The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most holy site in the Christian faith, may be closed over an unpaid water bill. The Sepulchre is the sight where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried, then resurrected.
The unpaid water bill is creating a massive financial crisis for the church, which sees more than 1 million pilgrims visit per year, reports The Guardian.
The water bill is more than $2.1 million (£1.5 million) and is backdated for 15 years when the church’s water supply was taken over by a new company called Hagihon.
The church’s failure to pay the massive bill has caused Hagihon to freeze the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate’s bank account. Spokesman for Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, confirmed the standoff, adding:
“It is completely true. They have frozen our account. This is a flagrant act against the church.”
Because of the move against the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, standing orders have been rejected and checks are bouncing. Services affected include phones, internet, electricity, and companies that supply food. A Patriarchate official explained:
“The church is completely paralysed. We can’t pay for toilet paper. Nothing. Hagihon has declared war on us.”
The Associated Press notes that the church is considering closing the doors for a day to protest the bill, meaning that they would shut the doors to one of the most popular sites in Christianity.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been exempt for decades by the different leaderships ruling over Jerusalem’s Old City from paying water bills, until the Israeli water company started urging it to pay up a few years ago.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry will not involve itself in the fight, saying that the issue is between the Church and the Jerusalem water company. Because of the site’s importance, however, the ministry is now mediating between the two sides, hoping that the issue will be resolved in a timely manner.