar. He invited the Patriarch and other notables of the Christians and locked them in jail until the hearing of the case. Then came to the imprisoned Patriarch Thomas, a muslim and advised him in the handling of his defense. He suggested for example, that when the witnesses are questioned, to ask them what were the previous and present heights. Sure enough, during the deposition of Obeidawlah, the Patriarch asked the witnesses for the height of the dome. However, because they did not know they left embarrassed. The Patriarch and the rest were freed and the muslim who helped them was rewarded handsomely.
The relations of the Christians of Jerusalem with the muslim authorities reflected the development of relations of the Caliphate and the Empire. Thus in 969AD an enraged crowd of muslims entered the Church of the Resurrection and desecrated it, in retaliation for the capture of Antioch by the army of Nikephorus 2 Fokas. The Patriarch of Jerusalem John 4th met a martyric death by fire.
In 995AD, Hakem Ibn Amrillah ascended to the throne of Egypt. His mother was Christian. History remembers him as an unstable and indecisive tyrant. His views were never steady for long and this had repercussions in his policies especially on religious matters. He persecuted the Christians with greater fanaticism than his predecessors because he did not wish to show any traces of influence from his maternal ancestry. The zenith of his hatred of the Christians was the destruction of the Church of the Resurrection in 1010. It was rumoured that somebody during the night dropped a carcass of a dog inside the Jerusalem mosque. The following day when the muslim discovered the desecration of the mosque, they became enraged against the Christians of the City. Then, Hakem ordered the destruction of the Church. The enraged crowd turned on the holy shrine and totally destroyed it. They then gathered wood and burnt down the ruins. Only Golgotha stood as a witness to the sanctity of the place. As if the destruction was not enough, the fanatic muslims grabbed the Patriarch, gouged his eyes and sent him shackled to Cairo.
This second destruction of the Church of the Resurrection provoked a grievous impression in all the Christian world. In one of his many changes of his mind, Hakem permitted its restoration but no one dared do it during his tyrannical reign. In 1028 following the death of Hakem his son Dareh ascended to the throne of Egypt. That time the Emperor of Constantinople was Romanus 3rd the Silver. He got in touch with Dareh, who then allowed its reconstruction. The Romans (Greeks) to facilitate their goal, sent money, materials and workers to start the work. His successors Michael Paphlagon and Constantinus 8th Monomachus, continued the work with their donations. After the expulsion of Dareh by the Caliph of Bagdad, Moustanzar, representatives were exchanged with Constantinople. One of the topics on the "agenda" was the freeing the 5000 muslim prisoners of the Romans, who would help in the completion of the work. The emperor Constantinus 8th Monomachus, agreed and five thousand muslims arrived in Jerusalem and contributed to the completion of the work. The new Church of the Resurrection was completed in 1048AD.
In 1099AD the Crusaders arrived in front of the walls of Jerusalem. New suggestions for the destruction of the Church by muslims were rescinded at the last moment as misbegotten. On July 16 of the same year, Jerusalem passed on to the Frankish hands and their leader Gedephrede. Their presence there lasted 88 years. During those years the Latin respected the buildings of the Roman Emperors and they did not bring about changes or modifications in its construction. They limited themselves to the repairs of the Latin Patriarchy of Almericus to which the emperor Manuel Comnenus contributed.
In 1187AD, Saladin, expelled the crusaders and became the Lord of Jerusalem. Together with the knights the latin clerics left from the Holy City. Saladin meted out reprisals which in part were directed at the Church of the Church of the Resurrection. He sealed all the gates of the church, save one, and shut the dome windows of the nave. He removed the Cross that was at the Dome and moved it around the streets of the city to be jeered by the people. The damage would have been greater had the Byzantine diplomacy not been effective. The emperor Isaac Angel calmed down the Kurd Sultan. Saladin then issued a decree by which the complete Church and all the other shrines were returned to the owners, the Romaics (Greeks). The decree was carved in tiles which were mounted on the side of the Gate. The content of the decree was as follows: "I, Silah Ed-din, Sultan of Egypt and its counties of Palestine, Jerusalem, Nablus and Damascus and associated counties, order that the monks of the Royal Nation of the Romans, and their priests and nuns as well as the pilgrims to the Church of Kamame (Church of the Resurrection), arriving Gourgides (Greeks) and Copts and Hambesis not to pay haratz or Kafar or any other fee, they should be exempt. Moreover I decree that the Patriarch of the Romans that is in Jerusalem, to designate all the origins of the Nazorians, namely those that come here, Armenians, Copts, Syrians, Nestorians and Franks and all other nations that are Nazorins. And the Kamame from now on to remain undisturbed and none of the muslim dare convert it into a mosque and the Nazorians to enter it unhindered. Thus I decree and let no muslim dare disobey my order".
Since then and until 1229AD masters of the Church remained the Orthodox. In 1229 the Kaiser of Germany Frederic 2nd Barbarossa, attacked Palestine and became ruler of Jerusalem. The Latin clergy then returned to Palestine and the Orthodox were excluded from their rights until1244. During this period they suffered great hardships. In 1244 the Sultan of Egypt Saleh Egioup recaptured the Holy Lands and restored the primacy of the Orthodox on the shrines, turning over the keys of the Church of the Resurrection to the Greek Patriarch. In 1390 according to the agreement with the emperor of Romains (Greeks) John Cantacouzino, the Church was restored.
At the end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th, the greater part of Islam was destroyed by the Mongols. A single strong dynasty remained, that of the Mameluks of Egypt. Due to living together with the Copts of Egypt, they delivered to them some shrines, such as the Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. Also, they were given a section at the North East Nathrex of the Church for use as lodging. This action opened a "can of worms". Little by little other sections were delivered to the heretics. They got the chapel of the partition of the cloths of Christ and a space behind the Cabin of the Sepulchre to perform their services. Also delivered were two rooms under the places mentioned above. The Marionites took the chapel of the flogging and of the "Do no touch Me". The Armenians took a part of the Catechumens and the place on which the Theotokos was standing with Saint John. After the fall of the City (Constantinople) and the resulting lack of political protection of the Orthodox, the heretics boldened, asked for the keys of the Church. This situation held till 1517AD a date during which the Ottoman Sultan entered the Holy City (Jerusalem). With this change, the Orthodox Patriarch Dorotheos came to the new master, showed him the decrees of the previous masters and asked the restoration of the property status. Selim delivered a "hatti sheriff" which went thus: ".........the present Patriarch of the Romans, having come together with the rest of the monks and subordinates, has requested that the Churches and the monasteries and shrines situated within and without Jerusalem, to have again like before under their control and use according to the sacred "Aktamen" of Omar and the conditions of the previous kings. I therefore order with my present Decree for them to control the structure facing and opposite to the Gate of "Kamame" (the Church of the Resurrection) and lying in the middle, "Mougtesel" (the Church of the unnailing) with the ancient manuals and oil lamps, the above and below four rooms that lie in the area called Golgotha which lies within the Patriarchy, the above and below seven rooms that lie in the area known as that of the Virgin Mary, The middle of the large Church (today's Catholicon), the Tomb and the "Coumben" with all the shrines, the outside of the Kamame lying in the courtyard three Churches, the opposite them church of Saint John, the within the Patriarchy lying church of the so called Helen and of Saint Hekla, the Seidangian, the Monasteries of Saint Euthymius, Saint Catherine, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint George, Saint John the Theologian, the Virgin Mary's, another Monastery of Saint John and another Church of Saint John, Saint James of Zabadeus of the "Gourgedes" (Greeks), another Monastery of Saint George, the lying outside of Jerusalem monument of the Virgin Mary, the Monastery of Saint Sion, the jail of Jesus, the hospice of Saint Anna, the in the plains monuments, the Monastery of the Cross of the "Giourgides"(Greeks) , the Monasteries of Saint Symeon, Saint Elijah with the olive trees and vines, Saint Savvas, Saint George in the town of Peituzalla, the one in Bethlehem cave of the birth of Jesus, the keys to the gates, the one at arctic and the other at noon, and the surrounding two plots of gardens and the olive groves with their monuments, and the rest of the places where there are Monasteries and Churches of those subordinate to the Patriarch Greeks, Hambesies and Serbs and all their offerings as well as their Metropolitans and monks and to look after the bodies of the reposed Metropolitans and monks. At the door of Jerusalem, and at the Zemzem Sugiunamed water and at the Arap Kafari and at the steps, not to pay "koumerkia", "batji" nor when they have "kefsia" (feasts) and be totally free of all imposed fees and they not be disturbed by any other country during my present Sacred Decree but the Patriarch of the Romans have primacy above all other countrymen. According to the "Aktame" of Omar Hatteb and the Decrees of the previous kings, so do I also give with the present Decree the command that proper action be taken. If therefore after to day any people whether reigning or are most honourable Vezirs or Ulemans or Sulehads or Kadeds or Vaembads or Peitulmanides or Kasemids or Supasads or Zaimids and Timar Salabides or Muteferricads and Tsaousads and Sittaheds or Genitsars or the rest of the simple servants of my household wish to overturn the present decree, they, whatever they may be, will be responsible for my wrath and the torments of the Almighty God. Having in their hands my Sacred Decree they must show obedience.
For three years an untenable situation between the heterodox and the Patriarchate was about the possession of the keys. Selim had passed away and his son Suleiman assumed the authority. He decided that the keys be kept by the muslim guards of the Church, which is in force to this date. In 1537AD peace prevailed between the Europeans and the Ottomans. On this occasion some Franciscan monks arrived. They bought out the Marionites who became scarce. Gradually they latinized them and took over their quarters. This way the Franks infiltrated some shrines. Since then they created stumbling blocks and situations in the Holy Lands, trying sometimes through deceit and other times with "whites" to take over whatever they could. For a long period of time they thwarted through their actions the necessary repairs of the Church. Finally in 1720 during the Patriarchy of Chrysanthus and after many consultations it was decided to repair the Church. Every nation repaired its own places accordingly, except the Cabin of the Sepulchre. That was left "as is".
A new catastrophe happened in 1808. A certain Armenian church custodian, as he was drunk, placed lit candles by the iconostasis of the Armenian chapel, instead of placing them on the bronze candlesticks. Then he fell asleep. Soon the iconostasis caught fire, which the neighbouring Franciscans discovered first. They awakened the Agiotaphites (guards of the Sepulchre) and together they tried to put out the fire. The fire spread to the seraglio and from there to the dome. Despite the concerted efforts of the Greeks, Franks, Armenians, Copts and Syrians, extinguishing the fire prove ineffective. From this biblical catastrophe only the Sepulchre was saved. Not even its candle were extinguished by the smoke, and not even the wooden doors of the Cabin were affected. They (the doors) as witnesses to the miracle, were moved during the restoration to the Synodic of the Brotherhood of the Sepulchre. The Patriarch of Jerusalem Polycarpus was in Constantinople during this time. When they informed him of the destruction of the Church, he turned to the Ecumenical Patriarch Callinicus for help, who immediately espoused the struggle for the reconstruction of the magnificent building. Immediately, synodic letters and encyclicals were issued to all the Hierarchs of the throne. Moreover a dispatch was sent to the Sultan Mahmud for the issuing of the necessary permit. After the issuing of the permit the royal architect Comnenus from Mytelene, arrived voluntarily and assumed the work that began during the spring of 1809. Despite the difficulties created by the heterodox and people of other religions, the Church was restored and the work was completed. The inauguration took place on 13th September 1810. A part of the work was cancelled due to the activities of the French government. The parts that belonged to the heretics were restored and turned over by the Orthodox. Despite this the following 20 years suffered from squabbles and disagreements of property nature. In 1834 the windows of the dome were opened that had remained closed since the time of Saladin. At that time the Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha was the master who was an eye witness of the stifling situation that resulted on Great Saturday in the death through asphyxia of a number of pilgrims.
New building repairs were needed in the mid 1842. Then the Greeks managed to obtain a permit from Sultan Abdul Medgit. That particular permit became a useless letter because once more the French government managed to cause its cancellation. After the end of the Crimean war, Russia, France and Turkey decided to repair the Church together without any changes in the property ownership status quo. The work started on 2 January 1867 and lasted two years.
This is the history of the Church of the Resurrection to the 19th century in general terms.