'Walking in the Lord's footsteps' in Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre

JERUSALEM, Jan 3 (Reuters) - It is three o'clock in the morning and Artak Tadevosyan is wafting incense through the corridors of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified and buried.

"Walking in the Lord's footsteps, really, you have feelings that cannot be explained," said the 26-year-old Armenian Orthodox cleric. "We don't see it as stone, all these are holy places for us."

The Holy Sepulchre lies in Jerusalem's Old City. A church was first built there in the 4th century under Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity.

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Inside Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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Inside Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers hold candles during the Holy Fire ceremony at the Ethiopian section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 7, 2018.

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Artak Tadevosyan, 26, an Armenian Orthodox deacon, disperses incense inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Archbishop Abune Enbakom, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem (C) takes part in the Holy Fire ceremony at the Ethiopian section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 7, 2018.

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

His Eminence Archbishop Anba Antonios, Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan of Jerusalem and the Near East, participates in a Palm Sunday procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Christian worshippers from the Orthodox denominations celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 7, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
His Eminence Archbishop Dr. Anba Antonius, Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan of Jerusalem and the Near East, poses for a photograph at the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
His Grace Abune Enbakom, Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, poses for a photograph at the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 20, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, leads the Washing of the Feet ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 5, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
His Eminence Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad, Archbishop Patriarchal Vicar of the Holy Land and Jordan, poses for a photograph at the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 14, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
His Excellency Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, poses for a photograph at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 22, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Worshippers visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

An engraved plaque is seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, March 27, 2018.

(REUTERS/Corinna Kern)

A nun walks into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, December 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A member of the Orthodox Christian clergy stands in an office inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018.

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A member of the Orthodox Christian clergy stands at the entrance door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Members of the Orthodox Christian clergy disperse incense as they stand inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A nun sits on a bench inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, performs the "Washing of the Feet" ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

An Orthodox Christian priest holds a ladder near the entrance door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Crosses carved in the wall by pilgrims are seen beside stairs leading to the Crypt of St. Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, March 27, 2018.

(REUTERS/Corinna Kern)

His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, poses for a photograph at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Members of the Orthodox Christian clergy talk in front of the Edicule, which houses what is traditionally believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, November 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

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Today, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches share custody of the building, and tensions sometimes run high over who controls what.

Other denominations also hold services there, in languages including Latin, Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic and Ge'ez.

At night the building falls silent. Muslim families have long held the door key, because of the tensions between the Christian clergy.

In the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate nearby, His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, said he feels deep reverence for the church.

"For the Christian world the Holy Sepulchre is the heart of Jerusalem and the world," he said during preparations for the Orthodox Christmas on Sunday.

"Why? Because this particular place, which is the rock of the crucifixion and the rock of the tomb, or the burial site, of Jesus Christ, has been watered, and therefore blessed, by the blood of The Righteous One."

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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