05/25/2005, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE – HOLY LAND
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Joy among Jerusalem Orthodox, Ireneos excommunicated as Patriarch

Father Dimitrios, secretary to the Greek-Orthodox Synod, explains the background to the Ireneos I's dismissal and expresses hope for better relations with Catholics in the Holy Land.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The fraternity of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem is celebrating after the pan-Orthodox Synod in Istanbul (Constantinople) stripped Ireneos I of its title of patriarch.

Father Dimitrios, secretary to the Jerusalem Synod, with enthusiasm tells AsiaNews what happened.

"Our community is full of joy. Yesterday, the Synod in Constantinople accepted the decision of the Synod of Jerusalem and no longer considers Cardinal Ireneos as patriarch. This amounts to excommunication since the Orthodox Church no longer accepts him as patriarch. Ireneos can no longer work with any Church in that capacity and we no longer have to mention his name during the liturgy," he said.

Father Dimitrios, who has served the Church in the holy city for 20 years, said that tomorrow at noon the Greek-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem will elect the locum tenens (the equivalent of a Chamberlain who will exercise patriarchal authority during the vacancy and organise the election of the new Patriarch). "The bishops and the representatives of the Jerusalem Church are arriving tomorrow from Constantinople."

During the Synod presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I there were 10 representatives from Jerusalem: bishops, archimandrites and one monk.

There were also 42 envoys representing 14 Orthodox Churches including the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus, and Poland.

In the evening, Jerusalem Metropolitan Kesarios Asilios publicly announced that the "Patriarch was dismissed".

Ireneos I is accused to have secretly sold to Jewish investors real estate in the Old City not far from Jaffa Gate that belonged to the Patriarchate. As a result of this act, the Jerusalem Synod removed him from office on May 7.

According to Father Dimitrios, "it is about canonical matters. Under his tenure, Ireneos had practically cancelled the Synod. In Orthodox Churches, Synods always make the decisions, but under Ireneos decisions were taken together and then he did something different."

"If someone pointed out that the Synod had decided differently, he would say: 'I am the Patriarch; I am the dictator.'"

"All this happened for a long time," Father Dimitrios stressed. "He put us in a difficult situation in terms of the canonical life of the Orthodox Church."

Given the status quo that prevails in Jerusalem, the removal and replacement of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem cannot be done without the approval of political authorities.

Father Dimitrios explains that there are no political obstacles. "From Jordan, we have a letter signed by King Abdullah stating that he accepts the Synod's decision. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have stated that they won't interfere in the internal affairs of the Church".

Ireneos I (whose name means the peaceful one) had a reputation in Jerusalem for pushing his followers into clashes with the friars of the Holy Sepulchre and for creating troubles in the management of the Holy Sites owned jointly with Catholic Church.

According to Father Dimitrios, Ireneos I's dismissal will improve relations with Catholics.

"Clashes between Orthodox and Catholics had become particularly heated under Ireneos. It is true that the rules under the current status quo are very restrictive and occasionally there are disagreements and frictions. But we shouldn't get to the point of quarrelling and fighting each other," he said.

"I hope all this will end so that we may deal together with our problems through the joint committee we set up," he added.

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