Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Israel confirms appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch

Related to my last post, on Bethlehem, is some wondeful news from the Holy Land:

Two years later, Israel confirms appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch
The Associated Press
Published: December 16, 2007

JERUSALEM: More than two years after he was sworn
in as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy
Land, Theofilos III on Sunday finally won the
approval of the Israeli government, putting an
end to a lengthy international saga with
religious, political and financial elements.

Theofilos took office under unusual
circumstances. His predecessor, Irineos I, was
ousted in May 2005 after allegations that he
leased church land in east Jerusalem to Jewish
groups interested in expanding their presence in
the Arab section. The long-term leases enraged
the church's predominantly Palestinian flock.
Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Theofilos petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to
get the state to recognize him, since under
church rules he must be approved by all
governments in the areas where his flock lives —
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The
latter two immediately approved, but Israel
deferred, awaiting word from a committee it
established to examine the appointment.

Over the past two years, Israel neither
recognized the naming of Theofilos, nor the
removal of Irineos, who still resides in the same
Jerusalem Old City compound as his replacement
while openly challenging his authority. Irineos
never officially resigned and continued to enjoy
the support of Israel — who invited him to
official events and provided him with police protection.

On Sunday, the government finally approved
Theofilos by a vote of 10 to 3. The opponents all
belonged to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party,
who raised reservations about Theofilos' reported
commitment to blocking any future sale of lands to Jews.

Theofilos, 55, has said he will not recognize any
land deals signed by Irineos. He has accused
Israel of not recognizing him in an effort to
extort his support for the lease of the property,
which includes two hotels and several shops.

Sunday's vote seemed to put an end to the latest drama.

"This is a patriarch who has to maneuver between
three political entities — Israel, Jordan and the
Palestinians — as well as between the Church
hierarchy, which is Greek, and the laity, which
is Arab," said Daniel Rossing, head of the
Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.
"Every day you survive is an accomplishment. It's
like playing chess in six dimensions."

Property dealings are highly sensitive to the
Greek Orthodox Church, which is one of the major
land owners in Israel and the Palestinian
territories, giving it influence far beyond its
90,000-member flock. The church's high-profile
holdings include historic buildings in
Jerusalem's Old City, prime real estate in
Jerusalem and the site of some Israeli government buildings.

The leasing sparked an open mutiny against
Irineos by followers and rebel clerics. World
Greek Orthodox leaders stopped recognizing his
authority, and a church tribunal in Jerusalem
defrocked him and demoted him to the rank of monk.

Irineos was implicated in deals selling Old City
properties to Ateret Cohanim, a group that
champions Jewish settlement of mostly Arab
sections of east Jerusalem. He denied he was
involved in the sale but refused to cancel it.

Irineos' 2004 appointment to the post of
Patriarch was also controversial. Israel approved
him after a two-year delay, accusing him of being
too sympathetic to the Palestinians. A year
earlier, Irineos accused a senior priest and
rival of hiring a Palestinian hit squad to assassinate him.

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