A decade-long spat between a deposed Patriarch and a current Patriarch in the Holy Lands appears to have ended, with the two embracing at a recent service in Jerusalem.
Newspapers in Israel called a hug between Irineos, the ex-Patriarch and Theophilos, the current Patriarch, a “dramatic reconciliation” that brought one man who once held one of the most prominent positions in all of Orthodoxy out of solitary confinement.
The intriguing feud— not at all becoming of high-ranking Orthodox clerics in the holiest Christian place on the planet, began more than a decade ago with the election of Patriarch Irineos in 2004.
Irineos was elected Patriarch of Jerusalem— one of the Five Ancient Patriarchates of the Orthodox Church— in 2001. Shortly after his installment, an ugly public scandal broke out and he was accused of advancing real estate deals with a far-right Israeli settler organization called Ateret Cohanim.
This didn’t bode well with the majority of the Orthodox Church’s jurisdiction, which are Arab Christians living in Israel, the Palestinian Authority territories and Jordan.
Add to that a series of accusations of political intrigue, alleged bribing. forged signatures, political influencing and conspiracy theories— and the matter became one of the biggest scandals plaguing the Orthodox Christian Church in the region.
The matter was major news, mainly because the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is Israel’s largest landowner and matters of real estate ownership are sensitive issues in the country. Israel has always been wary of the Greek Church— the oldest and most powerful church in Jerusalem— coming under the control of a pro-Palestinian Patriarch, fearing it could result in land disputes when long-term leases with tenants like the Israeli government began expiring.
A procedure was launched to remove him which made its way all the way to Istanbul, where the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople met in June 2005 and elected to depose him and demote him to the rank of a simple monk. Fellow patriarchs around the world were ordered to stop “commemorating” him or praying for his well-being during liturgies they participated in.
Irineos refused to accept his dismissal, digging his heels into the ground and charging that the real estate affair was an attempt by his opponents to frame and smear him. He was locked out of his office when Patriarchate officials changed the locks and he eventually imprisoned himself in his small apartment in the Patriarchal compound in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, right next to the sacred Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, refusing to leave for more than 11 years.
From his exile, he continued to try to clear his name, using his mobile phone as hs only means of communication with the outside world.
Irineos would get his food and other essential supplies by dropping a basket from his window, which was filled by members of the Abu Amar family – a Muslim family he remained close to throughout the exile in his apartment.
His presence there became somewhat of an awkward “tourist” destination as word spread of the “monk in the window”— a bearded man behind a barred window, with a scepter in his hand, gazing out at the commotion below.
Over the past few months, the chilly relationship between Irineos and Theophilos appeared to have gotten warmer. In November, Ireneos was hospitalized and Theophilos came to visit him— a move that generated great interest among Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox community.
Then, the real breakthrough came on Tuesday, when the church marked Forty Martyrs Day, which is also the feast day of St. Theophilos and the named of the current Patriarch, who held an open house reception for all those wanting to greet him and extend their name day wishes.
To the shock of the crowd assembled at the event, Irineos came to give his blessing to Theophilos, and receive one from the Patriarch, himself.