Theofilos sworn in as new Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Holy Land

By The Associated Press

Haaretz

Cheshvan 20, 5766

Surrounded by hundreds of hushed supporters crowded into one of Christianity's holiest sites, Theofilos III was sworn in Tuesday as the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, despite Israel's delay in approving the appointment.

Theofilos succeeded Irineos, who was ousted in May amid allegations he leased church land in East Jerusalem to Jewish groups interested in expanding the Jewish presence there. The long-term leases enraged the church's predominantly Palestinian flock, which claims East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

World Orthodox leaders stopped recognizing Irineos' authority in May, but he continued to resist demands to step aside, saying a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge. Theofilos, who had been the metropolitan of Tabor in the Galilee, was elected to replace Irineos in August by the church's Holy Synod in a 14-0 vote.

Theofilos had served previously as a Greek Orthodox Church envoy in Qatar and reportedly has close ties to the Greek Orthodox leadership in the United States.

Installation of a new patriarch traditionally requires the approval of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. Jordan and the Palestinians have approved Theofilos' appointment, but an Israeli committee was still deliberating.

Church officials voiced optimism the crisis would be solved soon.

"We hope Israel will recognize him, because all the Orthodox world and neo-Orthodox world has recognized him," said Christodoulos, a metropolitan at the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

He said the church had good relations with Israel, but asked that the country not involve itself in the inner workings of the church.

The Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Theofilos, which means "God's friend" in Greek, was installed in a ceremony Tuesday morning inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which stands over the reputed sites of the crucifixion of Christ and the tomb where he was buried.

Hundreds of clergymen, worshippers and tourists flocked into the ancient church, clapping and waving Greek and Cypriot flags as Theofilos strode down the aisle for his anointment. The crowd repeatedly chanted "Axios," Greek for "you are worthy."

"It gives real spiritual insight," said Marina Emmanouil, 35, who came from Athens to attend the ceremony. "I don't think I will have the chance to see this again in my life."

Dozens of black-garbed clergymen then marched in a procession toward the Greek Patriarchate, accompanied by a heavy police presence through the winding streets of the Old City of Jerusalem for a ceremony attended by Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

Irineos, who continues to occupy the patriarch's quarters, did not attend the ceremonies.

Christodoulos compared Irineos to the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and deposed Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein.

"We are a democracy and we will not be led by a man who is mentally ill," he said. "The brotherhood rejected him. No one can bring him back."