The Jerusalem Church is known for the multiplicity of its ecclesiastical authorities, the diversity of its liturgical rites and ethnic affiliations. It is very much like the mosaic stones in a plaque with different dimensions and colors. Perhaps Palestine’s geographic location and the existence of the Holy Places and shrines there was the reason for attracting Christians to it from all creeds and races, and consequently paving the way for the presence of multiple ecclesiastical authorities. The diversity of the Churches and the multiplicity of the ecclesiastical authorities were not merely based on doctrinal principles, such as the belief in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Protestantism. The truth of the matter is that within the followers of the same denomination, there were various organizations and a branching of authorities. The Catholic Church in the second half of the 19th century, for example, included the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land, the Melchite Greek Catholic, The Maronite, the Syrian Catholic and the Armenian Catholic. These Church organizations of the one creed were based on administrative, liturgical, linguistic and historical foundations. Such diversity and branching of authorities is even similar in the Orthodox and Protestant communities.
There is a common religious and historic heritage binding the Churches of the Holy Land. This heritage dates back to the early Christian eras. Each era left its own imprint on the life and structure of these Churches. The Jerusalem Church was primarily the Church of the Jews who converted to Christianity in the first and second centuries. It was also the Church of the gentiles, who were converted to Christianity and established the Jerusalem Patriarchate in the fifth century. During the era of Jerusalem Bishop Juvenal, who became free from tutelage to the capital Caesarea Maritima, which is a city located on the Palestinian coast near Lod, and who was awarded the rank of patriarch in the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, Jerusalem was no longer attached to the Antioch Patriarchate, but became the fifth patriarchate in the old world after Rome, Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. The Jurisdiction of the Jerusalem patriarch embraced Palestine’s three areas: Palestina Prima, Secunda et Salutaris , in addition to the Sinai Peninsula.
The Jerusalem Church preserved the Orthodox Chalcedonian faith although some of its bishops, monks and faithful were inclined to the belief in monophytism for short periods of history. Local Palestinians of Syrian and christianized Arabs constituted most of the faithful of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, so Palestine remained and still is the convergence place for races and religions throughout the centuries. Monks, traders and craftsmen and perhaps farmers settled around its holy places. Bedouins also converted to Christianity. Elias I, an Arab, was elected patriarch of Jerusalem (494-518) and Patriarch Sofronios (633-639) was a Damascene from Syria. Eighteen Palestinian bishops participated in the works of the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, including bedouin Bishop Aspebet, known by his church name as “Petros Episcopos Parembolon.” His bishopric was located in the area stretching from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea.
Christian life prospered during the Byzantine rule (ca. AD 330-638). The Patriarchate of Jerusalem included 49 dioceses. The faithful built churches in all parts of the country. We still can see 14 churches in Madaba, 15 churches in Oum Al Jimal, 13 churches in Jerash and nine churches in Aboud. We can describe the Jerusalem Church at the end of the Byzantine era in the early seventh century in the following manner: It was a Church with eastern roots, Byzantine in religious and civil government, Chalcedonian-Orthodox in doctrine, Catholic in affiliation. It shared the one faith with the Universal Church and used in its religious rites the old Saint James Liturgy. The lady pilgrim Egeria, who visited Palestine in the fourth century, confirmed this. “The Saint James Liturgy was practiced in the Jerusalem Patriarchate and in Antioch. This liturgy continued to be used until the 12th and 13th Centuries. The question here is: in what age did it disappear? The answer is that we have no way of knowing the specific date.”
The chance of survival of the St James liturgy in the villages and country-side was much better than in the larger Holy Places and the cities where the predominance was for the Greek and other languages of the monks and peoples, who came to Palestine to hold their prayers in an atmosphere of harmony and concord in the unity of belief, and in the pluralist way of liturgies and languages. Greek was the language of the rulers, while Western Syriac was the language of the people. This is confirmed by the mosaics in Jerash, Madaba and Aboud, where archeologists found Syriac and Greek inscriptions. In fact, they found them together in some of the Mosaic plaques, as was the case in one of the Madaba plaques.
In AD 638 corresponding to the 17th Hegira year, the Jerusalem Church came under Islamic rule. Thus the only time in which the Christians were a sweeping majority in Palestine was over. The Palestinian Christians became arabized as time went on. “When the Muslims conquered the Middle East in about AD 640, Arabic became a factor of unity among the Christian groups: The Orthodox Chalcedonian, Nestorians, and Jacobites. The Christians of the East spoke one language, namely Arabic, despite their theological differences. Theological writings were transferred from one group to another, and these groups fostered strong relations with one another. Arabic in this context played the role of Greek in the old Christian world. It also played the unifying role which Latin played in the Christian West in the middle ages.”
Muslim Caliph Omar Bin al-Khattab, the conqueror of Jerusalem, gave Jerusalem and its residents a covenant known as the ‘Covenant of Omar’. History tells us that there were different versions of the Covenant of Omar. There were versions narrated by Ahmad Ben Jarir al-Tabari, al-Tartoushi, al-Balathouri and Said Bin Patriq. In the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate, there are several versions of the Covenant of Omar. The Covenant of Omar sometimes provides contradictory information, particularly when it comes to the late versions. Some of these versions attribute to the Covenant of Omar the conditions that were humiliating to the Jerusalem Christians, while other versions grant the Christians an excellent status under the protection of Islam.
Meanwhile, there are other versions, which give the holy shrines to the Melchite Orthodox Millet (community) and describe the holy shrines in a fashion that is incompatible with the nature of these shrines at the age of the Islamic conquest. The logical conclusion concerning the multiplicity of versions of the Covenant of Omar was the greatness of Omar in the eyes of Muslims and Christians alike. Covenants were attributed to him in the various historic phases to confirm a right or an existing reality. Perhaps the most credible Covenant of Omar is the one narrated by al-Tabari in his book: ‘Tarikh aloumam walmoulouk’ (History of Nations and Kings). The following is the text of the covenant:
“In the name of Allah (God), Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. The following is the reassurance, which the servant of Allah (God) Omar, the Prince of the Faithful, gave the people of Aelia (Aelia Capitolina i.e. Jerusalem). He has reassured them about their own lives and property, churches, crosses and whole community; sick and well people. Their churches shall not be used by others or destroyed, shall not be reduced or made less in size, their crosses and funds shall not be reduced or made less, and they shall not be forced into another faith. None of them shall be hurt, and no Jews shall reside with them in Aelia. The people of Aelia shall pay the Jizyah (tribute), like the people of the other cities. They should throw out of Aelia the Byzantines and the thieves. The lives and property of those who depart from the city shall be safeguarded until they reach their destination. Those who opt to stay in Aelia shall be protected also, and they should pay the Jizyah like the people of Aelia. The Aelia people who opt to join the Byzantines can do so and take their property with them and they shall depart safely until they reach their safe haven. Those who were originally residing in the land of Aelia can stay there if they wish, provided that they pay the Jizyah like the people of Aelia do. Those who opt to join the Byzantines can do so. Those who opt to return to their families can do so and nothing shall be collected from them until they harvest their produce. The promises given in this book are the covenant of Allah, His Messenger, the Wise Caliphs and the believers. It is the pledge that the people of Aelia will enjoy these privileges if they pay the Jizyah due on them. Witnesses to this are Khalid Ben al-Walid, Amr Bin al-Ass, Abdelruhman Bin Aof and Muawiy Ibn Abi Sofian. Prepared and written on the 15th Hegira year.”
The al-Tabari story is compatible with the context of the historic Arab conquest, because the conquerors treated the cities that were conquered peacefully without fighting, provided that they paid the Jizyah if they were to continue in their own faith. The Muslims have suffered from the conspiracies of the Jews, and this is the reason why they made it a condition on the Jerusalem Christians that ‘no Jews shall reside with them in Aelia.’ Al-Tabari described the old Byzantine masters as thieves and therefore, the people of Jerusalem were requested to ‘throw out of Aelia the Byzantines and the thieves.’ It has been confirmed that, after the Arab conquest, the Byzantines were evacuated from Palestine. However, we should not exaggerate this fact. Some Greek residents continued to live in the coastal cities of Palestine. The See of the Jerusalem Patriarchate remained vacant for 65 years after the death of Patriarch Sofronios in AD 639. Local bishops, including John, the bishop of Philadelphia (today Amman, capital of Jordan), discharged the affairs of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.
Non-Chalcedonian Christian groups enjoyed relative freedom in the Islamic age despite the events of a later period when Christians were harassed, i.e. during the Fatimid era, churches were demolished and Christians were sometimes compelled to wear clothes that could distinguish them from Muslims. Non-Christian minorities benefited from the new policy of the new masters. In the aftermath of the Arab conquest, Eastern Churches had to be frozen in the situations in which they were established. “The effect of the Arab conquest was to fix the Churches of the East permanently in the positions in which they then stood. Unlike the Christian Empire, which attempted to enforce religious uniformity on all its citizens, an ideal never realized, for the Jews could neither be converted nor expelled, the Arabs like the Persians before them, were prepared to accept religious minorities, provided that they were People of the Book. The Christians, together with the Zoroastrians and the Jews, became dhimmis, or protected people, whose freedom of worship was guaranteed by the payment of the jizyah, which was the first a capitation tax but soon was transformed into a tax paid in lieu of military service and to which a new land tax, the kharaj, was added. Each sect was treated as a millet, a semi-autonomous community within the state, each under its religious leader who was responsible for its good behavior to the Caliph’s government.”
In the early 11th century, the Crusaders did not find the Jerusalem Church in the same shape in which Omar Bin al-Khattab found it in the 7th Century. Within five centuries of the Islamic rule, the Byzantine Church became an Arab Church. Its faithful, patriarchs and liturgy became Arab. It was not a Church of a sweeping majority in Palestine but a Church of a weak and exhausted minority. The Crusaders established a Latin Patriarchate, which went into demise when they departed. The Holy Land Custos took over its work. During and after the Crusades, the East-West split which occurred in Constantinople in AD 1054 was evident in Jerusalem. Gradually, the relations of the Jerusalem patriarchs with Rome were cut off and Arab patriarchs ruled the Jerusalem Church.
The identity of the Churches was determined in the Ottoman Age. Their leaderships and structures grew and developed. A number of political and social facts appeared, and these influenced the formation and trends of these Churches. The most important political and social facts were the following:
- The Ottoman Millet System: “The millet is a group consisting of local non-Muslim citizens, not of foreigners. It is subject to the jurisdiction of the Sublime Porte. The millet has a specific religion and does not belong to a homogeneous ethnic group. It forms an independent political-social unit.” Under the millet system, the religious and secular authority of the patriarchs grew. “The patriarchs were viewed as the religious and secular heads of the Christian millet, and were viewed as middlemen between God and man and they represented their groups with the government.” 
- Development of the Ottoman Capitulation (privileges) System: This system evolved from free legal privileges granted by the Ottoman Sultanate to the foreign consulates in the fields of the judiciary and trade into the system of the protection of the Christian minorities and millets. Therefore, the capitulation system penetrated the millet system. On the other hand, the millet system demanded and looked for foreign protection of the Great Powers, particularly when the employees of the consulates and Ottoman Christian citizens abandoned their Ottoman citizenship in order to get a foreign citizenship from the foreign consulates accredited in the Ottoman Sultanate. “The capitulation system began to gradually penetrate the millet system because it expanded as an international legal instrument that responded to the growth of the scope of the Western trade, its clients and agents, through transforming the non-Islamic millet into a reality that was never known in the Arab-Islamic history. It was a reality that was based on the concept of the protected minority and on the utilization of the independence of the millet, which was originally part of the concept of the subjects of the Sultan, as a concept that was similar to the notion of nation-millet.” From this penetration and the two-way quest for help from the capitulation and the millet systems, the Western protection of Christians gradually evolved into a reality. France became the protector of Catholicism, Russia of Orthodoxy and England of Protestantism.
- Effectiveness of the capitulations in the conditions of minorities in the Ottoman Sultanate, concerning the struggle of the Christian denominations over the Holy Places: The Latins kept the rights they obtained since AD 1333. At the beginning of the Ottoman Age, these rights were never touched, although Greek elements were in control of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. The conflict between the two parties began in AD 1630. This period is known for the appearance of the decrees and undocumented covenants. The covenants were attributed to the Muslim Caliphs Omar Bin al- Khattab, Muawiy, and to the Sultans of the Ottoman State Muhammad II, Salim I, and Suleiman II. In the confrontation between the two sides, France supported the Latins and Russia supported the Orthodox. In every transfer of property title or in gaining new rights in the Holy Places, gifts were offered and they served as a factor helping the completion of the deal. Often the gifts offered by the Orthodox patriarchs or the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land and the states sponsoring them landed in the hands of the highest-level officials, such as the al-Sadr al-Azam (the Grand Vizier), until the Ottoman firman, known as the “Status Quo”  was issued in AD 1852. This firman involves the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of Nativity, the tomb of Virgin Mary, and the Church of the Ascension. The foregoing facts have shaped the historic background of the changes introduced into the structure of the Churches. However, in the 19th Century, several ecclesiastic, Ottoman and international factors appeared, putting the final touches on the conditions, structure, and institutions of the Churches, which we can sum up in the following:
- The nineteenth century was the century of the political changes and weakness of the Ottoman Sultanate: The ruler of Egypt Muhammad Ali challenged Istanbul and occupied Bilad al- Sham -Greater Syria- (1831-1840). He only departed from the Bilad Al Sham after an agreement among the Great Powers not to liquidate the weak sultanate. The Egyptian rule of Palestine introduced a margin of political and religious freedom and made it possible for the Churches to grow and develop. It was no longer possible for the Sultanate to retreat from what Muhammad Ali achieved. Meanwhile, the action of the Great Powers to protect the Ottoman sultanate from the influence of Muhammad Ali opened the door for interference in the affairs of the sultanate and for the quest to protect the minorities and to help the existing Churches in Palestine. Thus changes were introduced to the structure of the Churches and their institutions began to grow since the forties of the 19th century. In this decade, the Orthodox patriarch resided in Jerusalem and the Latins re-established their patriarchate. Meanwhile, the Russians opened a Church mission, and the Anglicans founded a bishopric.
- The nineteenth century was the age of Ottoman tolerance and equality: Two firmans were issued announcing the equality of the subjects of the Sultan in rights and duties before the law. The first was the Hatti Sharif of Gulhane of 1839 and the second was the Hatti Humayun in 1856. These two decrees constituted an initiative of liberation and quest for new frameworks for Church action in light of new developments. Such a step was not possible in earlier Ottoman ages.
- The nineteenth century was the century of nationalism and the liberation of peoples: The Palestinian Arabs, just like other peoples of the Sultanate, began to be conscious of their identity, role and past. This was reflected on the ecclesiastical level, particularly among the followers of the Orthodox Church who were aspiring to free themselves from the Greek ecclesiastical rule and to arabize their Church. Russia was behind this arabizing move. In fact, Russia viewed itself as the protector of the Slav peoples and the Orthodox nations.
- The nineteenth century was the century of Church mission to the various parts of the world: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches launched a spiritual and missionary activity and initiated their work by preaching the Gospel in all parts of the world. The Palestinian Churches benefited substantially from this spiritual missionary activity, which spread enthusiasm in the Churches of the Christian World.
- The growth and development of the Churches in the Holy Land was the fruit of several factors, which led to this result. Some of this growth and development started abroad, in Rome, London or St. Petersburg and extended to Palestine. This was helped by internal circumstances in Palestine under the Ottoman rule. The subject of this study is about the new developments and changes in the Churches of the 19th century. In our study, we will not refer to the history of Churches before the 19th century unless there is a need for doing so, i.e. to explain the background of this development and its roots. This study is divided into the following Parts:
- Part One: The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
- Part Two: The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Part Three: The Anglican Bishopric.
- Part Four: Non-Chalcedonian Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches -The Uniates-.