The Roman Catholic and Uniate churches are churches that are in communion with Rome and recognize the primacy and spiritual authority of the Pope (who as bishop of Rome holds the ancient patriarchy of the West). In matters of liturgy, the Eastern churches in communion with Rome follow their own languages and traditions.
Whatever the early relations between Rome and Constantinople, there was no attempt to establish a Western Church in the Holy Land independent of the existing Orthodox Patriarchate until the establishment of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem during the Crusader kingdom (1099-1291). The office of the Latin Patriarch was reconstituted in 1847. Until then, responsibility for the local church rested with the Franciscan Order, which has served as Latin custodian of the holy places since the 14th century.
Today the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is headed by a bishop who has the title of patriarch. He is assisted by three vicars, resident in Nazareth, Amman and Cyprus. In recent years there has been a fourth vicar for the Hebrew-speaking congregations within Israel. In popular parlance, local Roman Catholics are referred to as "Latins", in reference to their historic liturgical language. Since the Second Vatican Council, however, the Roman Catholic liturgy is generally celebrated in the vernacular, except at some of the holy places, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity, where the mass and other services are still celebrated in Latin.
The Maronite Church is a Christian community of Syrian origin, most of whose members live in Lebanon. It has been in union with the Roman Catholic Church since 1182, and is the only Eastern church which is entirely Catholic. As a uniate body (an Eastern church in communion with Rome, which retains its respective language, rites and canon law) it possesses its own liturgy, which is in essence an Antiochene rite in the Syriac language. Most members of the Maronite community in Israel reside in the Galilee. The Maronite Patriarchal Vicariate in Jerusalem dates from 1895.
The (Melkite) Greek Catholic Church came into being in 1724, the result of a schism in the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. (The term "Melkite", literally "royalist", is derived from the Syriac, Western-Aramaic word malko, which means "royal" or "king". Its use dates from the 4th century and refers to those local Christians who accepted the "Definition of Faith" of the Council of Chalcedon and remained in communion with the Imperial See of Constantinople.)
A Greek Catholic archdiocese was established in the Galilee in 1752. Twenty years later, Greek Catholics of Jerusalem were placed under the jurisdiction of the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, who is represented in Jerusalem by a patriarchal vicar.
The Syriac Catholic Church, a uniate breakaway from the Syriac Orthodox Church, has been in communion with Rome since 1663. The Syriac Catholics have their own patriarch (resident in Beirut), and since 1890 a patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem has served as spiritual leader of the small local community there and in Bethlehem. 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 separated from the Armenian Orthodox Church in 1741, though previously an Armenian community in Cilicia (in southern Anatolia) had been in contact with Rome since the Crusader period. The Armenian Catholic patriarch is resident in Beirut because at the time, Ottoman authorities forbade residency in Constantinople. A patriarchal vicariate was established in Jerusalem in 1842. Though in union with Rome, the church has good relations with the Armenian Orthodox Church, and both cooperate for the benefit of the community as a whole.
The Chaldean Catholic Church is a uniate descendant of the ancient (Assyrian) Apostolic Church of the East (sometimes called Nestorian). Its members still preserve the use of Syriac (Eastern Aramaic) as their liturgical language. It was established in 1551, and its patriarch is resident in Baghdad. The community in the Holy Land numbers no more than a few families; even so, the Chaldean Catholic Church retains the status of a "recognized" religious community. Since 1903, the Chaldeans have been represented in Jerusalem by a non-resident patriarchal vicar.
The Coptic Catholic Church has been in union with Rome since 1741. In 1955 the uniate Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria appointed a patriarchal vicar to serve the small community that then existed in Jerusalem.
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Of major significance for the Catholic churches in the Holy Land was the signing, on 30th December 1993, of a Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, which led to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between them a few months later. In 1997, Israel and the Holy See signed an agreement which deals with the legal personality of the Catholic Church in Israel.
The Protestant Churches
The Protestant communities in the Middle East only date from the early 19th century and the establishment of Western diplomatic representations in Jerusalem. The intention of these missions was to evangelize the Muslim and Jewish communities, but their only success was in attracting Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians.
In 1841, the Queen of England and the King of Prussia decided to establish a joint Anglican-Lutheran Protestant bishopric in Jerusalem. The scheme came to an end in 1886, but the office was continued by the Church of England, which in 1957 elevated its representative in Jerusalem to the rank of Archbishop. This was ended in 1976, with the creation of the new (Anglican) Protestant Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and the election and consecration of the first Arab bishop in Jerusalem. It is the largest Protestant community in the Holy Land. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem has his seat in the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr, which is maintained by the Church of England through an appointed dean.
With the dissolution of the joint Anglo-Prussian venture in 1886, the German Lutheran Church established an independent presence in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This community attracted an increasing number of Arabic-speaking members, many of them former pupils of schools and other institutions maintained by German Lutheran churches and societies. Since 1979, the Arabic-speaking congregation has had its own bishop, existing independently of the small German-speaking congregation and the Lutheran Church in Germany, which is represented by a propst (dean). Both clerics share the premises of the Propstei on Muristan Road in the Old City of Jerusalem.
There are also small Danish, Swedish and English-speaking Lutheran congregations with representative clergy from the parent churches for the benefit of members who are visiting or resident in Israel. In 1982, the Norwegian Mission to Israel transferred authority and administration of its two mission churches in Haifa and Jaffa to the responsibility of the local congregations.
Baptist Church activities in the Holy Land began with the formation of a congregation in Nazareth in 1911. Today the Association of Baptist Churches has eighteen churches and centers in Akko, Cana, Haifa, Yafo, Jerusalem, Kfar-Yassif, Nazareth, Petah Tikva, Rama, Turan and other places. The majority of the congregants are Arabic-speaking.
The (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland sent out its first mission to the Galilee in 1840, and for the next 100 years was actively engaged in the fields of education and medicine. 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 Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) established a small community in Haifa in 1886 and in Jerusalem in 1972.Membership of the church today includes students of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, a branch of Brigham Young University of Provo, Utah (USA).
In addition to those already mentioned, there are any number of other, numerically small, Protestant denominational groups present in Israel.
Three Protestant communal agricultural settlements have been established in different parts of Israel in recent years. Kfar Habaptistim, north of Petah Tikva, was founded in 1955, and 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 center for the promotion of Christian understanding of Israel. Just west of Jerusalem, Yad Hashmonah, founded in 1971, operates a guest house for Christian visitors and pilgrims from Finland.
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The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem was founded in 1980 to demonstrate worldwide Christian support for Israel and for Jerusalem as its eternal capital. It is a center where Christians from all over the world can gain a biblical understanding of the country and of Israel as a modern nation. The ICEJs international network includes offices and representatives in 50 countries worldwide.
Freedom of Religion
The basic attitude of the state towards religious pluralism found expression in the 1948 Declaration of Independence:
"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 is guaranteed by law. Each religious community is free to exercise its faith, observe its own holy days and weekly day of rest, and administer its own internal affairs.