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Greek Patriarch rift: no end in sight yet

31 May 2007

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

Unbowed: the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, smiles during a national conference in Jerusalem

Unbowed: the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, smiles during a national conference in Jerusalem

THE SCHISM in the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land shows no signs of ending, with churchmen continuing to take sides. The split has been caused by Jordan’s decision last month to revoke its recognition of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Kerios Theophilos III (News, 18 May).

The Jordanian government said that Theophilos had failed to honour his pledge to restore to Christian ownership church land that was sold to Israelis by his predecessor.

The Bishop of Sebastia in the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Attallah Hanna, was quoted by the official news agency in Jordan as welcoming the decision of the Amman government.

Under a long-standing agreement, senior church appointments in the Holy Land require the approval of the powers of the land. Today, these are Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan.

Bishop Hanna called for radical reforms to improve the organisation of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, saying it had been blighted by cases of corruption.

But Theophilos III, in an interview with an Athens newspaper, insisted that he still enjoyed the support of the Arab Orthodox community. “The flock recognises our love, and has no problem with me because they know me better than I know myself,” he said.

The Patriarch accused certain members of the Jordanian royal family of being behind the decision to revoke his recognition, saying they wanted to acquire church land near the River Jordan. Theophilos had refused to give in to pressure.

Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches has appealed to the Jordanian government to reverse its decision on Theophilos III. In a letter to the Prime Minister of Jordan, Marouf al-Bakhit, the secretary general of the WCC, the Revd Dr Samuel Kobia, said that he feared it could “lead to a division among the Orthodox Christian community in Jordan and Palestine”.

Dr Kobia said that while the WCC understood “the reason behind this decision by the Jordanian government”, it wanted the Amman authorities to reconsider the matter “so that peace and harmony within the Church prevail again”.


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