Irenaios axed by a majority of his bishops

Following a bitter standoff of almost two months, senior churchmen at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem yesterday slammed the door on their scandal-mired patriarch after dissident bishops raised the majority required to formally oust Irenaios from the Patriarchal Throne. A total of 12 bishops sitting on the Patriarchate’s 18-member ruling body, the Holy Synod, appended their signatures to a statement issued on Thursday that designated Irenaios persona non grata for his alleged part in the covert handover of Church property in the Arab sector of Jerusalem to Jewish investors. Although technically legal, such a sale has explosive political connotations in the tension-ridden area where land ownership can be of crucial significance. The report infuriated Palestinian officials and Church members – as well as senior Greek Patriarchate officials – and led to rowdy demonstrations against the patriarch. According to the latest reports from Jerusalem, the Synod proceeded last night to vote for Irenaios’s dismissal, and the patriarch was last seen being escorted away from the Patriarchate’s premises by his security guards, following a physical confrontation with dissident bishops and clerics who took over the buildings. «We know that a majority of the Holy Synod met today and decided to dismiss the patriarch, and according to the law they have the right to do so,» Emil Jarjour, who heads a Palestinian ministerial committee investigating the land deal, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. «Now they are taking the necessary steps to conduct elections in the near future to choose a new patriarch.» The agency also quoted a Church spokesman, Attalah Hanah, as saying dissidents «decided to fire [Irenaios] and he left today and we don’t know where he went.» Dissidents appointed a committee of three bishops to administer the Patriarchate until Irenaios is replaced. A delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul is due to visit Jerusalem. Irenaios was elected amid considerable controversy in 2001 – with the aid of a convicted drug dealer who, the patriarch claims, was sent to help his election by the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos. The Samos-born patriarch has been under intense pressure to resign since mid-March, when an Israeli newspaper published the land deal claims. He consistently denied any wrongdoing, calling on God to cut off his hands were he guilty, while lashing out at detractors as «worms and pieces of rubbish.» Irenaios’s dismissal would have to be endorsed by Jordanian officials. For two years, the Israeli government had refused to approve Irenaios’s election as patriarch, suspecting him of being too close to Palestinian officials. But in January 2004 – following considerable pressure from Athens – Israel suddenly confirmed the patriarch in his post. On Sunday, an Israeli newspaper claimed Irenaios authorized long-term leases on the Jerusalem properties to Jews to appease Israeli authorities. By late yesterday, there was no official comment on the developments by the government in Athens, which, since the end of March, has kept up strong pressure on Irenaios to resign.