It was issued by the “Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre” on February 24, 2018 at 7:56 pm. The circular included the following declaration:
“Patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem will hold a press conference for an important announcement regarding the Israeli measures against the churches.
The press conference will take place in front of the Holy Sepulchre Church at noon tomorrow February 25.
The Knesset is expected to pass a law depriving Churches from historic rights of ownership and administration of their properties .
The conference will also address the Israeli municipality crippling measures against churches with respect to taxes that were never levied on Churches before !!”
The different services and Liturgies were performed as usual, with some heavy atmosphere that could be felt. Some of these Services were particularly long because the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy continues with a special service of the “Anathema” traditionally pronounced against all the heretics to the True Faith that is still present, according to the faith and teaching of the Roman Orthodox Church, as a part of the multisecular tradition of the CHurch of the East.
This should be understood adequately. After 1964 and the encounter of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras at Jerusalem, in the Holy Sepulcher, it had been decided to lift up the “anathema againts all those considered as heretics by both parties, whether Orthodox or Catholic”. But the Anathema – though suppressed in some patriarchates (e.g. Constantinople) are still in force, especially in the Jerusalem and Russian Orthodox Churches. And indeed, on Sunday morning, whilst the Greek Orthodox recited the anathema, it itched, as every year, the Armenian “brethren” and, to a lesser extent the Latin Franciscans that do not understand the stances and would not really take the rite into consideration, once the Pope declared that there are no more anathema, at least on his side…
This is important to understand that the wonderful spirit of unity that showed while the gates of the Holy Sepulcher where duly closed by the Muslim guardian Nusseibe – also according to the tradition – was a montage of good friendship, indeed, but definitely not of Christian consent on what true Faith is. Among the protesters, no Copts, Syrian Orthodox or Ethiopians were present and only the representatives of the Franciscans, the Armenian patriarchate and Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and All Palestine. He made a declaration largely overshadowed by the calling of the local muezzin. The protest started.
There are different issues :
a) the pending affair about the sales of the two hotels located at Jaffa Gate. Are they really sold? No appeal was made since the confirmation of the sale by the Jerusalem District Court. Words, declarations, journeys to the West, meeting with hte governmental leaders, the spiritual heads of European Churches. Again words of comfort and support, but then, what real support?
b) All the 13 leaders of the official Churches of Jerusalem were received by the King of Jordan who is the traditional “Guardian of the Holy Sites of Islam and Christianity”. The hierarchs did ensure the King that he was the right and only man who could solve and clarify the situation. He gave his blessing, his ministers confirmed his support, nothing changed.
c) When the crisis started with regards to the “sale” of the Hotels at Jaffa Gate, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat and his advisers – did confirm that they wanted to help to maintain and develop the Christian bodies, both as houses of prayers (exempt of taxes) and the activities of the Christian shops, restaurants, then educational centers and other “businesses”.
d) The sales of “foreign land and properties” in the State of Israel is usually to be regulated by the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (Jewish National Fund) as all the land of Israel to the benefit of the regular citizens of the State of Israel. It appears that the Greek Orthodox patriarchate (would) have sold large portion of land and properties at a very low price to Jewish offshore companies acting for the profit of some Jewish religious yeshivah and working institutions. One of them is Ateret Cohanim who had capture the St. John Monastery in the Old CIty due to high debts that the Church ad never accepted to pay.
e) This led MK Rachel Azraya who was a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem to propose a bill at the Knesset of Israel in order to protect the inhabitants of the sold parcels of building. Their rental fees could become very heavy to pay while they used to pay incredibly low rents for big flats in town.
Curiously, the bill could eventually also protect the Churches not to sell their properties at a low price, even ridiculous prices as shown recently.
f) The Churches of Jerusalem took the motto uttered by HB. Theophilos when he began his tour of Europe to get international support. He then declared that “Enough Is Enough”. Yes, indeed, but what happened first? How things were launched. After the election of Irenaios as patriarch, deposed in 2005 and replaced by Theophilos due to an exceptional Synod at Constantinople. It stopped the infuriated “hatred” that brought the two main candidates : Ireneaios, Exarch in Athens for thirty years and Timotheos of Vostra, Secretary General of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem. It ended with aboth being knocked and Israel barred Timotheos to be anew a candidate when Theophilos became patriarch.
Over the twenty years from 1980 after the passing-away of patriarch Diodoros, the affairs got structured with combinations that involved joint activities of some of the hierarch in charge of the patriarchate, name Timotheos and Hesychios had been temporily deposed for having tried to open an eparchy in Australia uncanoncally.
g) I assisted to the collapse of Irenaios. No proofs were brought, some papers that nobody would have read. He had been too long absent from Jerusalem to cope with the local slide-down toward some form of “corruption”. When he got elected, Theophilos is a man of prayer and quietness with his own temperament. Abp Aristarchos who is the spiritual director of the patriarchate maintained the structure in his quality of Secretary General of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. As time passed, he had also to cope with the power that Theophilos wanted to exercize by himself and with people of his choice. Some archimandrites and priests – though duly members of the patriarchate -never show anymore in Jeruslaem and continue their work and educational activities in Jordan.
h) So there are intermingled affairs: the sales of land and properties that initially were entrusted by the Arab Orthodox to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Not clear what the situation is.
i) At the present, HB. Theophilos and the heads of the three major official Churches in Israel claim they have no taxes to pay and it went so far that he dared declare “that the claim of the Israeli State is similar to the actions conducted against the Jews during the war”. It is a bit too much. In Haifa, in Tel Aviv, the Churches who are on the Israeli soil do pay all the required taxes. They neglect to pay those which they have to pay legally (medical care and pensions for their clergymen, all levels). But they are submitted to taxations. On the other hand, such a declaration is really inspired by anti-Semitic feelings… which is a paradox because since 2005, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem slowly had been willing to get closer to the Israeli adminstration and speculate how to develop “nicer relationships”.
The point with Jerusalem is that the city is considered as requiring an international status since the partition in 1947 by the United Nation vote decision. In this sense, the CHurches do not recognize the State of Israel, never mentioned by the Orthodox Church – at the present the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow speaks of “a Russian Palestine” (sic).
And last before being able to update adequately: during the time of the Ottoman and the British and the Jordanians, there were indeed high taxes paid by the Church. But they had to be paid to the Sublime Porte with whom there was definitely not the same harsh theological antagonism as with the Jews and the revital of a State of ISrael.
On several occasions, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem could not afford the payment of water supplying for the Holy Sepulcher and the debt became so high ca. $ 3 millions that the Israeli company closed the account and froze the bank accounts of the Churches. One member of the Municipality of Jerusalem is correct when she says that instead of tisting around, the Churches could also change the way of living and that this is indeed a real spiritual concern.
(to be continued)