By Sara Sidner (CNN)-This is one of the most sacred places in Christianity.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built around the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected.
The church dates back to the 4th century. Here tradition is everything
While times changed drastically in the world outside, the church rarely did.
Traditionally, it was exempt from paying local taxes and other charges -- including its water bill
so when payment was demanded for a bill backdated for 15 years of past charges....back to when a private company took over management of the water supply church officials balked.
The total: 9 million shekels about $2.3 million dollars
"The church of the holy sepulcher had the privilege since the Ottoman empire not to pay!"
It was not the first time the church had been warned: times have changed and it must change with them. Israel's foreign ministry spokesman told CNN:
"The status quo dates back to times when there was no running water to be paid for anyway. Today things have changed and people need to pay their bills. They may not pay municipal taxes, they may not pay income tax, because that is the status quo but you have to pay for goods and commodities. This is no other church or synagogue or mosque in Israel that is exempted from paying water bills."
At one point in the impasse the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's bank account was frozen so it could not pay for teachers, staff or the church's up-keep.
"So we found ourselves in a very difficult situation practically but we saw also that this privilege of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not recognized and in this way the sanctity, and the significance and the history of this church which receives everyday thousands of pilgrims was insulted and we felt very sorry for this and we had nothing choice but to protest."
"The three patriarchs who share the church threatened to close its doors in protest with an estimated one million pilgrims and tourists who visit the church every year and dozens of shops that rely on them the threat reverberated through the old city."
Business owner Nicolas Shbeita was worried.
"If it wasn't here nobody will come because this will be old city people roaming about just seeing walls you know roads and that's it.This place is very important more important than the Vatican even because it's number one for the Christian church, Catholic Orthodox all different sections."
His is the first shop at the top of the stairs that leads to the Holy Sepulcher. Pilgrims are his main -- and often his only -- customers.
But eventually church officials say the Israeli government intervened to break the stalemate.
The church and the private company struck a compromise:
The church would pay its water bills from now on but not the 9 million shekels from the back dated bill. A compromise that seemed sensible to this visitor:
"It seems reasonable the church is not poor and in this day and age considering resources it should pay but back dating the bill seems a bit unfair"
The agreement all came together a few months before Christmas and long before Easter, leaving the church open so the faithful and the curious can continue to flock to the holy site .
Where many believe one of the most miraculous of miracles once occurred.
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