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Armenians, Greeks Reach Ceasefire on Church-Cleaning Conflict

Cleaning days are rarely happy times. Even less so when you've got to fight over who cleans where and with what.

For years, Armenians and Greeks have been battling over who has the right to polish a step or dust a lamp in one of the world's oldest churches -- Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, a 1,687-year-old structure built to commemorate the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Jointly run by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Roman Catholic Church's Order of St. Francis, the church, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, shows that, when it comes to housekeeping, three heads do not necessarily work together as well as one.

Windows, walls, the roof -- you name it, there's been conflict. In December 2011, the scuffles required police intervention when Greek and Armenian priests furiously battled each other with brooms and blows over a "new" approach to cleaning. (The Franciscans, for their part, get to give "the general cleaning" a miss.)

But, finally, hopes are surfacing that 2013 might prove the year of a ceasefire.

Last month, after intricate negotiations with the Armenians and Greeks over, yes, a ladder, the Palestinian Authority, which administers Bethlehem, announced that a critical breakthrough had been reached: Church of the Nativity cleaners this year will wield their mops and brooms according to rules laid down when Bethlehem was under Ottoman rule (1517-1917).

Known as the Status Quo, the rules, specifying territorial rights in the church down to the nitty-gritty, do not exactly read like Good Housekeeping, but their familiarity reassured the Armenian side.

Nonetheless, the Church of the Nativity's official cleaning day on January 2 had been awaited with trepidation. Some feared fresh funny business from the Greeks, investigative news site Hetq.am reported. Cleaning the church is "as sacred [a] service to us as one of the solemn ceremonies in the Holy Places,” an unnamed Armenian Apostolic Church source explained.

But, in the end, with police at the ready, cleaning day reportedly went off without a hitch.

"Both sides (Greeks and Armenians) were on their best behavior," an unidentified individual "close to the Armenian church" told a former Armenian Patriarchate spokesperson, whose story about the rift appeared in the Palestinian News Network.

Yet a further test of the cleaning-conflict ceasefire could lie down the road.

Although Armenia itself celebrates Christmas on January 6 (the Greek Orthodox Church on January 7), the Armenian Apostolic Church's Jerusalem Patriarchate holds celebrations on January 18, with a processional to and service in the Church of the Nativity.

Get that Windex at the ready.

Armenians, Greeks Reach Ceasefire on Church-Cleaning Conflict

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