The church will name Theophilous III Patriarch of Jerusalem.
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Ignoring Israeli opposition, the Greek Orthodox Church will proceed with plans for the coronation of the new Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilous III, on Tuesday. He will replace the ousted Irineos I.
Irineos was deposed by the Greek Orthodox Church's Holy Synod, which convened in Istanbul in May after he was accused of signing long-term leases on chunks of prime real estate in Jerusalem's Old City.
Leases of the Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel near Jaffa Gate, among others, were said to be signed with Ateret Kohanim, a right-wing settler organization dedicated to populating Jerusalem with Jews.
Both Irineos and Ateret Kohanim deny the deals and an investigation conducted by the Palestinian Authority backed up Irineos. But due to internal Greek politics and a power play within the Greek Church, the accusations against Irineos were used to oust him.
Greece, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority recognized the ousting of Irineos and the appointment of Theophilous. Israel has not. As long as Israel refuses to recognize Theophilous, he is unable to sign contracts or run the Patriarchate's business in Israel.
Minister-without-Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi, who is the government representative on Jerusalem affairs, told The Jerusalem Post that the government opposes the coronation.
"The whole purpose of the ceremony is to finalize the ousting of Irineos I," said Hanegbi. "But it is against the law to enthrone a new patriarch without Israeli approval."
Hanegbi said that conducting the ceremony would also be a direct attack on Israel's High Court.
"We are waiting for the High Court to decide whether the state must honor the appointment of a new Patriarch to replace Irineos. So it is improper for the Greek Orthodox Church to go ahead and enthrone Theophilous."
Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Panagiotis Skandalakis, and other Greek state officials and members of parliament will attend the enthronement.
Commenting on Papoulias's intention to attend the coronation, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Greek President's visit was private in nature. Therefore, his attendance at the coronation was not viewed by Israel as a diplomatic affront.
"During his private visit to Israel, the president will receive VIP treatment," the spokesman said. "He will also visit a number of places and meet with high-ranking Israeli officials."
Patriarchs and archbishops from numerous Christian Orthodox communities around the world, including Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Polan, Albania, the Czech Republic, and Athens are slated to attend the coronation. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will also send official representatives.
"Lack of Israeli recognition for Theophilous is a problem," said the secretary of Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Aristarchus. "But it will not prevent us from going ahead with the coronation. It would be wise for Israel to recognize the new situation."
Aristarchus also said that the coronation was a Church affair and Israel had no business interfering. "I hope a solution will be found. We intend to pursue honest, dignified relations with Israel."
Theophilous, the Patriarch-elect, petitioned the High Court to force the government to recognize him as the new Patriarch. In his petition, which was presented on October 26, Theophilous claims that Israel is delaying recognition of him as Patriarch to apply pressure on him to approve land deals made by Irineos.
In response to Theophilous's claim, sources close to the Greek Orthodox Church told the Post that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority made their support for Theophilous conditional upon his assurance that no more land deals with Israel would be signed. The Greek press quoted Palestinian sources who said the same.
Irineos, who is under guard by Israeli police for fear his rivals will try to harm him, told the Post that the Israeli government backs him.
"From the Prime Minister down, politicians have voiced their support for me," said Irineos during an interview that took place in his small apartment inside the Patriarchate, located in Jerusalem's Old City.
Irineos insisted that his dethroning was a breach of Church canon. "A Patriarch can be ousted for one of too reasons: Either because he is mentally or physically sick or because he is a heretic. I am neither."
Irineos expressed gratitude to Israel. "Israel supports legality and truth. I am very grateful to Israel."
There are approximately 35,000 Greek Orthodox Christians living in Israel. After the Greek Catholic Church, it is the largest Christian congregation.
High-ranking clergy in the Greek Orthodox Church are almost exclusively ethnic Greek, while low-ranking clergy and the congregants are almost entirely indigenous Arabs.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the vast majority of Christians living in Israel were Greek Orthodox. Since then, the community has dwindled with emigration to the West encouraged in part by Muslim violence against them. A lack of educational opportunities, medical facilities, and social welfare services offered by the Church has also contributed to the emigration.