Orthodox leaders meet in Istanbul to decide Ireneos I's fate

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Representatives of Orthodox Churches from around the world have gathered at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul to decide the destitution of Ireneos I's, the controversial Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is accused of selling property belonging to the Greek-Orthodox Church to Jewish investors. The buildings which serve as hostels for pilgrims are located within the walls of the Old City, a few yards away from the elegant Jaffa Gate.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the foremost authority within the world's Orthodox Churches, is presiding the Istanbul meeting.

Altogether, 42 representatives have arrived, representing 14 Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus, and Poland.

Ireneos I is also attending after arriving in Istanbul with two bodyguards.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem was stripped of his office by the Orthodox Synod in Jerusalem on May 7, the press release announcing the decision stating that "His Beatitude Ireneos I was removed from his post as Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and that he no longer had any power or authority to act on behalf of the Patriarchate".

The sale of real estate in the Old City outraged the city's Orthodox community. The faithful were first and foremost indignant over the money the former Patriarch is supposed to have pocketed (rumours are running in Jerusalem that the figure could be as high as US$ 150 million).

Secondly, people view any sale to Jews to as a betrayal of the Church's presence in the city since Israel has been pressuring Christians to leave the Old City to make way for Jewish families.

Tensions were so high that some weeks ago, Ireneos I was treated to shouts of 'traitor like Judas'.

Others within the Greek-Orthodox Church believe that the former Patriarch sold the buildings to gain Israeli government's formal recognition, something it had delayed to do for many years.

Since May 7 till his departure for Jerusalem, Ireneos I was closeted in his apartments in the Patriarchate out of fear for possible violence by the Greek-Orthodox community and protected by heavily armed Israeli soldiers and two bodyguards.

In light of the legal status of the Old City and its religious communities, the destitution and replacement of an orthodox Patriarch cannot occur without the approval of the proper authorities, including Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian governments.

Local sources told AsiaNews that the Palestinian cabinet has already approved the destitution and is waiting only for President Mahmoud Abbas's signature. Similarly, in Jordan, an official letter confirming the procedure is ready for King Abdullah's signing. Thus far, nothing is known of what Israel will do.

Although the Synod of Jerusalem does not have the power to dismiss the Patriarch, refusing to ratify its decision risks creating major problems and tensions.

The General Secretary of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Archbishop Aristarchos, said that the Synod took the "right decision" in removing Ireneos.

In the end though, the faithful will obey the final decision that the Synod in Istanbul will take.

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