Theofilos III harshly decries Israeli attitude toward Greek patriarchate

By Arnon Regular

Haaretz

Cheshvan 26, 5766

The new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Holy Land, Theofilos III, has lambasted Israel for refusing to recognize him and continuing to safeguard his ousted predecessor, Irenios I.

Theofilos was sworn in last Thursday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in a ceremony attended by representatives of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Russia and the rest of the Orthodox world.

In an exclusive interview with Haaretz this past Friday, Theofilos said Israel's attitude was reminiscent of the Ottoman era, when the patriarchate was subject to the arbitrary discretion of the ruling sultans.

Theofilos decried the Israeli government's refusal to recognize his authority, saying that Israel had violated the patriarchate's autonomy by deploying Jerusalem police officers to guard the ousted Irenios in an isolated ward in the patriarchate compound in the capital's Old City.

The full interview will appear at Haaretz.com.

Theofilos, 53, was born in a village in the Messinia regions, in the south of Greece. His church career began in 1964 in Jerusalem, where he served as archdeacon to Patriarch Benedictus, whose tenure spanned from 1957-1980. In his own tenure, Theofilos intends to overcome the disorder, intrigue and scandals that plagued the terms of his predecessors, Irenios and Diodorus, and restore to the patriarchate the stability that he says characterized it under Benedictus.

Theofilos says the Israeli government is exercising a type of "blackmail" in making its recognition of him conditional upon validation of real estate deals conducted by Irenios, in which church-owned property was leased for hundreds of years to companies owned by Jews living in East Jerusalem. These include the Petra and Imperial hotels at Jaffa Gate, the St. John's Hostel in the Old City and another valuable piece of land in the Old City.

The understated Theofilos refrained from saying what his position would be on those deals, but he pledged that the patriarchate under his leadership would maintain the status quo and strive for coexistence within the Old City. He declined to go into detail because of a still pending petition to the High Court of Justice.

Theofilos said he discussed the matter with the minister for Jerusalem affairs, Tzachi Hanegbi, but that the meeting ended without an agreement. He bears no grudge against anyone, he said, but added that the patriarchate believes it is being subjected to indirect threats on this matter.

Theofilos said he is still obtaining all the information on the real estate deals that were conducted under Irenios.