08/22/2005, 00.00
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Jerusalem: the Greek-Orthodox Synod appoints Theophilus as new patriarch

The unanimously elected Greek-Orthodox Patriarch "will help the patriarchate to face and overcome the crisis created by Ireneos I". The reactions of Jordan and Israel are as yet unknown.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The 14 members of the Greek-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem have unanimously elected 53-year-old bishop Theophilus as the new patriarch. The appointment makes him Metropolitan of Jerusalem and he takes the place of Ireneos I, who was deposed on 24 May by the pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople led by Patriarch Bartholomew I. The former patriarch had tried to nullify the meeting of the Synod to name his successor but the judicial court of Jerusalem stopped him from doing so.  

Of Greek nationality, the Metropolitan Theophilus has served in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and he was also representative of the Greek-Orthodox Church in Moscow and in Qatar. The secretary-general of the Synod, Archbishop Aristarchos, said: "We endeavoured to elect a patriarch capable of restoring prestige to the patriarchate. Now we feel stronger to face and overcome the crisis and scandal created by Ireneos I". AsiaNews analysts in Jerusalem say the unanimous vote for Theophilus shows the unity of the Orthodox community with regard to Ireneos I, who now occupies a palace of the patriarchate and refuses to leave.

Fr Atanasio, a Francisan of the Holy Land who is responsible for the Holy Sepulchre told AsiaNews that "Mgr Theophilus is a cordial and friendly personality". He added: "With him, good collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox is assured. In the past, thanks to his position, Theophilus collaborated much for maintenance of the Holy Site."

According to various customs and laws, the new appointment must be approved by the governments of Palestine, Jordan and Israel. The first has already declared it will "respect the Synod's decision" while the government of Jordan has not yet clarified its position. The disapproval felt by Greek-Orthodox believers of Arab origin at having only religious leaders of Greek nationality is well known.

The Israeli government has not yet even acknowledged the deposition of Ireneos I ordained by the Synod of Constantinople. For the time being, an official said that a ministerial commission has been set up and mandated to look into the matter.

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