Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, or Church of Jerusalem, is the uninterrupted continuation of the first Christian community, whose first bishop was St James, the brother of the Lord. St James presided over the first Apostolic Council of Jerusalem in 48 AD. From 70 to 134 AD the Church of Jerusalem was in exile in Transjordan, but throughout the centuries the See has been Jerusalem. St Alexander, one of the prominent bishops in the early period, founded a theological school and a library. During the three centuries of persecution against Christianity, many members of the Church of Jerusalem became martyrs. A new period started in the 4th century when St Helen, commissioned by her son the emperor Constantine the Great, erected the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. More churches were built in places related to the life of Jesus Christ, such as the river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, etc. A monastic order, the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, was established in order to serve and safeguard the Holy Sepulchre and other holy places, and to witness to the truth of Christ.

The period from the 4th to the 7th century was the golden age of the Church of Jerusalem. Many embraced the Christian faith, pilgrims came to the Holy Land, and monks gathered in the desert or lived as hermits. It was also the time of great theologians and desert fathers. Their contribution to the doctrinal theology and ascetic life of the church remains an inspiration to this day. The Church of Jerusalem was promoted from a bishopric to a patriarchate (5th after Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch) by the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 415. Its jurisdiction covered the territories of the three Palestines: Caesarea, Skythopolis and Petra (which correspond in the political situation of today to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan).

The Persian invasion in 614 was a catastrophe for the Church of Jerusalem. It was followed by the Islamic invasion of 638 which put an end to Byzantine sovereignty over the city. From that time onwards the church tried to adapt to the new situation of an Islamic state. The Actiname, an agreement signed by Patriarch Sophronios and Omar-Ibn-Khatab, accorded privileges and rights to the Church of Jerusalem. Again there were some famous theologians, poets and monks in the church. In 1099 a new trauma came, when the Crusaders took Jerusalem. Their presence lasted for almost a century. Salah-Edin restored the rights of the Church of Jerusalem in 1189. New difficulties were to be overcome, but the church's life continued during the reign of the Mamelukes. From 1517 to 1917, the church was under the authority of the Ottoman empire. During this period, other Christian denominations began to show interest in the Holy Land, accosting the local Orthodox faithful and approaching the Turkish authorities in order to acquire rights to the holy shrines. The struggle for prevalence between communities led to the Berlin Conference in 1878, which confirmed the status quo in the holy places. Several patriarchs of this period deserve special memory, among them Chrysantos, the founder of St George Hospital, and Cyril, in whose days the Theological School of the Holy Cross, the library and the printing press were established and many liturgical books were translated into Arabic, for the Arabic-speaking congregations.

The political changes of the 20th century in the Middle East have affected the church, and have pushed many of the faithful to emigrate from the Holy Land. In spite of all the vicissitudes, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and its 100 members, with its congregations in three political sovereignties, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, continues its religious, social, cultural and reconciling mission, under the spiritual guidance of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III, the 141st patriarch of Jerusalem.