The request had been running out for months, if not years since the death of late Patriarch Diodoros (Damianos Karivalis/Δαμιανός Γ. Καρίβαλης) who had been elected in 1980 and passed away on December 20, 1980. The election of K.K. Diodoros had taken place in a rather embattled context, after the death of a prestigious hierarch, Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem who was a learned scholar, well-educated and had welcomed Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1964. Late Patriarch Diodoros was a simple man, not that educated, twisting around all possibilities that could lead him to take advantage of his own situation and that could benefit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
In 1980, he was patriarchal Exarch in Amman (Philadelphia in Greek), Jordan, a major location, quite strategical city and country as it remains at the present. He was known to be fond of the Arabs, the Arab Christians. He created several churches in all parts of the patriarchate and was quite active until he fell ill.
Patriarch Diodoros suffered for many years of severe disease. Because of that, he had to be constantly under control of physicians and specialists. A Russian oligarch paid for his stay at the Hadassah Hospital. So far I could see, since I had been in contact with the administration in the late 1990es, he was not really appreciated though they did take care of him. He was a “normal Greek Orthodox in-born anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic”. It is a part of the usual cultural environmnt in which he had been brought up in Chios, a small island facing Turkey. The Pontic Greeks had to flee the Ottoman Empire and new Turkish Republic. They had been victimized by the Young Turks and murdered the same way the Assyrians and Armenians had been, at a lesser extend.
This is an essential feature of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem : the monks-to-be come rather early (at 12, 15 years) and they supposedly are trained and educated in a strct Greek church way that should lead them to become monks. They mainly participate in the religious services, the Divine Liturgies. As the school is located at Mount Zion, the come every day to the Patriarchate and participate in the prayers and Liturgies, either at the Great Monastery of the Patriarchate or at the Holy Sepulcher.
By the time of late Patriarch Diodoros, the “pupils” were systematically educated in Greek but they also learnt Arabic, quite fluently. If they arrived early enough, some of them, belonging to the elder generation, spoke without accent. Some youths got even very good at speaking and reading, writing Arabic, as they were highly attracted by the Near- and Middle-Eastern way of living and customs. One hierarch who arrived quite early can still read Arabic with any accent and read the text of an article in the newspaper turned up side down fluently.
This generation is now in their 65/75 years old and the new generation of archimandrites, priests, monks are definitely no more in direct contact with the Arab entourage. Nor are they capable to speak any correct Hebrew. Though the matter appears to be in contradiction with the Israeli rules in force, the Greek Orthodox do not learn any Hebrew. Patriarch Diodoros was strongly opposed to the Jews and Israel and he had banned those members of the Hagiotaphoadelphotitos (the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher) who were willing to be up-to-date and try to speak Hebrew that is the language of the Scriptures (the Greek Orthodox refer to the Septuagint, the translation from Hebrew to Greek, made by the 70 Jewish Elders of Alexandria. This translation is the main reference – not the Hebrew original text – for the Orthodox Church, but it means that the Byzantine tradition relies upon the understanding of the texts after a Jewish understanding expressed by the words chosen by the translators. Eastern Orthodoxy can be rather reluctant to read the texts in Hebrew, they would hardly refer to Aramaic (as used by the Jews) and would lesser be convinced to study the Talmud.
This tradition were reinforced by the fact that the Church of Jerusalem did not accept the settlement of the Jews by the time of the First Aliyah (1880), then the Balfour Declaration (1917) and could not even think of any Jewish National Home in Palestine, from the time of the Ottomans and their collapse, then the British and the Jordanians… This can be felt nowadays, a sort of “softened tolerance” but the tongue often slips and there is no acceptance of the State of Israel.
The reason could be very simple and outspoken. I assisted several times to such discussions when a Greek Orthodox Metropolitan or Bishop would meet with the numerous visitors and pilgrims. The territory of the Holy Sepulcher and of the Basilica of Nativity in Bethlehem are considered as “Greek” and the “others” are “foreign”, which can lead to full absence of dialogue. Because it does not only relate to the Jews but also to the Arabs, whether Christians or Muslims.
But the Greek Orthodox hierarchs try to avoid anything that could challenge their presence in the site. When receiving rabbis and pilgrims (it does not happen often), the discussion turns to speak about the air and beautiful sites, but some rabbis happened to explain the meaning of “memory” in the Hebrew tradition. The Greeks had then to listen that Jewish memory of the Land overshadows century of Divine Providence and oath to bring the exiled back to their homeland, i.e. Israel. In the past few years, the hierarchs would abstain from answering too directly.
This led late Patriarch Diodoros to ban (anathema) two archimandrites who had decided to study Hebrew and some Talmud at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Fr. Aristarchos, and Fr. Christodoulos who were to become bishops had been under anathema for having asked to study Hebrew and Fr. Aristarchos had also served the Divine Liturgy with some priests, in particular Fr. Eliya Shmain, a Jewish Russian born man who had become a priest in France and served for some time in Jerusalem and Israel. He was not that good at Hebrew, and belonged to the former GuLAG prisoners (he was released in 1954). In the end, Patriarch Diodoros wanted to stop his work for the rapatriyanty / рапатрианты (newcomers from the former USSR) and intended to send him to serve in an Arab village. Fr. Eliya preferred to leave the country and, after some years in Paris, he returned to Moscow where he served till his death.
As time passed, the Hebrew-speaking group of Jerusalem priests grew among the Greek ones to such an extent that they could meet and use Hebrew as a sign of friendship and sharing the same views, at least basically.
On the other hand, Patriarch Diodoros was willing to ordain Arab priests and this is quite important, both for Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. One of his favorite was the young Attallah Hanna from a rich Arab Israeli Orthodox Christian family of Ramleh whom he supported and later became a priest and archimandrite, supposedly studied in Greece and “had a doctorate from the University of Sofia (Bulgaria)” – only 4 pages long written by a friend in English. He became the Secretary for the Arab-speaking communities at the General Secretary of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for quite a long time. He appeared to be a nice man, quick to assist the faithful. He had promised to a girl that he would marry her, but considered that becoming a monk and making his way up to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Land was more fascinating and real.
From 1981 till 2001, the General Secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was Metropolitan Timotheos (Timothy) of Vostra (his last See given). This raised a real conflict with the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East since “Vostra” is located but no more a Christian town in Saudi Arabia, one of the most ancient sites of Christendom. The two Churches clashed, stopped and denied their communion for quite a while and finally, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not step down and the metropolitan got his reward. He ran te patriarchate for twenty (20) full years. His backgrounds and ethics explain a lot of the present issues that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are going through.
(to be continued)