Election of a new patriarch

Today’s election for a new Greek Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem has attracted the attention of Orthodox churches, the Vatican and governments. Secret meetings, negotiations behind the scenes, diplomatic admonitions and countless promises make up the pre-election scene in the Holy Land. Recalling what happened in the previous two elections, many members of the Holy Sepulcher Fraternity have expressed concern that once again the «wrong» person might be elected to the patriarchal throne in Jerusalem. On February 16, 1981, the fraternity convened in order to elect the successor to Patriarch Benedict. The front runner was Metropolitan Germanos of Petra, a leading theologian with unquestionable diplomatic skills. However, the members of the synod elected Archbishop Diodorus of Ierapolis, who until then had been appointed to Amman in Jordan. Diodorus, said to be incorruptible but only an average theologian, had succeeded in convincing the fraternity that he had international connections and the support of the great powers. Greek diplomats of the time also believed him. Irenaios’s election After a 20-year Patriarchate that split the fraternity and sidelined the flock of the Jerusalem Church, Irenaios of Skopelos succeeded to the patriarchal throne. Irenaios had much in common with his predecessor. Initially he «inherited» the title of Bishop of Ierapolis, though until his election he lived in Athens, far from the disputes in Jerusalem. During a hard-fought election campaign, Irenaios invoked his close ties with the Greek government of the time, Washington, the Greek-American lobby, Yasser Arafat, the royal house of Jordan and even the widow of the late Greek prime minister, Andreas Papandreou. Behind the scenes, close colleagues of Diodorus such as Apostolos Vavylis had undertaken to put his rivals out of the running, to use any means to convince those who had a vote and to reassure the Israeli government about Irenaios’s supposedly pro-Arab stance. The Bishop of Ierapolis won and almost at once the problems began. «His supposed connections with politicians on the international scene had considerable influence on the election,» says an elderly cleric who is a member of the fraternity, «but unfortunately for Diodorus, that criterion proved disastrous for the fraternity and led the Patriarchate to the verge of schism.» The danger that similar criteria may prevail in today’s election worries many members of the Holy Sepulcher fraternity along with many politicians. The Greek government wants the new leader of the Church of Sion to be a widely accepted Church figure who can repair the Patriarchate’s damaged image. Since the crisis first emerged, Athens has tailored its ecclesiastical diplomacy so as to protect the Greek-Orthodox character of the Patriarchate, ensure the fraternity’s rights and protect its relations with the flock and the governments concerned. By all indications, the leading candidates for the throne of Jerusalem are Archbishop Theofilos of Thavorio, Archbishop Aristarchos of Konstantini, and Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostron. Rumor has it that Theofilos has close ties to American government officials. Clerics close to Theofilos, who stated some months ago that the archbishop was a friend of former CIA director George Tenet and had met [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, are now hastening to dispel the implication that he is a foreign import. Before his return to Jerusalem, Theofilos served a lengthy term in Qatar as Exarch. Diplomatic sources there say he had ties with a group of Greek-Orthodox entrepreneurs who until recently supported Irenaios. The same sources claim that this group, whose members have in the past handled the economic concerns of the former US patriarch, asked that Theofilos be elevated to the status of bishop. This could be one reason why the colleagues of Irenaios have expressed their preference for Theofilos. According to a young cleric who still supports Irenaios, Theofilos promised Irenaios that he would reinstate him, giving him the title of Former Patriarch of Jerusalem. This has perturbed the Greek government and Orthodox churches, who believe that such an outcome would partially vindicate the former patriarch. Meanwhile, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials seem to support Aristarchos. Aristarchos The chief secretary of the Patriarchate, said to be the spiritual offspring of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, enjoys the esteem of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Church of Greece. He has sound theological training, has been tested in important administrative posts in the Patriarchate, and in recent years has represented the Church of Sion at the principal meetings among Orthodox churches and with other churches. Aristarchos has also participated actively in the movement founded in Alexandria in 2002 by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders and Israeli and Palestinian politicians for peace in the Middle East. Foreign Ministry officials have described him as «the ideal choice to overcome the crisis.» Timotheos is trying his hand for the second time; he was also a candidate in 2001. But he seems to have little chance of being elected, as the governments involved and some of the fraternity see him as part of the current crisis. For his part, Theofilos hopes that Timotheos will recall their common Peloponnesian origins and support him with his three votes. Though their relations were never warm, Timotheos does recall that when all the fraternity was keeping its distance from Irenaios, Theofilos did officiate at mass with him. Timotheos has purely formal relations with Aristarchos, making it uncertain whether the latter will indicate a particular candidate to the clerics who support him.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.