04/24/2006, 00.00
Israel
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Ireneos I is still the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, says Israeli government

by Arieh Cohen

In an unprecedented letter to the deposed Patriarch, Israel confirms that Theophilos III does not have official recognition. He was allowed to preside the Easter ceremonies because of "concern for public order".

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - The Government of Israel has reiterated its determination to insist that the deposed former Patriarch Ireneos is still the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. 

This position of the Government has been expressed in an unprecedented letter sent to Ireneos by Tzahi Hanegbi, Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on the Greek Patriarchate, and made public by the Israeli daily, Haaretz. In the letter, Mr. Hanegbi explains that the Government's decision to allow the new Patriarch, Theophilos, to preside at the Holy Saturday ceremonies at the Holy Sepulchre, was motivated solely by concern for public order, and did not imply any change in the Government's refusal to recognise that Theophilos is now the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Israel's Government is completely isolated in this position. The entire Orthodox world - indeed the entire Christian world - has recognised the deposition of Ireneos and the election of Theophilos, as have the other Governments that claim the legal right to recognise, or not to recognise patriarchal elections: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's non-recognition of Theophilos has practical consequences: it prevents banks and other institutions in Israel from recognising Theophilos's signature on official acts. The Greek Patriarchate has made recourse to Israel's own Supreme Court, accusing the Government of extortion. The Government, in fact, as the Israeli press has often said, wishes to force Theophilos to legitimise the sale of prominent Church properties in Jerusalem by Ireneos to Israeli settler organisations.

It was precisely that sale that motivated the Synod of the Patriarchate to depose Ireneos, in spite of his claim that the relevant documents were forged.

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