Κυριακή, 11 Δεκεμβρίου 2011

The Chronicle of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Crisis in Jerusalem in 2005

Was the unfulfilled expectation of who would receive the lifelong office and the administration of the religious institution the true reason behind the insurrection within the orthodox community?

The Byzantine-inspired intrigues, scenarios and plots that we all witnessed two years ago, constitute no hyperbole for those who are familiar with people and situations in the land of Jerusalem; everything was staged by the protagonist hierarchs who had their supporting groups fight a veritable power war.

Should one take into consideration today the scheming by Patriarch Mr Irineos’ opponents, the “Cretans” group was in the lead, followed by the “Peloponnesians” in the strategy of a poorly copied petty-policy –exactly as it happened in the 2001 Patriarch elections.

Expressing the views of said group was the close collaborator of the deceased Patriarch Diodoros and Chairman of the then Patriarchate Financial Committee, Metropolitan Cornelius of Petra. Full of ambition both for the position of Suffragan Bishop (entrusted with ensuring that the clergy elects a Patriarch in an orderly manner) as well as for the vacant Throne of Patriarch Diodoros, he manages to be elected in the latter for the duration of the transitional period, committing however many severe errors during his term of office.

The gravest of all –which actually allowed the “Cretans” to prevail easily on their first collective effort-, was that a letter from said group leader-hierarch addressed to the Ariel Sharon administration was leaked, in which he was thanking the Israeli government for its correct decision to exclude five Metropolitans from the list of eligible candidates “for security reasons”. Amongst them were Timotheos, Metropolitan of Vostra and Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod and the Patriarchal Exarch of the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre in Athens, Metropolitan Irineos of Hierapolis.

This careless action on behalf of Cornelius, Metropolitan of Petra, resulted in the excluded candidate Metropolitans forming a common front and blaming the “Cretans” of vilifying them, as the indecent –according to them- behaviour of the former “aids their ultimate exclusion by the Israeli government”.

Through personal efforts of the five aimed at all directions, the excluded Metropolitans attempt –and finally manage- to reverse the decision against them. The dispute still stands, as fierce as ever, thus facilitating the chasm.

However, there is a cold-war like climate. The Pyrrhic victory of the conciliatory Patriarch Mr Irineos only stiffens the internal strife. Neither of the “Cretan” and “Peloponnesian” group leaders surrenders, while a sense of ungratified anticipation lingers on in both blocks and the trends each of them represents.

The Metropolitan of Petra Mr Cornelius and his supporters prove most efficient on the chessboard of their opposition tactics, while the Metropolitan of Petra Mr Timotheos, as leader of the “Peloponnesian” group, opts for the road of intense in-court conflict against the Patriarch Mr Irineos, steadily losing support within the brotherhood.

In a futile attempt to moderate the situation, the new Patriarch fails to impose discipline through repression. Fully aware of all conflicting ambitions, he pursues counterbalancing tactics through creative post assignments, unwilling to disturb the spirit of consensus he wishes to adopt.

From as early as the first meeting of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate’s new Synod, he entrusts the Archbishop of Constantine Aristarchus with the task of Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod and assigns the Metropolitan of Petra Cornelius as General Patriarchal Commissioner.

The two leading members of the “Cretans” realise that in this conjecture they may only shine in the new sky and they do not object in finding their places in the pyramid whose cornerstone is the Patriarch himself.

Later on, during the Synod’s internal changes in members, Metropolitan Mr Cornelius remains within, while the “Cretan” Archimandrite Theophilus, deep inside a pretentious coherent group, is upgraded to the key post of Chief of the Skevophylakion (Treasury) of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Metropolitan Timotheos’ concern is manifest to the point of being neurotic. Incapable of finding a way to react, he feels that in the framework of the brotherhood’s collective instrument the “Cretans” are the majority, due to the numerous tasks each of them have shouldered in their individual fields of responsibility and that, in case of an artificially (or not) created “structural crisis”, he could very well be taken by surprise.

Indeed, the Patriarch Irineos, ignoring the dynamic of his intentions and while defending his renewal character and the long-term initiatives he had undertaken aiming at the reversal of the fastidious past, falls victim to his own devices.

At an inconspicuous point in time, he had made a proposal to the (also “Cretan”) Metropolitan of Gerasa Mr Theophanis to be put to good use by heading either the Estates Committee or the Press and Public Relations Service; which he turned down. During the official visit to the Sinai Monastery, the Patriarch Irineos makes another attempt at reconciliation and Patriarchate circles commented that the new failure is due to the Hierarch’s temperamental character.

However, the strengthening of one group/side has become a “power occupation mechanism”. His All Holiness the Patriarch’s wider collaborations, based on a rather fragile truce, certainly do not ensure his autonomy –quite the contrary.

Everything seems to run smoothly. The most sought-after formal recognition as Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox institution by Israel occurs in January 2004. However, the recurrent appeals of that time at the Supreme Court against his recognition impeded the execution of a plan on the administration, planning and implementation of significant projects.

One year later, in February 2005, the Patriarch Irineos –more confident than ever- will be convinced that in the always opportune place of fermentation for views and proposals that is the Holy and Sacred Synod, everything is discussed freely, everything is scrutinised and nothing may be disappropriated in the name of any convenience.

He is proven miserably wrong by the ensuing facts. There are attempts to link the scandal-bristling ecclesiastic crisis that breaks out in Greece directly with Jerusalem.

At the same time, the gutter press-like exploitation of the transfer and long-term renting of a part of the Patriarchate’s real estates is the great opportunity awaited by the two quarrelling factions, the “Cretans” and the “Peloponnesians”, so as to make a fierce comeback in the field for the final battle, with an alleged consciousness apprehension as to the Zionite Church’s downhill.

Both groups, in order to overthrow the Patriarch Irineos, reproach him of having sold land to Jews and criticise him for inefficient administration!

The Patriarch Mr Irineos, in the midst of the storm, displays self-restraint. Firmly believing in demolishing the dividing fanaticism and collusion, he promotes other values such as tolerance and democracy.

On 18 February 2005, he announces the promotion of the Holy and Sacred Synod member Mr Theophilus from Chief of the Skevophylakion of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Archbishop of Tabor. The Patriarch seems to have learnt from the example set only ten days earlier in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt by Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas! Violence begets violence and it is by far better for the current insecure coexistence to be replaced by an act of rallying, reconciliation and pacification that will once again set new premises for everyone.

He is, however, reckoning without the directly involved local ecclesiastic actors.

They, as deceptive interlocutors, suppress true facts from Hellenic State Department people in order to compromise him.

Based on their orchestrated and elaborately formulated accusations, within a few hours he is hastily found guilty by experts from the Greek Directorate of Ecclesiastic Affairs, without any substantial –or even convincing- evidence (when it took Palestinian experts over three months to complete their findings which actually acquit the Patriarch Irineos from all accusations levelled at him).

The same manipulated information was made available by the same insubordinate groups to a Delegation that was sent to the Holy Lands from Constantinople to closely observe what was taking place and draw up a Report on the facts supported by the dissidents!

In the turmoil of paltry defamation, the Hellenic government and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, distanced from the objective investigation and the events in the Zionite Church, will –inadvertently- be convinced by inaccuracies and slander.

The first strides of the schemers obtain an alibi.

Having secured the support of the misinformed Authorities, the insurgents declare that the Patriarch Mr Irineos no longer has the right to convene the Holy and Sacred Synod or to make any decisions –including any against them! They would rather, as they say, the Patriarch stood down peacefully!!!

The developments are swift. The “Peloponnesians”, hardly adequate to deal with the situation and –most important- to regain the lost trust of the orthodox brotherhood, can do little more than stand by and watch the “Cretans” sweep on.

As pertains to the demand to summon a Panorthodox Meeting in Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was informed, on behalf of those who signed for the Renunciation of Patriarch Irineos, by the Metropolitan of Gerasa Theophanis. Said Renunciation was served on the Patriarch by the Archbishop of Constantine Aristarchus, while the frugal accompanying text on behalf of the undersigned factionists was communicated by the Metropolitan of Petra Cornelius.

Their scheming mechanisms, stretching out on a daily basis around the ecclesiastic body like a spider’s web, despite the chaos during the first barren meeting to elect a Suffragan, deliver the key post to the Metropolitan of Petra.

Their pretext was that Mr Cornelius was Suffragan during the last election for Patriarch in 2001 and he had been instructed by all three involved governments (Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority) to proceed with the vote.

They claim that, given the critical state the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was in, the Holy and Sacred Synod should not disturb the equilibrium by entrusting another person with the elections.

The last great ruse of the “Cretans”, following the analogous feverish backstage deliberations of the “family”, was that their two candidates withdrew in favour of the one who would be preferred during the first phase of the procedure.

During the vote, which boasted the participation of 13 Synod Metropolitans, the contender for the Throne, Metropolitan Theophilus would not stand a chance when faced with the two “Cretans” (Theophilus and Aristarchus). And they were proven right.

The “contract of honour” results in the “unanimous” election of the Archbishop of Tabor, Mr Theophilus.

A tactless ending, a purely internal, insidious and hypocritical act, the result of heterogeneous groups that devastated the prestige of the historical Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and denigrated the Patriarch Mr Irineos who has been ministering the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem since he was thirteen years old.

This article was published in the newspaper "Eleftheri Ora" on 30.12.2007.

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