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Recognition of new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem

22 July 2006

Letter to H.E. Mr Itzhak Levanon, Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations in
Geneva, 22 July, 2005


Your Excellency,

We write to express our serious concern over two issues involving the State of
Israel and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a member church of the
World Council of Churches, and to call for your cooperation in taking urgent
remedial action.

The first issue concerns the right of churches to run their own affairs. The State
of Israel is currently continuing to recognize Mr Irineos Skopelitis as Greek
Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem despite his renunciation and dismissal from office
by the church's highest decision-making body, the Holy Synod of the Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. As your government is aware, when ex-
Patriarch Irineos refused to accept this formal renunciation of his patriarchal status
by the body that granted it, an extraordinary Pan-Orthodox Synod was held
on May 24, 2005 in Istanbul. There, the Synod of the Heads of Churches of the
Orthodox Autocephalus Churches and their representatives upheld both the decision
to dismiss ex-Patriarch Irineos and the authority of the Holy Synod in Jerusalem
to take that decision. Jerusalem's Holy Synod subsequently reduced the ecclesiastical
rank of Mr Irineos Skopelitis to that of a monk.

The other governments involved in the case - Jordan, the Palestinian Authority,
and the Greek Government which is indirectly involved - have withdrawn their
recognition of the ex-patriarch thereby respecting the church's right to decide
upon it's own leadership without external interference in the exercise of that right.

The Government of Israel's continuing refusal to recognize this decision of the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate violates the basic principle of non-interference by
the state in the affairs of the church.

We recall that this principle was also exercised early in the tenure of ex-Patriarch
Irineos. When he was first elected, the State of Israel refused to recognize him as
patriarch for more than one year. Based on the same principle which is at stake
now, the World Council of Churches' Central Committee called on the State of
Israel to "recognize the election of His Beatitude Patriarch Irineos I as head of the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem" (WCC Statement, September 2, 2002;
and letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, September 4, 2002) because he had
been duly elected by the competent church authorities.

The second matter is related to the first. It concerns the inviolability of church
precincts. As a result of the state's continuing recognition of the ex-patriarch,
Israeli police have been stationed in the monastery of the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate of Jerusalem at the request of the ex-patriarch and supposedly for his
protection. The duly-appointed church authorities have opposed this unwarranted
presence of the police in the monastery, but without success. In an incident on
July 13, 2004, the police stationed there allowed a group of approximately 40
men forcibly to enter the precincts of the monastery and to destroy property in
the monastery. The police watched the destruction of property and allowed the
intruders to stay on the premises for several hours despite the protests of the clergy
in charge of the monastery.

We do not accept the claim that the police presence in the church compound
is legitimized by an invitation from ex-patriarch Irineos. It has been brought to
the attention of the Israeli authorities repeatedly that he is no longer recognized
as the patriarch by the church that exercises authority over those premises. On
this point our concerns for recognition of church leadership and inviolability of
church property come together.

Police and official actions have violated church rights in this case in three ways:

by the continued non-recognition of a church decision on leadership, by maintaining
an armed presence on church precincts, and by allowing unlawful conduct
by intruders on church property.

We note with respect that the State of Israel has pledged itself to honour the
special legislation, covenants, orders and treaties on Jerusalem known as the status
quo, which protects the sanctity of Holy Places and the rights of churches to
manage their own affairs. Alarmed at the violation of principles to which Israel
has agreed, we call on your government to take the following steps to resolve this
crisis:

First, in respect of the rights of churches to manage their own affairs, to withdraw
recognition of Mr Irineos as patriarch.

Second, in like manner, to recognize Metropolitan Cornelios of Petra as Locum
Tenens of the Patriarchate and, in due course, to recognize as patriarch whosoever
will be duly elected by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of
Jerusalem.

Third, in respect of the inviolability of church premises, we call on the Government
of Israel to remove the police from the monastery of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Similarly, we reiterate the long-held rule that if police are invited to enter any
church, mosque or Holy Place by the legitimate religious authorities of the site,
they do so without arms.

We make these requests mindful that justice must also be done in the case at
the heart of this crisis, namely, the irregular transfer of church lands in Jerusalem.

It is urgent that the competent authorities oversee the return of the land to its
proper owners - in the name of the law and in the interests of peace.

The member churches of the WCC and the churches of Jerusalem are resolved
to see Jerusalem become a shared city under the rule of laws that protect peace
for the two peoples who live there and for the three religions for whom it is holy.

We look to the State of Israel to share in that resolve and to fulfill its responsibilities
in these matters accordingly.

After your receipt of this letter we will seek an early opportunity to meet with
you about these concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary