The stubborn Patriarch

The crisis bedevilling the Jerusalem Patriarchate is not just a question of ethics nor one of mismanagement of assets. It is entirely political in its nature, being directly linked to broader developments anticipated in the Middle East. Scandals concerning the management and transfer of the patriarchal property in Israel have occurred in the past. Indeed, even the Knesset was built upon land that had belonged to the patriarchate prior to 1967. However, protests had never reached today’s extremes for the simple reason that there had never been any prospect of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the time – a settlement which would also determine the status of Jerusalem. The West Bank and eastern Jerusalem had been under Jordanian rule up until the 1967 war, after which they fell under Israeli occupation. However, if Palestinians were to take over these territories in the event of a settlement, the Palestinian Authority would likely seek administrative control of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which is currently held by Jordan. For centuries, the Jerusalem patriarchs have been of Greek origin and the Greek Orthodox nature of the patriarchate was protected by a 1958 Jordanian law. But evidently Greece is unable to handle this historical heritage. Reports in the Greek media that tried to blame Archbishop Christodoulos for Irenaios’s appointment as patriarch merely succeeded in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the fore. The Greek government had remained a passive observer of these developments until realizing that it was the Greek character of the patriarchate that was actually at risk. Only then did it decide to take action. But even then its intervention was hampered by amateurism and ignorance of ecclesiastical matters. Beyond doubt, Irenaios should have withdrawn, but this would have demanded delicate diplomacy. Instead, Greece made it quite clear that it disapproved of Irenaios, in order to pacify the Palestinian flock, and probably encouraged several senior clerics to withdraw their support from the Patriarch. But, Irenaios took offense, thus creating an unprecedented crisis. The Greek government (and not just the current one) lacks an understanding of history and developments outside its borders. Hellenism and monuments to our cultural heritage are a heavy burden to bear. The only reason that the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to have any presence on the world stage is due to the existence of 200 million Russian Orthodox believers, not due to the clout of Greek politics. Meanwhile, Muslim Turkey is a country that feels it has a historic mission and is ready to reestablish its influence in the region of the former Ottoman Empire. So, it exploited the Jerusalem crisis by making a major political gesture. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan handed over 150,000 title deeds from the Ottoman era – dating between 1500 and 1914 – to help Palestinians appeal to local and international courts for property and land in the West Bank and Gaza. He did not worry that in so doing he may have offended the Jordanians, Israelis or anyone else. He engineered a political move at a time when Greece was entangled in a dispute with the stubborn Patriarch of Jerusalem. Irenaios may have been declared persona non grata by his Holy Synod, but this does not solve the problem even if he does resign. Those who will play the key role in the election of his successor, whenever this occurs, will be Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Greece has merely succeeded in failing to protect its valuable heritage in Jerusalem.