Generally speaking, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem remains a rather unknown body, a structure that tracks back to the very beginnings of the Early Church of Jerusalem so far we refer to the official list of the ancient bishops, before the first See became an official “patriarchate”, one among the first founding ones or “Pentarchy” in AD. 451.
This is a major paradox, a sort of historic twisting that the very site where redemption came to existence in various ways only found a name a a place among the expanding churches of the diaspora. Jerusalem is a plural in both Hebrew : Yerushalayim/ירושלים and in Greek “Ιερουσαλιμ-α > Ιερουσαλιμων”, while it is perceived as a singular in most of the present-day languages. For the Jewish tradition, Mount Moriyah is the place where Abraham supposedly intended to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice in full obedience to the tests to which he was submitted by God. The “Binding of Isaac or Aqeydat Itzhaq/עקדת יצחק” is at the core of the Jewish reflection and memory, it is included in the Morning Shaharit prayer and show an intriguing similarity – at least over the ages – with the Christian binding of Jesus of Nazareth onto the Cross. Of course, the difference is significant as Isaac was saved and replaced by a ram for the sacrifice, whilst Jesus died on the “tree of life”.
For the rabbinic tradition, Jerusalem is dual (as shown by the grammatical plural form) because it united Earth, the Eretz or Holy Land and soil with the heavenly spaces. The City is thus unique because it connects the solid soils and territories and the surrounding seas or water depths that are “alive” with the whole of the other planets scattered in the high, usually dry and beaten by the winds or totally void. They constitute an immense series of galaxies. Theologically speaking, redemption that appeared in Jerusalem spread throughout the Earth, to all continents but also reached out to all galaxies, whether known or still unknown. It deals with and expanding mystery and Divine project that overshadows the whole of Creation, history and meta-history as well.
For the Christian tradition, different layers of development showed up in Jerusalem : to begin with, there was the Jewish small body of the Jewish “sect or group”. After the decision of the first Synod of Jerusalem (not included in the official list of the canonical Councils recognized by the Orthodox and the Catholics), Saint Jakobos’ Writ sent to the Gentiles who wanted to join the nascent Church allowed them to become full members of the “Early Church” in AD 49 or 52 as stated in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 15). From that time, by an official decision of the Jewish Church authorities and the letter of the first Bishop of Jerusalem, the Gentiles could legally and then still “halachically” enter the realm of the “Faithful” [with the tacit consent of the then-Jewish authorities or at least without mutual excommunication that was formulated much later by Shimon HaQatan in the 4th c.]. They progressively erased the presence of the Jews from the growing assemblies of the Church, in Jerusalem and in their development in Europe ,North Africa, the Middle-East. The expansion also meant, for the Church of Jerusalem, whose title remains “the Mother of All the Church of God”, an overall widening process that linked both heaven (where resurrected Jesus of Nazareth is at the right hand of the Father Creator of all beings) and Earth where the task of the believers and the Church(es) was to proclaim the reign of the Resurrected who leads to the Father by the knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
These data barely relate to the present articles that deal with the sales of land and properties by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem! At least, it sounds totally foreign to the theological concerns and definitions. It may be mistaken to ignore the existing connections and issues.
The history of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is a series of real tragedies that shook the whole of the Near and Middle-East since ancient times. Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Nazareth and Akko (Caesarea), Haifa, Jaffa, Beer Sheva (Birosaba one of the most ancient place of the Greek monks from the Byzantine period) are locations where all sorts of nations used to pass and go, come and disappear. They have been moving around, swindling with a true absence of stability. This is why the institution of the Church of Jerusalem or “the Ekklesia of Zion” tracks back to the first believers, at a time when the “believers in Jesus” were still the active members of a small kerygmatic group, not cut off from Judaism. From the period of the Early Church of Jerusalem that was not really “universal – open to the fulfillment” because still restricted to Jerusalem, the Land of Israel and without conscience of all-human inclusion till AD. 135 and the murder of the last known Jewish bishop of Jerusalem (according to Eusebios of Caesarea), it is a fact that the Church developed from within the Hellenistic culture, language, tradition. Indeed, the faithful that joined from all sorts of nations that were present in the Holy City also spoke Aramaic, Syriac, various Syriac and Semitic dialects (including nascent Arabic, Gheez/Ethiopian liturgical tongue), Coptic, Armenian and Georgian, inter alia.
In 313, the first source group of the “Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher” was seemingly created as the “”Spoudaeoi/zealous [monks] of the Holy Resurrection of Christ”. It developed especially after AD 326 when Saint Helena found the True Cross. The present group was reshaped in the 19th century, but the Order did exist from the very beginnings, composed of Hellenistic and Greek-speaking monks.
One of the major points that should be underscored is the way Christianity could exist and survive to invaders and Islam. On the one hand, the it is important to understand that the region is the real cradle of monasticism, in a different way as compared to the Egyptian and Coptic monasticism that spread from Alexandria to the Desert of Egypt and Ethiopia.
In Judea, in the South of the Land of Israel (Negev, Beer Sheva, toward the Sinai Peninsula to the West and Arabia to the East), monks and hermits settled, as for example the root of local Typikon or Liturgical Rules developed by Mar Sabbas and his companions. The Typikon spread among all the Eastern rite Byzantine (and other Oriental) Liturgical Orders and they are still in use nowadays. They took up a lot of dedicated monks from Greece and the Roman Empire of the East (as also from other parts linking to India and Far-East or Africa and Europe) and allowed the expansion and creation of a very powerful spiritual theology based on Liturgics and prayers, morals and asceticism.
In the meanwhile, the Eastern traditions always relied upon the possibility, for married priests to serve at the head of small communities or parishes. It became a rule that a married priest – having a legal wife and children – be in charge of the spiritual life and development. From the 5th century onward, bishops were elected among the monks (not only “celibates” by true consecrated monastics), which also included and this is still in force in the Middle-East that married priests can part from their wives and both become “monastics” provided that the children are grown-up and on their own. It is important because it basically shows a real set of flexible Church rules. Most important and meaningful was and remains the presence of a married native clergy because they had the same life conditions as the Muslim religious executives and spiritual leaders. It did help to reinvigorate, generation after generation, a stable Christian priesthood whilst the monastics were a sort of “free” companionship, always connected to some foreign institution or political structures based outside of the Fertile Crescent and Jerusalem, i.e. abroad, with resources, funds, assistance coming from the five head patriarchates (for the Orthodox: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, later in AD 351, Jerusalem as also from Rome before the Great Schism in AD 1054).
The structure of the Helleno-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem evolved through the ages. Nonetheless, from 1517 till the end of World War I and subsequently during the British Mandate, the firmans defined by the Sublime Porte (Ottoman Rule) organized the Orthodox local structure in such a wise that only the Patriarch, canonically elected by the Sacred and Holy Synod of the Church of Jerusalem is recognized by the legal authority in charge of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Normally, the members of the Brotherhood are also considered as legally accepted. But, the only one person responsible remains the patriarch. It should be noted, that, except in a few cases these days, the Arab clergymen (mostly married priests) are not accepted as members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. There are a few exceptions, not significant.
Historians have noted that the persistence of a married native – i.e. mostly Arab – priesthood in Jerusalem and the Holy Land saved Christianity on several occasions and allowed to maintain vis-à-vis Muslim clerics. This aspect is fading out in Israel at the present as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem endeavors to publicize in Greece in order to get Greek nationals as future “seminarists” and will-be priests and monks to “rule” over the territory of the Patriarchate that includes Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula is self-ruled still depending on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Since Theophilos III was sent to Doha (Qatar), in 1996, when he was an archimandrite (honored priest), the patriarchate also has an ecclesiastical parish in Qatar, which caused a clash with the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East.
In Bethlehem and the neighboring cities (Beit Sahour and Beit Jala), the Arab priests are numerous and they are still very powerful. In Jordan, there are a lot of Arab priests, some of whom are highly educated and fully supported by the the Jordanian Kingdom. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has there a large resource of learned pastors who slowly stopped visiting Jerusalem when previous patriarch Irenaios was deposed and Theophilos was elected in 2005. This also relates to some of the Greek (nationality) monks and priests who work in Jordan, usually in patriarchal schools. In 2007, when the King of Jordan stopped recognizing Patriarch Theophilos, readily because of managerial issues for some months, the King (as well as the State of Israel) reviewed the residing status of the members of the Brotherhood. As a consequence, some clergymen are permanently staying in Jordan and rarely would come to Jerusalem, which is rather new in the internal relations among the monastics.
Since June 2017, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is anew embattled with some managerial problems. In the press, one only can repeat, write and publish again and again that supposed sales took place in 2005. The Israeli journalists who describe the situation can only track back to some “parroted” elements that mention theft, fake sales, distortions of funds. They only can mention some sites (Talpyiot, Caesarea, Rehavia and/or other locations) that would have been sold or stolen by third parties. Names are quoted in the affair, always the same ones and the deals are strictly reduced to money trafficking, offshore transfers, fake offshore companies and one major religious Jerusalem-based Jewish institution.
This sounds huge. It is not really consistent with regards to the history of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the second part of the 20th and the two first decades of the 21 century.
Until AD 1841, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem as residing in Constantinople. It was safer. The Situation in the Holy Land that was merely a desert, facing wide spaces of true wilderness could not be easy to live in. The Ottoman Empire or Sublime Porte was exercising a very strict administrative control of a land where few Turks settled. By the way, they all disappeared all of a sudden, in the course of one night leaving the Jewish and Arab inhabitants in shock. Only one family spoke Turkish at that time, even if the Armenians who were linked to Turkish-speaking areas did know the language.
In AD 1841, a terrible affair shook Jerusalem. It was definitely confused: a Jewish barber had been accused of having killed a Franciscan monk and all the Churches were more or less getting involved in a mishmash whose result was that the colonial superpowers of the time were willing to strengthen their clutch on the Holy Land.
Great Britain who had an immense empire and had concluded a deal with the German cousin : the North and the coastal area would be under the control of the Anglican Church of England, whilst the South of the Negev were given pastoral assistance provided by the Lutheran (mostly German style to begin with). But the scandal in AD 1841 led the British conclude that it would be wise to appoint an Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem. It was not an easy matter to resolve and after long speculations and projects, they found a Jewish born Russian citizen born in Tauroggen (Prussia) who had been ordained an Anglican priest at Norwich. He got elected and assigned, after his episcopal consecration, in Jerusalem. Solomon Alexander Pollack only served four years as an archbishop in Jerusalem and his territories. His namme is only mentioned at Saint George’s cathedral (a small plaque). On the other hand, he translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hebrew and the Hebrew Christians celebrations lasted until 1947 at Jaffa Gate, at the present the Christ Church compound, mostly managed by the Messianic movement.
When the heads of the local Church of Jerusalem understood that the Anglican had a permanent representative in the area, they hurried to return to Jerusalem. There, the clergy was of two different stands as already mentioned : the monks used to come from Greece and/or even they were Greek they were coming from the Pontic region, i.e. in a zone that was quite confronted with the pressure of the Muslims. After 1915, they were expelled to Greece, mainly to the islands that are located very close to the Turkish coast and they did remember the tragedies they had gone through. Until nowadays, a large majority of the Greek priest-monks do arrive from these small islands and did keep in their vivid memory how their family had to fight against Islam during the period of the Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Greek mass murders.
This was also the first attempts of the Russian Orthodox Synod of the Church of Moscow (there was no patriarchate at that time) to establish some stations in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land. As a matter of fact, the Russian people and the Orthodox of the Tzarist Empire were definitely attracted to visit the Land of Jesus of Nazareth. This is how they slowly acquired some land and built hospices, small monasteries facilities in order to allow the Orthodox faithful to arrive in the Land by boat, ship or on foot, which could be a huge achievement for some faithful that were residing in remote Russian and imperial cities.
“The Greek Revolution of 1821, placed the brotherhood of the Sepulcher with the rest of the Greeks under the unfavorable category of the betrayers of the High Gate, opened the grounds to the “heterodox” (sic) for their undesired expulsion of the Greeks from the Holy Lands while the Brotherhood of the Sepulcher suffered great hardships by the Turks. In 1824 the Armenians occupied a part of Sion and tried to occupy also the Golgotha and received the same rights to the Holy Sepulcher as the Latins. In 1834 when Palestine was in the hands of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and using the opportunity of the restoration work of the Shrines made necessary after the earthquake of 1834, the Latins and the Armenians both tried to usurp complete control of the Holy Shrines. The pressure on Turkey by the European powers led to the reconstruction of the Latin Patriarchate in 1847 which was disallowed after the Crusades, while the cooperating English (Anglicans) and German (Lutherans) Protestants as well as the Uniates had already appeared in the Holy Land by 1847. Despite all these, the Holy Lands during this period as in the past received strong Orthodox help from the Russian Empire, whose involvement unfortunately was not after all completely selfless.
The arrival in Jerusalem of the Russian Archimandrite Porphyrius Uspenski during 1843 and the construction of the Orthodox Russian Delegation in 1848 strengthened the Orthodox presence, but at the same time the Russian Delegation cultivated a climate of artificial juxtaposition between the Greek-speaking Brotherhood of the Sepulcher and her Arabic-speaking flock, so that the mixing of the Russian interests in the ecclesiastic matters of Jerusalem became easier on tying of the flock to the chariot of Russia, this policy which from the beginning received unfavorable criticism even from Russia herself, culminated in the events which led to the end of the patriarchal service of the illustrious Patriarch Kyrill 2nd of Jerusalem who was misled by the Russian diplomats in Constantinople, to avoid participation in the 1872 reigning synodal condemnation of the Bulgarian schism and the hidden behind it nationalism and pan-Slavism.
Of course, this led Kyrill II to oppose the Brotherhood of the Sepulcher, which at its Council in 1872 first decided and finally brought about his dethronement despite the persecutions conducted by him and the Turkish police on the Brotherhood. However, in 1873 he elected as his successor Patriarch Prokopius the 2nd. Russia reacting to these events, confiscated the estates of the All Holy Sepulcher in Bessarabia and in the Caucasus which were returned again in 1875, the same year the Tall Gate (Sublime Porte) validated the new internal “Regulations of the Romaic (Greek) Patriarchate of Jerusalem”.
Despite these, the long patriarchal service of Kyrill II (1845-1872), was decisive and in the main beneficial to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. During his days, among others, the Printing Press of the Patriarchate was built (1853) which was the oldest in Palestine and the Theological School of the Holy Cross (1855) a theological offshoot of great learning of the Orthodox Church, furthermore the practice of electing the Patriarch of Jerusalem in Constantinople was discontinued, having lasted for the last two centuries, so that the Church of Sion became strengthened under the center of Romiosyni (Greeks) of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The international relations and the intense diplomatic sparring between France and Russia in 1855 for the advancement of the rights of the Latins or of the Orthodox respectively, led to victory of the latter, so that in 1852 a beneficial towards the Greeks order (Hati Sherif) was issued, and in 1853 one more order clarifying the earlier one which determined the operation of the Shrines and corresponding rights of the Greek Patriarchate and Christian confessions, composed essentially the present status of the Shrines. The 1856 treaty of Paris confirmed the then-existing Church status which was entrenched by the Convention of Berlin in 1878. This status is justly beneficial to the oldest Church in the Holy Land, the Orthodox Church, which was further validated by the Community of Nations and later by the Organization of the United Nations (1947-1950).
To day it exists strong, and is diligently guarded by all the Christian Communities, as a safe key to the rights of operation and to the interest of the shrines, since “he who guards the order, is guarded by it”. The present-day issue is that the guardianship is only respected formally and could be revised by a spirit of real competition that exists between the different Eastern-Orthodox and other jurisdictional denominations.”
Notable activity was displayed in the end of the 19th century by the Sacristan, Euthymius of the All Holy Church of the Resurrection who renovated the building complex of the Patriarchate, completing the renovation of most areas of the Christian sectors of the Old City of Jerusalem, from the Ioppi Gate (Gate of David) to the Church of Resurrection. Because of him this sector has been named after him (Aftimos sector). The School of the Holy Cross which after a short interruption (1873) had resumed its work under Patriarch Gerasimus (1891-1897), later again suspending its activities but again reopening. The Holy Community of the Sepulcher, namely the Brotherhood, assumed guardianship of the manuscripts and other treasures of the Patriarchate as well as the real estate property which is due to the 20th century developments in the territory of the historic patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The reappearance of the Russian Delegation (Ecclesiastical Mission of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem now joined by the Church Abroad assisted by the ancient Russian Palestinian Organizations) questions again the authority of the Deir RUM (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem). This can be felt in these days of October 2017 when the Russian Patriarchate of Moscow commemorates the 170th anniversary of the creation of her “Russian Palestine/Русская Палестина”, a concept that is growing due to the “power” or pre-supposed influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. This seems to be a concern in the Kingdom of Jordan where the Russian Authorities could open large compound, in particular on the Jordan River, allowing the many pilgrims to have their place to worship. This was granted by the present King of Jordan. In Israel, things are definitely different and quite tight and tied as the recent events in October 2017 have shown with the requirements of the Head and representatives of the Russian clergy and diplomats to the Israeli and Jerusalem Municipality Authorities.
While touring to visit the Heads of the local Churches of Jerusalem and of the Christian world (HH. Bartholomaios, Pope Francis, upcoming visit to Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, inter alia) and the Palestinian and other representatives, it should be noted that Patriarch Theophilos did not contact officially the Russian Patriarchate of Moscow nor the Romanian Patriarchate, both being quite in a process of renewed dialogue and co-assistance.