We had a very special day at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem on this November 22nd, 2010/November 9th, 7519. We celebrated the enthronement of the then new elected Patriarch Theophilos III, confirmed in August 2005 and enthronement at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis (Church of the Resurrection) five years ago. History can be cruel, especially in the Middle-East. The history of the local Churches are paved with dramas, spiritual shakes along with the usual earthquakes.
Life has never been so easy for the Jerusalem patriachs and hierarchs. Both Greek monks and arab clergy have preserved over centuries of battles and embattled conflicts between political and religious controversies. In the 19th century, the patriarchs of Jerusalem resided in Constantinople and came back when the Anglican appointed in 1841 a Jewish-born Anglican priest, Alexander Salomon Pollack, as the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem.
Under Ottoman rule and since the Omar Ibn Khattab decree subtletly suggested to the calife by Patriarch Sophronios in 681, the Churches have been subject to the rule of the Muslim laws and rigths. This is not over and was never cancelled at the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the coming of the British Mandate, then the Jordanian rule and now, unexpectly in terms of history, the Hebrew State of Israel. It is a part of the heritage that we call “Status Quo” and that can be interpreted at the moment in consideration of the different linguistic versions in force.
Theophilos III as Patriarch of Jerusalem is five years old; he had firstly been appointed as Archbishop at the Holy Sepulcher, which is not so frequent. His path came from Greece to Jerusalem and an important point is that he served as a deacon under late Patriarch Benediktos who was a strong man of God, one of the co-organizers of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem, at the Mount of Olives in 1964, one year before the closure of the Second Council of the Vatican.
This means that the present patriarch is rooted in the deep background of the local Greek and Orthodox presence in the Holy Land. He arrived to Israel, was in Jordan, served as a priest in Kana of Galilea among Israeli Arab Orthodox faithful and created an association for their spiritual growth and support. He also studied some time in England, and this is why it is worth mentioning the Anglican Church that can be very humble, charming and comprehensive and at the same has to resolve widely divided situations.
The link with late Patriarch Benediktos is essential because it tracks back to consistency and paves the way to renewal. The way was not easy. Archbishop Theophilos has been ordained by deposed Patriarch Irenaios. it is not possible to avoid mentioning the fact because any ordained person is de facto and de jure the spiritual son of the ones who ordain him, especially in the case of being a bishop. It also shows the difficulty of the path. Monk Irenaios is still next door though definitely not the patriarch, except by mistake for some internet and social networks.
In this context, today’s celebration was an essential moment: five years is half way to ten years…. Well, it sounds weird, but five years is a sort of a point. Some hierarchs were absent, some priests were missing. On the other hand, things are now clear. He has been working all over the five years in a context of unbelievable hardships. This must be taken into account in order to have a correct view of the tasks.
Daniel Rossing, the Israeli specialist of Christian Communities who recently passed away had a wonderful formula as to describe Patriarch Theophilos’ personal situation. As if the man was playing chess with several players on a 6th dimension basis. At this point, we should measure the burden of the Life-Giving Cross that we keep at the Holy Sepulcher. Patriarch Theophilos is the one, the first and the last in Jerusalem, as heading the Mother of all God’s Church (historically speaking) to be nailed on that Cross and it can indeed explain some moods, difficulties to define the way, the incredible and constant need to face challenging and opposed partners and contexts.
Nothing special: it has been and remains Jesus’ life on earth and beyond Resurrection.
In order to make things possible, it is a requirement to reshape. In order to reshape, there is a move that we call in Hebrew “tzimtzum/צימצום = restraining”. There was no Hebrew today. a lot of Greek: the representative of the delegate of the Moscow Patriarchate read in Greek too. A Bulgarian Metropolitan spoke perfect Greek and gave a Bulgarian Evangelion to the Patriarch. But Bulgaria is a bit Greek. And it recalls that two Greek borthers created the Pan-Slavonic Church language that till nowadays copies the Greek words and phrases. Today, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is Greek. We can hear different opinions expressed at different moments by the same people: either Greece is Greece as the Greeks have always been in the region. It should be noted that from the time of the Apostles down till now, you still can go shopping in Greek in the Old City of Jerusalem. This should be considered as a positive cultural long-term existence, also by the Jews who made extensive loans to the language for the Talmud…
When I arrived in Jerusalem to serve, late Patriarch Diodoros’ enthronement day was celebrated in another way. It was before the Second Intifada that does not really end. All the representatives of all official Churches present in Israel and the Palestinian Territories used to come: Russians from the Moscow Patriarchate and from the Church Abroad. Today, the Church Abroad united with Moscow but their presence in Jerusalem is significant and no one came officially. The Romanians, Serbs, Georgians… By the way, it appears now that by the time Saint Nino lived in Jerusalem, she knew nothing about the Holy Sepulcher and that the Constantine Era definitely determined a new phase in the development of the Roman Empire Church of the East and of the West. There used to come some Catholics, Protestants, Ancient Church representatives, to begin with the Armenians, the Syrian-Orthodox and the Copts. And some representatives of the State of Israel, Palestinian authority, Jordan.
Today, there were Arab clergymen who spoke, two of them: one for the Arabic-speaking Mar Yaakub parish, the other came from Beit Jala, the place where Saint Nicholas dwelt during his stay in the Holy Land. We heard some Russian in honor of the numerous crowds that rush everyday to the Holy Sepulcher and hardly can breathe something of a real spiritual refresh. The priest had to ask for silence and still continued, seemingly “unheard”.
Definitely not that much, because the real challenge of this time of the Patriarch is to face the huge amount of foreign visitors of all denominations. Mostly Russian Federation, Ukraine, the Slavic countries. In a few days, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk will arrive. Patriarch Kyrill is in the Ukraine and did not visit Jerusalem, whilst the Russian movements are growing in the Territories, Orthodoxy is changing.
There is always a trapeza, a fraternal lunch after the reception. Very nice food and you can feel people are glad to be together. it is very monastic, Oriental style, free, comfy. One Arab archbishop, several Arab priests, mostly Greek priests that would not address them and this is the striking part of the situation. Things are doing well, no problem. It is the motto, motto of the day, of the year, of the years… I wonder how it was some centuries ago when the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was going through dire poverty. They did combat and survived. Then two “foreign” priests, a Romanian and a Hebrew ones!…
The great mystery consists in how this survives. But this does not depend on us, it depends on God willing the spiritual benefit of His peoples.