Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem Receives New Patriarch amid Controversies

Theophilos III has been sworn in as the new patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem Tuesday, replacing Irineos I.

Theophilos III has been sworn in as the new patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem Tuesday, replacing Irineos I.

The installment ceremony was held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Theophilos III has served as a top clergyman, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Archbishop of Greece Christodoulos, Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Panagiotis Skandalakis, representatives of the Greek political parties and of all the Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates were present, sources say.

The ceremony was held despite the opposition of the Israeli government. According to AsiaNews, Tzachi Hanegbi, the Israeli Minister in Charge of Jerusalem Affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, sent a warning letter to the Patriarchate on Nov. 10, stating, "The state objects to holding this ceremony, which is intended to validate the removal of Patriarch Ireneos, a move that has not been recognized by the State of Israel, as is required by law."

Patriarch Ireneos I, the predecessor of Theophilos III, was dismissed by the church in May after selling church land in a mainly Palestinian area of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to Jewish investors. Palestinians were outraged by the action, which may increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem – the intended capital of a Palestinian state.

The Patriarchate in Jerusalem replied to the Israeli officials and rejected the demand to not hold the installation ceremony for the new patriarch, according to AsiaNews.

"With all due respect, the Patriarch, the Synod and the Patriarchate find your letter surprising and unacceptable since it constitutes an outright and inappropriate interference in their autonomy as a religious sect and in the religious freedom of members of the Greek Orthodox congregation," the letter stated.

According to Athens News Agency (ANA), the new Patriarch addressed the recent challenges faced by the Jerusalem Patriarchate during his enthronement speech. He pledged his effort to "emerge from the sea of corruption and fraud."

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Panagiotis Skandalakis commented that the inauguration ceremony was the end of a "long and difficult period of disruption" that had rocked the Jerusalem Church and congregation. He reiterated that the "steadfast concern" of Greece was always to "protect this institution for the good of Orthodox faith and the message that it gives to all the world for peace, reconciliation and progress," as quoted by ANA.

Theophilos III, originally from Messini in Greece, was elected the 140th Patriarch of Jerusalem and all Palestine on Aug. 22. The 53-year-old Patriarch arrived in the Holy Land in 1964 to study theology and was ordained a priest in 1970. In 1986, he became secretary general of the Holy Synod in charge of foreign relations, according to AFP.