Christians in Israel

There are many denominations of Christians in Israel. They have been here for centuries since the era of Jesus. Those residing in and around Jerusalem remained Judeo Christians until the era of Emperor Hadrian. In 130 AD he rebuilt the city of Jerusalem under the name Aelia Capitolina and since then they were a separate entity from the Jewish People.

They were always close to the Holy Sites and continued to be even in the times of the Mamluks and Ottomans.

The Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem

The community numbers about 150,000

Recent statistics show that in Israel live around 7.5 million people of which 1.5 million are non Jews. Of this number about 150,000 are Christians. These numbers do not include the population of Gaza, Judea and Samaria.

But we have to note that the Christian Population of these areas of the Palestinian Authority is diminishing constantly. Without going into politics my readers should try to guess why Bethlehem that was for centuries a Christian town has a majority of Muslims today.

Christians in Israel are divided into four basic denominations. They are Orthodox, Non Chalcedonian, Catholic and Protestant. Except for National Churches like the Armenian, the rest are local communities, predominantly Arab speaking most likely descendants of the early Christians and the Byzantines.

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Greek Orthodox Christians in Israel

Christians in Israel

Orthodox Churches

Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church is a family of churches that acknowledge the supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The patriarchate considers itself the Mother of Jerusalem Churches.

For a millennium there was a schism with the Vatican until his Sanctity Pope Paul VI met with the Patriarch of Constantinople in Jerusalem in 1964.

The parishes are predominantly Arabic-speaking and are served by Arab married priests as well as by members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre. The community numbers about 50,000, primarily in Jerusalem and the Galilee, with a similar number in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Others have their representation in the Holy Land like the Russian and the Romanian as well as the Georgian.

The Armenian Orthodox Church dates from the year 301 and the conversion of Armenia that was the first nation to embrace Christianity.

In Jerusalem there is an Armenian Quarter that is home of the majority of these Christians. The rest live in Haifa, Jaffa, Ramallah and Bethlehem.

Catholics walking the Virgin in a procession virgin

Christians in Israel

Other Christian Denominations

  • The Coptic Orthodox with its roots in Egypt. They have a community of about 1,500 primarily in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
  • The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been present in the Holy Land since the fourth century. Today it is a very small community of a few monks and nuns living in the Old City and around the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem.
  • Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian communities in the area. Their patriarch resides in Damascus and the local bishop in Jerusalem at the seventh century monastery of St Marks. The community consists of a few families residing mostly in Haifa, Nazareth, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Jericho and Ramallah.
  • The Latin Church is headed by a patriarch assisted by three vicars that reside in Amman, Cyprus and Nazareth. In Israel itself the community consists of 20,000 members with another 10,000 in Judaea Samaria and Gaza.  They reside in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Ramalla
  • The Maronite Church is of Syrian origin with the majority of the members living in Lebanon. The Maronite community in Israel is about 7,000. Most of them live in the Galilee.
  • The Greek Catholic Church is the result of the previously mentioned schism in the Greek Orthodox Church. Their present population of the Greek Catholic diocese of the Galilee is more than 50,000; the diocese of Jerusalem includes about 3,000 people. It includes the towns of Judaea and Smaria as well as Jaffa, Gaza and Sinai.
  • The Syrian Catholic Church has its own patriarch residing in Beirut and a vicar residing in Jerusalem that has served as spiritual leader of the small local community there and in Bethlehem, which totals about 250. In July 1985 the community consecrated the new patriarchal church in Jerusalem dedicated to St. Thomas, apostle to the peoples of Syria and India.
  • The Armenian Catholic Church patriarch resides in Beirut In the Holy Land they number less than 1,000 of which only 200 live in Jerusalem and the rest in Haifa, Nazareth and Ramallah.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netaniahu addressing Christians United for Israel

Christians in Israel

  • The Episcopal Church of Jerusalem
    This church elected and consecrated their first Arab bishop in 1976. They are the largest Protestant community in the Holy Land. They live in Haifa, Jaffa, Kfar Yasif, Lod, Ramle, Usiffiya and Nazareth. The Anglican Bishop has his seat in the Cathedral of St George the Martyr in Jerusalem.
  • The Lutheran Church
    Nowadays what was a united German and English Church is divided and both exist independently of each other in Jerusalem Old City.
  • The Baptist Church in the Holy Land
    What began with a congregation in Nazareth in 1911 has today a number of churches in Israel. They are located in Acre (Akko), Ashkelon, Cana, Haifa, Herzliya, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Kfar Yassif, Nazareth, Netanya, Petach Tikva.
  • The Church of Scotland (Presbyterian)
    Today a small, mostly expatriate community, serving pilgrims and visitors, the Church of Scotland maintains a church and hospice in both Jerusalem and Tiberias. The independent Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society maintains a teaching hospital for nurses in Nazareth.
  • The Church of God (Pentecostal)
    This is a small community in Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Palestinian Authority, with an International Center on the Mount of Olives. A number of Pentecostal Churches are active in Israel. These include the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, the Church of God Prophecy, the Cornerstone and the Voice of Healing.

Nes Ammim is an agricultural Christian Settlement in the Galilee

Christians in Israel

Communal Agricultural Centers

  • Three Protestant communal agricultural settlements have been established in different parts of Israel in recent years.
  • Kfar Habaptistim (Baptists' Village), north of Petakh Tikvah, besides farming provides conference and summer camp facilities for the Baptist and other protestant communities in the country.
  • Nes Ammim, near Nahariya, was founded by a group of Dutch and German Protestants in 1963, as an international centre for the promotion of Christian understanding of Israel.
  • Just west of Jerusalem, Yad Hashmonah, founded in 1971, operates a guesthouse for Christian visitors and pilgrims from Finland.
  • In addition to those already mentioned, there are any number of other, numerically small, Protestant denominational groups present in Israel.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) established a small community in Haifa in 1886 and in Jerusalem in 1972. Membership of the Church in Israel today numbers almost 200, with an additional 170 students of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies- a branch of Brigham Young University of Provo, Utah.

Yad Shmona a Christian settlement and Guest House near Jerusalem

Christians in Israel

Freedom of Religion

The following is a paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel read by David Ben Gurion the 15th of May 1948:

“The State of Israel…will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…

The document "expresses the nation's vision and its credo" and adherence to these principles has been assured by law. Each religious community is free to exercise its faith, to observe its own holy days and weekly day of rest, and to administer its own internal affairs.”

By their own will, the Christians in Israel have remained the most autonomous of the various religious communities in the country. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing tendency on the part of Christian communities to integrate their social welfare, medical and educational institutions into state structures, without in any way compromising their traditional independence.

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