The Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem has angered the Roman Catholic and Armenian churches in the Holy Land by asserting sole control over the "locks and keys" to the Church of the Nativity, revered by many as marking the birthplace of Jesus.

"We claim we are the possessors of the keys, we are the guardians of the door [at the Church of the Nativity]," Archbishop Aristarchos, of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem told Ecumenical News International.

He acknowledged that the Greek Orthodox monks at the site had changed the locks and refused to share the keys, evoking the outrage of the Catholics and Armenians.

A set of rules known as the "Status Quo" set down by the Ottoman rulers of the Holy Land in 1852, who were Muslims, prescribes the spaces that Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox Christians can use for worship in the Church of the Nativity.

The rules stipulate that Greek Orthodox monks are responsible for opening and closing the church doors each day. At the same time, the Catholics and Armenians are also entitled to hold keys.

Archbishop Aristarchos said that the decision was triggered after the door was opened, by either (Roman Catholic) Franciscan or Armenian monks, without the permission of the Greek Orthodox Church.

"We insist on our rights," said Aristarchos in a reference to the Greek Orthodox claim to be the only group with the right to take such an action. He noted that letters had been written both to Catholic and Armenian leaders, setting out the Greek Orthodox position, with the hope that the sides could "finally solve their dispute."

The row has aggravated relations between the Armenian Patriarch, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, and his Greek counterpart, Patriarch Irineos.

In an interview with ...

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