Ousted Greek Patriarch speaks out

Irineos I talks with 'Post' hours before his replacement, Theosophilus III, is sworn in.

irineos 88 (photo credit: )
irineos 88
(photo credit: )
Surrounded by hundreds of hushed supporters who crowded into one of Christianity's holiest sites, Theofilos III was sworn in Tuesday as the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land. His ousted predecessor, remains embedded in his modest apartment in the Patriarchate. He is surrounded by 24-hour-a-day police protection out of concern that his enemies might try to harm him. Irineos has many enemies. This is one of the few clear conclusions that can be ascertained out of the dizzying phantasmagoria of events that led to Irineos's downfall. Greek political machinations are said to be involved as well as ruthless archimandrites within the church. In March of this year Irineos was accused of leasing for 99 years large chunks of prime real estate, just a fraction of a vast real estate portfolio acquired by the Church in the Holy Land over the centuries since it was established nearly 2,000 years ago, to Ateret Kohenim, a right-wing Jewish organization intent upon "redeeming" as much land from non-Jews in the Jerusalem are as possible. Both Irineos and Ateret Kohenim deny any deal was made. Nevertheless, the deal was used by Irineos's enemies to turn the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Greece against him. Irineos's Arab flock, about 35,000 inside the Green Line, another 20,000 in Judea and Samaria and perhaps 100,000 more in Jordan and as far east as the Arab Emirates, also did not like the rumors about the land deal. Irineos's only ally is Israel, who refuses to recognize Theosophilus and continues to support Irineos. The Jerusalem Post: Did you lease land to Ateret Kohenim? Irineos: I made no deal to lease land to any Israelis. In fact the exact opposite is true. After my election there were a number of stores that had fallen out of Church control and I got them back. Some of these properties include two stores and a small hotel near the Gloria Hotel. I also regained control of a hostel down St. Francis Road and two stores on Christian Quarter Road as well as land near the Hyatt Hotel (Mt Scopus) that was sold by the previous administration. On Tuesday Theosophilus will be enthroned and will replace you. How do you explain this? There are people who support illegality and actions opposed to Church canon, what can I say. What do you expect Israel to do? Israel supports legality. That gives us joy and hope. And we thank the Prime Minister and the ministers that support legality and the Church canon by not recognizing the new Patriarch. We have respect and love for Israel. And I am very grateful to Israel. Do you pray for Israel? Of course. For the entire country. I have friends in all parts of the government. I always had good relations with the Jewish community in Greece when I served there as representative of the Jerusalem Patriarchate there. When you were elected in 2001 Israel did not recognize you as Patriarch. What happened? Israel discovered that rumors said about me were untrue. My enemies in the Patriarchate presented me as an anti-Semitic. Israel discovered these claims were false. Why don't you accept the decision and step down? All this is based on an un-canonical decision. There is no way to have call a synod without the Patriarch's support. The Patriarch dies in his throne. He is not replaced. According to law there are only two reasons to distance a patriarch - either because he is sick mentally or physically or if he becomes a heretic. The same body that elected him must convene to dethrone him. The archimandrites in the city and 12 representatives of the Arab-speaking communities in Israel and Jordan must also be allowed to vote. In our case it was done by a small group. Who ousted you? Theosophilus and his supporters. They had the help of people in the Greek government. If not they would never of had the courage to do what they did. Pressure was also applied to the archbishop in Greece [Christodoulos Paraskevaides]. The Greek media blew the entire issue out of proportion. Do your congregants support you? They do not have a say in the matter. The congregation did not create the problem. The clergy did. Step by step through blackmail and harassment they gained force. Clergy members were threatened and intimidated. We never used threats. So those who oppose me gained power. How do you explain the fact that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have turned against you? Jordan's and the Palestinian Authority's decision is the result of four years of attempts to turn them against me. They made one-sided decisions without hearing any explanations from me. Are you concerned about Muslim violence against Christians in the Holy Land? The decision to pick up and move on is made by the head of the family. It is legitimate to look for a better opportunity. In Greece this happens also. A father's first responsibility is to his family. What is the Patriarch's role in the Greek Orthodox Church? How is he different from the Catholic pope? The Orthodox Church believes that Jesus is the head of the church. In the west they believe that the pope is the head of the church. That is their business. In Jerusalem the situation is different from other patriarchates. We are also a monastic order. Here the patriarch is not just the head of the congregation, he is also the abbot of the brotherhood. He is the father who looks after his children, who are both the clergy in the monastery and the flock. Of course the children owe respect to their father. Is it possible that the children rise up against the father and say get out we don't like you? In the same measure sometimes the father has to take certain measures to punish his children. Out of love I did not punish when I should have.