The new Greek patriarch of the Holy Land stayed away from the annual Christmas gathering at the Israeli president's residence Thursday because the church's ousted former patriarch also was invited, a spokesman said.
"The church cannot have two patriarchs," said the Greek Orthodox Church secretary, Archbishop Aristarchos.
The current patriarch, Theofilos III, replaced Irineos I after he was ousted in May amid allegations of leasing church property in Jerusalem's Old City to Jewish settler groups. Israel has not recognized Irineos's removal or the church's election of Theofilos.
Theofilos has petitioned Israel's Supreme Court for the state to recognize him because church rules require governmental approval in areas where his flock lives. For Theofilos, this includes Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The latter two recognize him.