Saturday, March 26, 2005

Eastern churches
From blog member Samer al-Batal

Al-Jazeera photo: ‘Holding in their hands the Israeli newspaper that exposed the deal, Orthodox protest their patriarch.’

Did the Greek Orthodox patriarch sell land in Jerusalem to Jews?
S al-B: This has been whipping up a storm back in Palestine. There are two particularly sensitive points involved here: the properties, with their buildings, two hotels, and businesses, were allegedly sold, not leased, and the properties are located within the walls of Jerusalem's old city*, where Jewish expansion causes more worry than in other places. The patriarch was reportedly stunned, with no knowledge of such a purchase being contracted; he denies any involvement ("If I have done this, let them cut off my hands."), saying such a transaction would be revoked if it has indeed taken place. A shady character, a financial manager of the Church, Nikos Papadimas, disappeared after allegedly concluding the deal; the Church claims that he was not given authorisation to sell properties. An al-Jazeera article claims that "Papadimas is wanted in Greece after Greek Orthodox Church officials in Athens accused him of embezzling 600,000 euros (US$800,000) in church funds". An arrest warrant has been issued for him.

The allegations of millions of dollars being payed for the acquisition of Church property were brought to the fore by a report in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Is there fraud in this story? Clear answers and clarifications better be forthcoming for the sake of everybody. Palestinians who work in the buildings on the sold properties and who were renting them from the Church from decades back were stunned by the news. There have been protests for the patriarch's resignation and callings for the withdrawal of Palestinian state recognition of the patriarch's legitimacy of office. The Palestinian prime minister has called for the creation of an investigative committee and for an inquiry involving, I believe, joint collaboration between Palestinian, Jordanian, and Greek authorities (Greece has already dispatched a team off to Jerusalem). Archbishop Aristarchos claims the patriarchate is conducting an internal investigation, and believes the patriarch should resign for the sake of the Church's reputation. On top of all this, some Jordanian MPs are agitating to give Patriarch Eirinios his ticket out of power and the Palestinian legislative council pushed for rescinding the PA's recognition of Eirinios as patriarch, and called for the 'Arabisation' of the Church. Schism, not really probable at this time in my opinion, could introduce further complications.

From an al-Jazeera Arabic video report I saw, Archmandrite `Atal'lah Han'na had the following to say: "There has to be an investigative committee for studying this matter. The question of the 'leaking' (i.e. gradual, slow handover - could suggest a surreptitious fashion) of Orthodox properties to Israel is a very dangerous issue and therefore whoever stands (i.e. is) behind this affair must be taken to account."

When the patriarch was first elected, the impression given by the press and by Israel's failure to recognise his election was that he would better improve relations with the Palestinians. Should the allegations regarding his complicity in this transaction prove to be true, his reputation may well be damaged beyond repair. But in all cases, if the sale of properties did in fact take place, his senior position will render him culpable even if he had no knowledge of the incident, and the reputation of corruption and scandalous dealings will further blemish the Church as an institution.

*The leader of the administrative committee of the Orthodox Congress (a laymen's organisation) in Palestine stated that the patriarchate's land dealings pose a danger to the Arabic Christian presence in Jerusalem, and that this, along with the increased influx of Jews would also deliver an impact on the final-status negotiations involving the city. [End.]

“We must separate the Palestinian Orthodox Church from the Greek Orthodox Church,” said MP Hanan Ashrawi during the debate. “We must solve this crisis by making the church an Arab church.”
is answered by this:

I don't see how phyletism and a schismatic church are going to solve the problem...
Such would flunk Catholic Ecclesiology 101.

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