Chaos, farce in Jerusalem

The situation at the strife-ridden Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem remained tense over the weekend, with dissident clerics claiming to have foiled a plan by the deposed patriarch yesterday to lift cash and potentially incriminating documents from Church premises. The required two-thirds majority of the 18 bishops sitting on the Patriarchate’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, decided on Friday to dismiss Patriarch Irenaios for his alleged role in the covert handover to Jews of Church property in the Arab sector of Jerusalem. Following bitter altercations, Irenaios – who denies any wrongdoing and has referred to his opponents as «worms and pieces of rubbish» – was forced to leave the Patriarchate headquarters later that day. But two days later, the embattled Patriarch resolutely clung to power, refusing yesterday to resign. Meanwhile, the number of Holy Synod signatories to a document demanding that he should step down grew from 12 to 15, while some 75 senior churchmen and clerics have also backed the text. The custodian of the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jordan, which has the final approval on a patriarch’s dismissal, has said it will accept the move if asked to by two thirds of the Synod. Jordanian and Patriarchate officials said such a written request had been sent to Amman yesterday, but it is unclear when Jordan would take action to endorse it. The dissident churchmen have also informed the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the Greek government and Orthodox Church leaders of their decision to dethrone Irenaios. Yesterday the situation descended into farce, with dissidents claiming they had caught an emissary from Irenaios and one of the patriarch’s Greek police guards trying to sneak bagfuls of cash and legal documents out of the Patriarchate’s financial department. A spokesman for Irenaios said the money had been intended to pay for repairs to the Patriarchate’s kitchen, while dissidents described the incident as an attempted theft. As a result, Israeli police sealed off the financial department and took the keys. In the future, anyone seeking to enter the offices must be accompanied by local police and a representative of the rival Church party.