Church heads called to end unholy mess

One day after unsuccessfully summoning the scandal-mired patriarch of Jerusalem to bow to his own bishops’ wishes and resign, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios yesterday decided to convene a rare meeting of all heads of Orthodox churches on Monday in Istanbul, in a bid to solve the impasse. Patriarch Irenaios, who denies accusations he was involved in the covert handover of Church land in the Arab sector of Jerusalem to Jewish investors, has so far resisted all calls to resign – even after the Patriarchate’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, voted earlier this month to depose him. The rebel churchmen’s move has been approved by the Jordanian and Palestinian governments, while Athens has repeatedly indicated that Irenaios should step down. Israel has refused to take sides in the dispute. A statement from the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate yesterday said the heads of all «sister Orthodox churches,» each accompanied by two senior aides, would attend the meeting «to confer and reach decisions» regarding the increasingly embarrassing state of affairs in Jerusalem. Yesterday, Irenaios made a bid to enter the main Patriarchate buildings for the first time since his forced exit, which followed a physical confrontation with rebel bishops and clerics. His opponents – who have appointed a three-member committee to administer the Patriarchate until a new leader can be elected – refused to hand over the keys to the Hall of the Throne, fearing Irenaios might try to carry out his threat to appoint a new Holy Synod that would annul his dismissal. Israeli police, who were summoned by Irenaios, asked the rebels to allow the patriarch in. However, sources in Jerusalem said this followed Irenaios’s assurances to the Israelis that he would not try to convene a new Holy Synod. The same sources indicated that Irenaios was told that if he broke his word the Israeli policemen that guard his residence would be removed. It was still unclear late last night whether the patriarch would gain access to the Hall of the Throne. The allegations concerning the Jerusalem land deal – a politically explosive issue in the perpetually tense Middle East – infuriated the Jordanian and Palestinian governments, as well as Arab and Greek Patriarchate officials and lay members. After a series of appeals by dissident churchmen, accompanied by demonstrations by Palestinians, failed to budge Irenaios, the Holy Synod moved to overthrow him.