Orthodox patriarch is still waiting

JERUSALEM – Four months after his election, the Greek Orthodox patriarch in the Holy Land, Irenaios I, is still awaiting the official blessing of Israel, which tried to block his appointment. Irenaios rose to the post on August 13 to succeed Diodoros I, who died in December 2000. Israel, in the heat of the Palestinian uprising, had opposed four other nominees as well as Irenaios for security reasons, terming him the candidate of the Palestinians. The government has still not ratified the election, risking an unprecedented incident between the Jewish State and the Christian churches of the Holy Land. The heads of the other churches have threatened to boycott the traditional ceremony of calling on Israel’s president next week to convey their New Year wishes, according to a senior figure in the Orthodox Church, who asked not to be named. Either the controversy will be resolved by then, or the patriarch will not be able to be received by President Moshe Katsav, nor anyone else from our church or from any other Christian community, the source said. He said the other Jerusalem patriarchs had expressed solidarity with Irenaios I, who was elected by a 50-member church council. The Church accuses Israel of violating religious freedom by rejecting its candidates and of unacceptable interference in the life of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. But under a 1875 Ottoman law as well as another passed in 1958 by the Jordanian authorities who ruled east Jerusalem, political authorities in the Holy Land have the right to oversee candidates for the position of patriarch. Archbishop Aristarchos, the secretary-general of the patriarchate, said Israel’s approval was needed for the management of several issues linked to relations with the State. I don’t understand why Israel is acting this way when the election is a sacred act of the Church. Good relations must be preserved between the Church and the state of Israel, he said. At Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry, the head of the Christian Department insisted that the choice of patriarch be approved by Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Without the approval of Israel, the Church will not be able to function, said Cesare Marjieh, without giving an explanation for Israel denying its approval for so long. The Greek Orthodox Church, with almost 200 million members across the globe, has the largest Christian community in the Holy Land. The Jerusalem Patriarchate, founded in the year 451, controls sizable assets, notably properties, in Israel. The meeting aimed at exploring ways by which the international community could increase the safety of journalists who are caught up in conflict and post-conflict situations.

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