Israel in a quandary over whether to recognize Orthodox patriarch

Published January 1, 2006

The Greek Orthodox church in the Holy Land enthroned a new patriarch to replace Irineos, who was deposed by his bishops after a scandal about the sale and leasing of church land to investors linked to ultranationalist Jewish groups, but Israel is in a quandary over whether to grant him recognition.
Greek president Karolos Papoulias, at the head of a delegation of political and church officials from Greece, hailed the enthronement of Patriarch Theophilos III on Nov. 22 as “a new beginning” for the church.
Waving Greek and Cypriot flags, hundreds of Greek Orthodox clerics and parishioners attended Patriarch Theophilos’ enthronement ceremony in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The crowds shouted the Greek word axios (“you are worthy”) at the ceremony for Patriarch Theophilos. He later gave a speech promising the patriarchate would “emerge from the sea of corruption and fraud.”
Israel is reluctant to abandon Mr. Irineos, who was demoted to the rank of a monk over the sale and leasing of church property to Jewish and Israeli investors.
Under a tradition dating back centuries, a new Greek patriarch in Jerusalem has to be confirmed by the rulers of the Holy Land, in this case Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan.
The land deals raised a furor in the Holy Land’s close-knit Greek Orthodox community, whose mostly Palestinian parishioners have long resented the sale of church property to Israelis.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is one of the biggest landowners in Jerusalem, but it is deep in debt and Patriarch Theophilos faces a difficult task rebuilding the church’s finances as well as its prestige.
Mr. Irineos, who has denied approving the land deals, challenged the validity of his dismissal in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper. He stayed in a room in the patriarchate, surrounded by supporters and bodyguards, during the ceremony.


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