Thursday, November 10, 2005


Israel Tells Greek Patriarchy not to Swear in Theophilos

TEL AVIV, November 10, 2005 (WAFA) - The Israeli government has warned on Thursday the Greek Orthodox Patriarch-elect, Theophilos III, not to hold an official inauguration ceremony scheduled for November 22, Israeli Daily Haaretz said.

The daily said that Tzachi Hanegbi, the Israeli Minister in Charge of Jerusalem Affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, conveyed the warning in a letter yesterday morning to Ahmed Mughrabi, the lawyer representing the Patriarchate.

In the letter, Haaretz reprted, Hanegbi writes: "The state objects to holding this ceremony, which is intended to validate the removal of Patriarch Irenios, a move that has not been recognized by the State of Israel, as is required by law."

Theophilos was elected two months ago by the Greek Orthodox Church's Holy Synod to replace the ousted Irenios. Sources in the Patriarchate say the church leaders mean to instate Theophilos officially in a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, followed by a reception for heads of churches and diplomats at Notre Dame Hotel.

The daily said the Patriarchate offered a sharp reply to Hanegbi's letter yesterday: "With all due respect, the Patriarch, the Synod and the Patriarchate find your letter surprising and unacceptable since it constitutes an outright and inappropriate interference in their autonomy as a religious sect and in the religious freedom of members of the Greek Orthodox congregation."

Two weeks ago, Theophilos filed a suit against the Israeli government in which he claimed that the government had conditioned support of him upon his approving the real estate deals signed between Jewish groups and the Patriarchate under Irenios - deals the latter now claims were a sham.

What Haaretz had to say about these deals:

Patriarch petitions High Court over conditions of recognition
Arnon Regular
The newly elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, submitted a petition to the High Court on Wednesday in which he and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy accused the government of Israel of making its recognition of the patriarch conditional on his signing of "questionable" real estate deals.

The petition reveals new information about the long-term leasing deals in the old city of Jerusalem, in which leasing rights of Patriarchy assets for hundreds of years were awarded "at prices that can scarcely be imagined."'

Prices for stolen goods
'The assets mentioned include the Imperial Hotel at the Jaffa Gate, for the sum of $1.25 million, the Petra Hotel at the same location for $500,000, effective leasing of the Saint John Hostel in the old city, which Ateret Kohanim has already taken over, for $400,000, and a deal not previously reported - the leasing of a plot of land inside the old city, for $55,000, effective leasing of the Saint John Hostel in the old city, which Ateret Kohanim has already taken over, for $400,000, and a deal not previously reported - the leasing of a plot of land inside the old city, for $55,000.

The deals were arranged with foreign companies registered in the Virgin Islands. The Patriarchy claims that "the prices are ridiculous in relation to the assets' location and value, and would more appropriately be termed prices for stolen goods."

The petition states that in light of the fact that Ireneos claimed he did not know about the deals, and that he was tricked by Ateret Cohanim and Papadimas, the "bizarreness" of Israel's demands is even more magnified. Israel's government is supposed to transfer a document of approval to the new Patriarch to allow him to sign contracts and run the Patriarchy's official business. According to the petition, nonrecognition of the Patriarchy effectively condemns it to economic paralysis.

Although it is perceived as the richest ecclesiastical institution in Israel, the petition claims that the Patriarchy is in fact submerged in heavy debt, approaching NIS 50 million.

Church officials refused to say who in Israel's government had allegedly applied pressure on Theophilos to agree to the deals, but on condition of anonymity, said that the messages had been conveyed to Theophilos and to other parties by Tzachi Hanegbi, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs.

'Referred to authorized parties'
Theophilos' aides attached to the petition official Israeli responses to their requests to recognize Theophilos. To the first request, dated September 18, the Prime Minister's Office replied that "the matter was referred to the authorized parties." A second request from October 10 was answered by Government Secretary Yisrael Maimon, who wrote that Israel views the dismissal of Ireneos and the election of Theophilos as "an internal church dispute," and that Israel does not view itself a party in the matter and does not "interfere in internal church matters." The latter document refers to the ousted Ireneos as "Patriarch of Jerusalem," and to the newly elected patriarch as "Archbishop Theophilos III."

Patriarchy officials said that non-recognition of the Patriarch elect is in itself a "rude and blatant interference," and that Maimon's letter reveals the government's true intentions.


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