Greek Orthodox group to petition over Easter celebrations
By church law, new patriarchs must be approved by Israel, PA & Jordan. The PA and Jordan have recognized Irineos' dismissal and Theofilos' election, but Israel has not.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
The head of an organization of Greek Orthodox Christians in Israel said Sunday that he was planning to petition the High Court of Justice this week over Israel's decision to allow the Greek Patriarch, who has never been recognized by Israel, to carry out the important Easter Eve ceremonies in Jerusalem.
The legal move comes a year and a half after Theofilos III was appointed to the church's top position in the Holy Land, and represents the latest wrangling between supporters of the ousted former patriarch Irineos I, who still has the backing of Israel, and those of Theofilos, whose appointment has been approved by the Palestinians and the Jordanians, but not by Israel.
Najeeb Rizik, head of the Nazareth Orthodox Council, said Sunday that it was "scandalous" that Israel, citing concern over public safety, was allowing Theofilos to carry out Easter Eve ceremonies at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday, and not Irineos I, who Israel officially recognizes as the patriarch.
"This is a victory for violence and the threat of violence," the group wrote in a letter to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter.
"We believe in democracy and the rule of law, so the question is, why the double standard?" asked Rizik.
The Public Security Ministry had no immediate comment Sunday.
Theofilos carried out the 'Ceremony of the Holy Fire' services last year, and this year's planned legal action against him was seen as indicative of continuing competition between the two church leaders. The chief secretary of the Greek Patriarchate, Archbishop Aristarchos, said that opponents of Theofilos had "no case" since as elected patriarch he was charged with conducting all such ceremonies.
The Holy Fire is believed by Orthodox Christians to be a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter.
Irineos I was ousted two years ago amid allegations of leasing church property in Jerusalem's Old City to Jewish groups. But, Irineos has refused to accept his dismissal, saying a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge. The aide, who has fled the country and is wanted by Interpol on an international warrant, remains at large, although he is thought to be in South America.
By church law, any new patriarch must be approved by the three governments - Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. The Palestinian Authority and Jordan have recognized Irineos' dismissal and Theofilos' election, but Israel has not.
Reports of the sale of this leased east Jerusalem property to Jews have aroused the furor of the Palestinians who make up most of the 100,000-strong Greek Orthodox flock in the Holy Land. The properties allegedly sold in the land deal, which remains shrouded in mystery half a year after the story first broke, include the Imperial and Petra hotels inside the Jaffa Gate.
Theofilos has pledged to return all the controversial properties recently leased to Jews to the Church.
The outcome of this struggle could have huge ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of the church's extensive property holdings throughout the Holy Land.
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