THE Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land is in crisis, after a decision by Jordan last weekend to revoke its recognition of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Kerios Theophilos III. A statement from the cabinet in Amman said that Theophilos III had “failed to fulfil the obligations he pledged to the government to carry out during his tenure”.
Under an agreement that has been respected for centuries, 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.
When Theophilos III was appointed in 2005, the Palestinians and Jordan officially recognised him. Israel, however, refused to endorse his selection, and has continued to regard his predecessor, Ireneos I, as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch.
Ireneos I was dismissed by the Holy Synod over allegations that he allowed Israelis to buy long-term leases of church property in the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the duties of patriarchs is to ensure that the ownership of Christian land does not change.
After his enthronement, Theophilos promised to work to restore the property to Christian hands.
Two years on, the Jordanian government has judged Theophilos’s performance to be lacking, accusing the Patriarch of failing to carry out his promises to take action on the leased property. He is also criticised for failing to draw up a comprehensive list of all church assets in the Holy Land, which would be presented to the Amman government.
The decision of the Jordanian government has exposed divisions over the issue within the Greek Orthodox Church in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The one Christian MP in Jordan, Odeh Qawwas, said he had urged the government to delay revoking the recognition of Theophilos III: “I do not wish my Church to be divided. I support only the institution, not any person, and I take into consideration the effects on Arab-Greek relations.”
The government in Athens condemned the decision in Jordan, saying the move was “hasty . . . and has not given Theophilos III the required time to take the necessary decisions. Greece wholly backs him, and will work towards solving this misunderstanding.”
Media reports in Athens on Wednesday suggested that Jordan was considering a request from the Greek Foreign Minister, Dora Bakoyannis, to postpone its decision for three months.