Whilst Theophilos III celebrates Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians protest
Theophilos’s car was attacked when he arrived in Manger Square. Palestinians accuse the Greek Orthodox Church of selling land to settler groups. The transaction took place under Theophilos’s predecessor. Palestinian and Jordanian authorities attended Christmas Mass.
Bethlehem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Basilica of the Nativity is the heart, guard and shield of the holy city of Bethlehem, said Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III during Midnight Mass marking Orthodox Christmas on 6-7 January.
Theophilos III led the Christmas procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Various officials attended the liturgical service, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordanian Interior Minister, Ghaleb Zu'bi.
During the ceremony, the patriarch prayed for peace in the Middle East and reiterated the closeness of the Orthodox Church to the Palestinian people. This expression of solidarity comes at a difficult time for the patriarchate.
When Theophilos arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square he was met by a protest by Christian Palestinians who accuse the Greek Orthodox Church of selling property and land to Jewish groups.
Protestors threw stones, bottles and eggs and pounded his car with their fists, chanting “traitor, traitor”. Father Issa Musleh, spokesman for the Orthodox Church, rejected the accusations.
"Those are old deals the patriarch wants to rectify and clarify, because all those old deals are detrimental to the rights of the patriarchate and its congregation."
The controversy dates back to 2004, when three companies associated with a settler group, Ateret Cohanim, obtained a long-term lease on three buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church: the Petra Hotel, the Hotel Imperiale and a building in the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Jaffa Gate.
This transaction provoked the wrath of the Palestinians and led to the removal in 2005 of Theophilos III’s predecessor, Patriarch Ireneos.
Under the current patriarch, the Greek Orthodox Church has launched a legal battle against the agreement, calling it "illegal" and "unauthorised".
Last 1 August, a district court in Israel rejected the Patriarchate’s position. The latter now plans to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.