NEWS

Patriarch denies guilt, Jerusalem clash feared

Patriarch Irenaios congratulated worshippers yesterday for not believing «lies» about him and traveling to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem for Easter, while the government expressed fears about clashes between the faithful from Greece and other pilgrims. After conducting a ceremony during which he washed the feet of 12 archimandrites, Irenaios responded to questions from journalists on the allegations that the Patriarchate sold politically sensitive land in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish investors. «I feel no guilt. God knows who I am,» said the patriarch. The Washing of the Feet ceremony was conducted amid tight security, following discussions previously between Greek and Israeli officials about the possibility of similar – or worse – scenes taking place to those that occurred after a Palm Sunday service, when scuffles broke out between Greek worshippers and protesters heckling Irenaios. The lighting of the Sacred Flame tomorrow is one of the most likely flashpoints. Deputy Foreign Minister Panayiotis Skandalakis said the government was following developments «very closely» and was in constant communication with Israeli authorities. «Especially since there will be a significant number of Greek worshippers visiting, it is vital that we avoid any incident that may have a negative impact on the devout atmosphere that should mark these days,» he said. The patriarch also denied yesterday having links with convicted drug smuggler Apostolos Vavilis, who allegedly helped get Irenaios elected in 2001. «This matter does not concern us. (Vavilis) has nothing to do with the Patriarchate,» said Irenaios.