02 August 2005, 04:00
The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Is Being Replaced. How the Vatican Is Voting
With Ireneos I deposed, a successor is being elected. What this event says about the Orthodox Churches as a whole, and about relations between Rome and the East. A commentary by Fr. David M. Jaeger
ROMA, July 26, 2005 – One of the items on Benedict XVI's list of projects is a new equilibrium between papal primacy and the college of bishops.
During the first millennium of Christianity, when the Church of Rome and the Eastern Churches were still united, the college of bishops played a greater role than it has since. It still plays such a role in the patriarchates of the East, which are governed by a synodal system.
The opposite took place in the Roman Church. There, papal primacy was greatly strengthened during the second millennium. Benedict XVI – together with the cardinals who elected him – is convinced that the time has come to strike a balance of powers and give greater recognition to the role of the bishops.
A small first corrective measure has already been introduced into the synod Rome is planning for next October. The synod – an institution inaugurated by Paul VI after Vatican Council II, periodically gathering around the pope representatives of the Catholic bishops from all over the world – will remain a consultative rather than a deliberative body, but the bishops will be able to discuss their topic, the Eucharist, using procedures much better adapted to bringing out different points of view, which the pope will have to consider.
Benedict XVI hopes that by reinforcing the college of the bishops, he will heal the schism that has divided the Church of Rome from the Eastern Churches. He wants to bring the respective systems of governance closer together according to the best that each has produced throughout its history.
There's likely to be a long and difficult road ahead, because the breach that must be repaired is very wide.
Glaring proof of how far away the two systems are from each other can be seen in what is happening in the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem.
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The Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church will meet in Jerusalem on August 15 to elect a new patriarch.
And up until this point there's nothing different from what happens in the Roman Church, where each new pope is elected by the college of cardinals.
The difference is that, in Rome, the cardinals cannot depose a pope, whereas in the East the synod both can depose patriarchs and does so.
The Greek Orthodox synod which is preparing to name its new patriarch in Jerusalem is the same one that removed the former patriarch a few months ago.
The deposed patriarch, Ireneos I (see photo), has not accepted his removal. And he continues to resist in his residence next to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, guarded by patrols of armed Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli government, in fact, has not yet recognized the dismissal of Ireneos from his office, unlike Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, which have approved it.
And this is another difference in comparison with the Church of Rome. In the East, the Orthodox patriarchs have ties with the respective national governments that go back to the "caesaro-papist" model typical of the Byzantine Empire, which remained in force even after the arrival of Muslim domination.
In the case of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, both his removal and his election must be approved by Israel, the kingdom of Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.
Ireneos, for example, was elected patriarch on August 13, 2001. But the Israeli government – which had previously vetoed his submission as a candidate – waited until March of 2004 to recognize his nomination, after long and secret negotiations.
And this fanned the flames of accusations that Ireneos had gone over to serve Israeli interests. Then, in March of 2005, when word got out that he had sold to the Jews a complex of buildings in the Old City belonging to the patriarchate, revolt broke out against him and led to his removal, which the synod approved on May 7, 2005, with 13 out of 17 votes in favor.
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The strife within the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem is bound up with its ethnic composition.
About 65,000 faithful belong to the patriarchate. Of these, a little over 200 are Greek, while the rest are Arab.
But the Greeks hold all the roles of power. The 18 bishops who are members of the synod, and who are named by the patriarch, are all Greek. Of the members of the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre, responsible for electing the patriarch, 90 are Greek and 4 are Arab.
Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem is one of the major landowners in the Holy Land. It owns much of the Old City. Beyond the walls it owns, for example, the land on which stands the building of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
The sale which was attributed to Ireneos – but which he denied – concerns the area that contains two of the historic city center's hotels, the Imperial and the Petra, which are frequented by prominent Palestinians, and other buildings close to the Jaffa Gate.
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But it would be wrong to reduce what is happening at the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem to an internal affair. Its significance extends to all of the Eastern Churches.
The proof of this can be found in the decisively unusual fact that in order to decide upon the removal of Ireneos, which the patriarchate of Jerusalem voted on May 7, a meeting was held in Istanbul two weeks later, on May 23, to which Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, had invited 42 representatives from 14 Orthodox Churches, including the patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, Moscow, Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and Poland. Ireneos also attended this inter-Orthodox synod, which ended with the approval of the decision made by the synod of Jerusalem. Since then, none of the Orthodox Churches recognizes Ireneos as patriarch anymore, and his name is no longer mentioned in the liturgies. It is foreseen that the Greek йlite's domination over the patriarchate of Jerusalem will be reduced in favor of the Arab contingent.
And the Catholic Church? Here follows a reconstruction of and commentary on these events by an authoritative representative of the Church of Rome.
The author of the essay is Fr. David Maria Jaeger, an Israeli citizen who is Jewish by birth but converted to Catholicism as an adult and became a Franciscan. He is a specialist in canon law, and for many years has been an official negotiator for the Holy See with the government of Israel.
His commentary appeared on June 2, 2005, on the international online agency "Asia News," which is directed by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions:
The Fall of Ireneos I: Israel Acts as the Ottoman Empire
by David M. Jaeger
In a rather inconceivable move, the government of Israel has sent armed police into the Greek Orthodox monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem to keep ex-patriarch Ireneos in possession of the patriarch's apartments, against the will of the patriarchate's synod, which, by a very large majority, has deposed Ireneos, against the will of practically all the priests and people of the patriarchate, and indeed against the will of the heads of all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.
It seems impossible that, in the twenty-first century, a state, any democratic state can still seriously claim to decide who will be, or will not be, the bishop at the head of a Christian community. It is certainly a complete contradiction of Israel's own fundamental charter, the Declaration of Independence, which promises complete religious freedom to all.
BYZANTINES AND OTTOMANS
History and politics help to explain this bizarre situation, although they most certainly cannot excuse it.
As is well known, in the Eastern or "Byzantine" Empire, the affairs of Church and state were very closely entwined, and the emperor assumed and exercised a kind of overlordship over the Church as well, in a style that western critics sometime call "caesaro-papism".
While there might have been some sense to it as long as the emperor was himself a Christian, sometimes a very devout Christian indeed, it became grotesque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks, when the new Muslim rulers sought to exercise over the Church, especially Church appointments, control equal to – or even greater than – that exercised earlier by the Christian emperor.
This unnatural situation reached Jerusalem and the Holy Land when the Ottomans conquered it too in the first half of the sixteenth century. At that time the ancient Eastern-rite patriarchate of Jerusalem was still arguably, in principle, in communion with Rome, in virtue of the union Council of Florence (1439).
Just as they had done in Constantinople, the Ottomans' first order of business was to ensure that the most implacable opponents of the union with Rome were put in charge of the patriarchate.
They therefore brought over anti-union monks from Greece to fill all the positions of governance at the patriarchate, and completely supplant the indigenous Church. These Greek monks organised themselves into a corporation, the Hagiotaphitic (i.e. of the Holy Sepulchre) Brotherhood, which took over, and still holds, complete control over all the offices, and – more importantly – the properties of the patriarchate.
In keeping with the principles of caesaro-papism, the appointment of the patriarch remained always dependent on the will of the government, and, as a legal body, the patriarchate itself could conceivably be described as a creature of Ottoman law.
JORDAN AND ISRAEL
Between 1948 and 1967, the seat of the patriarchate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, was controlled by Jordan, and Jordan enacted a new statute for the patriarchate, claiming for itself the powers earlier inherent in the Ottoman government. Israel, which has controlled the Old City since June 1967, has never formally done that, and there is no law made in Israel to control the Greek Orthodox patriarchate.
However, some influential elements in the Israeli establishment claim that Israel too is the inheritor of the Ottoman powers, and have not balked at using even action by armed police to make the point that the state alone has the decisive word as to who is, or is not, the patriarch.
I myself think that if recourse were made to Israel's High Court of Justice, based on the religious liberty components of the international law of human rights, and based on Israel's own declared values, the High Court would find it very difficult to uphold the armed incursion of the police into the Greek Orthodox monastery in order to impose on the Greek Orthodox Church a patriarch no one there wants, and who has already been resoundingly deposed.
GREEKS AND INDIGENOUS
The deposition and "posthumous" struggle of Ireneos are, however, only the latest chapter in the long saga of the struggles within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The root problem is, of course, the monopoly of power and property still held by the ethnically Greek Hagiotaphitic Brotherhood, dispossessing the Arab faithful and the Arab lower clergy.
One serious manifestation of this has been that the Greek Patriarchs, long before Ireneos, got into the habit of selling off the Church's real estate with no transparency about the uses and destination of the money received. The Arab faithful have repeatedly gone to the Israeli courts, in an attempt to establish that the Patriarchs and bishops control Church property as trustees, that they cannot treat the Church's property as if there were no difference between it and their personal property.
However, the courts have so far rejected any claim by the community to have a say, or a stake, in the disposition of the Church's property. When it was reported in the media that Ireneos, who had promised to put an end to the irresponsible alienation of Church property, had in fact sold off some of the most prominent and strategically important properties, at the very entrance into the Walled City of Jerusalem, it was no longer the Arab faithful and lower clergy alone who were enraged.
Now the Greek prelates themselves concluded that a red line had been crossed, and they have moved quickly and decisively. They probably feared that, if they failed to act even in the face of such unprecedented conduct, their entire power structure was endangered. After all, in Syria, in the patriarchate of Antioch, already in 1899 the Arab faithful and clergy rose up and took over power from the Greeks, restoring the patriarchate to the indigenous Christian people.
Catholics are not directly involved in this drama. However, Catholics are certainly not sorry to see Ireneos deposed.
Since his election, he led a policy of hostility, aggression and even violence against the Catholic Church, culminating in the assault on the Catholics at the Holy Sepulchre, which he personally led on 27 September last year. On that occasion too Ireneos led his monks in a violent assault on the Jerusalem police who were trying to restrain them, and several policemen needed medical attention. It is therefore ironic that the police have now let themselves become instruments in an Ottoman-style attempt to restore Ireneos to office by force of arms!
One can only guess that the police are not happy with the orders they have received from the politicians, and it is impossible even to guess at the motives of the politicians for giving these orders, or how they could think to reconcile this armed intervention in the most intimate decisions of a Christian community with Israel's self-understanding as a "Jewish and democratic state."
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