|Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem|
كنيسة الروم الأرثوذكس في القدس
הפטריארכיה היוונית-אורתודוקסית של ירושלים
|Scripture||Septuagint, New Testament|
|Theology||Eastern Orthodox theology|
|Primate||Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Israel, Syria, beyond the Jordan River, Cana of Galilee and Holy Zion, Theophilos III.|
|Language||Greek, Arabic, English, Hebrew|
|Headquarters||Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem|
|Territory||Israel, Palestine, Jordan|
|Independence||451 AD from the Metropolis of Caesarea|
|Members||Estimated 500,000 people|
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem,[note 1] also known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and sometimes known as the Church of Zion,[note 2] is an autocephalous church within the wider communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Established in the mid-fifth century as one of the oldest patriarchates in Christendom, it is headquartered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, currently Theophilos III. The Patriarchate's ecclesiastical jurisdiction includes roughly 200,000 to 500,000 Orthodox Christians across the "Holy Land" of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
The church traces its foundation in Jerusalem to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus Christ and ushered the spread of the Gospel. The church celebrates its liturgy in the ancient Byzantine Rite – whose sacred language, Koine Greek, is the original language of the New Testament – and follows its own liturgical year under the Julian calendar.[note 3]
The majority of Orthodox Christians under the Patriarchate are Palestinians and Jordanians, with significant minorities of Russians, Romanians, and Georgians. However, the church's hierarchy is dominated by Greek clergy, which has been a source of recurring tension and dispute. The church serves as custodian of several holy places in Christianity, including the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which includes the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the empty tomb from which he is believed to have resurrected.
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|Eastern Orthodox Church|
In the Apostolic Age, the early centers of Christianity consisted of an indefinite number of local churches that initially looked to Jerusalem as its main centre and point of reference. Some found their way to Antioch, where they undertook evangelical efforts, and to whom the term "Christians" was first used. Nevertheless, Jerusalem was consistently central to Christianity.
During the first Christian centuries the church at this place was the centre of Christianity in Jerusalem, "Holy and glorious Sion, mother of all churches." Certainly no spot in Christendom can be more venerable than the place of the Last Supper, which became the first Christian church.
Before the outbreak of the First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 AD) and the destruction of Herod's Temple in 70 by Titus, Christians led by Simeon fled to Pella in Decapolis (Jordan), where they remained until 135.
The Jews of Judea again revolted against Rome in the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136). By or during that time, the Christians had returned to Jerusalem. However, to punish the Jews for their revolt and to prevent further unrest, Jerusalem was made a Roman colony and renamed Aelia Capitolina by Hadrian. In 135, the Metropolitan of Caesarea appointed Marcus as the first bishop of the renamed Church of Aelia Capitolina. He was the first gentile bishop of the Church of Jerusalem (or Aelia Capitolina), all the previous ones having been Jewish. The persecution of Jews by Roman authorities in Judea increased, with most of the Jewish and Christian population of Judea being enslaved and dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. The importance and place of Jerusalem in the life of the Christian Church diminished, though a Jewish and Christian remnant always remained in the city and the land.
Despite the strife, persecutions and meager population, bishops continued to be elected or named. Eusebius of Caesarea provides the names of an unbroken succession of thirty-six Bishops of Jerusalem up to the year 324. The first sixteen of these bishops were Jewish—from James the Just to Judas († 135)—and the remainder were Gentiles. The Metropolitans of Caesarea continued to appoint the bishops of Aelia Capitolina until 325.
At the First Council of Nicaea in 325, though the bishop of Aelia Capitolina was still subordinate to the Metropolitan of Caesarea, the council accorded the bishop a certain undefined precedence in its seventh canon.
In a decree issued from the seventh session of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (the Council of Chalcedon) in 451 the Bishop of Jerusalem was elevated to the rank of Patriarch, ranked fifth after the sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch (see Pentarchy). Since then, the Church of Jerusalem has remained an autocephalous church. Jerusalem was established as a patriarchate because of the holiness of the place; the special significance acquired between the first and fourth ecumenical councils; the erection of magnificent churches; the conversion of a large proportion of the population of Roman and Byzantine Syria-Palestina to Christianity; the coming together of pilgrims from around the world; the importance of outstanding bishops, monks, and teachers of the Church of Jerusalem; the struggles of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre on behalf of Orthodoxy; and the support of various Emperors of Byzantium.
The Persians occupied Jerusalem in 614 and took Patriarch Zachariah prisoner, along with the palladium of Christianity, the Precious Cross. Chrysostomos Papadopoulos writes in his history of the Patriarchate: "The Churches and the monasteries, inside and outside Jerusalem, were destroyed; the Christians were brutally slaughtered … thousands of prisoners purchased by Jews were slaughtered. Anything good that existed was destroyed or was plundered by the invaders. The monks were slaughtered mercilessly, especially those of St Savvas Monastery."
In 637, after a long siege of Jerusalem, Patriarch Sophronius surrendered Jerusalem to Caliph Umar, but secured the Covenant of Umar I, which recognised Christian rights to protection. In 638, the Armenian Apostolic Church began appointing its own bishop in Jerusalem.
After 638, however, Christians suffered many persecutions. Christian shrines were repeatedly ransacked and defaced by the successors of Umur, and there was great persecution all around. The most deadly persecution occurred during the time of the Fatamid Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (1007–1009), a schizophrenic, named the "Nero of Egypt" for his merciless acts. He persecuted ferociously both Christians and Jews. He ordered that in public Jews were to wear masks representing the head of an ox and bells around their necks; Christians were to wear mourning apparel and crosses one yard in length. Also, Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the eleventh century, the Caliph Ali az-Zahir, under a treaty with Byzantium, permitted the reconstruction of the shrines.
In the Great Schism of 1054, the Patriarch of Jerusalem joined those of Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria as the Eastern Orthodox Church. All Christians in the Holy Land came under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
In 1099, the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, setting up the Kingdom of Jerusalem and establishing a Latin hierarchy under a Latin Patriarch, and expelling the Orthodox Patriarch. The Latin Patriarch resided in Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187, while Greek Patriarchs continued to be appointed, but resided in Constantinople. In 1187, the Crusaders were forced to flee Jerusalem, and the Orthodox Patriarch returned to Jerusalem. The Catholic Church continued to appoint Latin Patriarchs, though the office holder resided in Rome until 1847, when they were permitted to return to the Middle East by the Ottoman authorities.
The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, which is closely linked to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, remains the custodian of many of the Christian Holy places in the Holy Land, sometimes jointly with the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental Churches (Egyptian, Syrian, Ethiopian and Armenian Orthodox Christians).
Theophilos III became patriarch of the church at a very difficult time in its history. The politics of the Middle East and the delicacy of the relations with the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Jordan continues to make the role and place of the Patriarch and the Patriarchate very challenging.
In 2005, a crisis occurred in the church when Patriarch Irenaios was deposed as patriarch by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem after having sold church property in East Jerusalem to Israeli investors. On August 22, 2005, the Holy Synod of the Church of Jerusalem unanimously elected Theophilos, Archbishop of Tabor, as the 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem.
For some time the Israeli Government withheld recognition of Theophilos as the new Patriarch, and continued to only recognize Irenaios as Patriarch. This position has been criticised as defying the unanimous decision by representatives of all Eastern Orthodox churches meeting at the Phanar at the call of the Ecumenical Patriarch withdrawing communion from Irineos and recognizing Theophilos's canonical election.
Israel's refusal to recognise the Patriarch's temporal role inhibited the Patriarch's ability to take the Israeli government to court, and froze Patriarchal bank accounts. This in turn threatened the maintenance of the Holy Places and the Patriarchate school system with 40,000 students. It has been alleged that the origins of the dispute are part of a forty-year attempt by Israeli settler organizations and politicians to open up the Patriarchate's extensive land holdings worth estimated hundreds of millions of dollars. The Israeli press reports that senior officials of the Israeli government may have been involved in a fraudulent real estate transaction with the deposed Patriarch Irenaios and are afraid of the consequences of court action.
In 2006, Israel refused to renew visas of many of the Greek clergy, which threatened to create to a serious crisis within the church, as most of the monks are Greek citizens. Patriarch Theophilos applied to the Israeli Supreme Court. A decision was due in mid-2006 and then in January 2007, but the Israeli government repeatedly requested further delays in the case. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 11 February 2007 that the Israeli government offered to recognize Theophilos if he would give up control of several valuable properties and sell church property only to Israelis.
In May 2007, the government of Jordan revoked its previous recognition of Theophilos III, but on 12 June 2007 the Jordanian cabinet reversed its decision and announced that it had once again officially recognised Theophilos as patriarch. Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia has also called for a boycott of Theophilos.
In December 2007, the Israeli government finally granted Theophilos full recognition.
The dominance of ethnic Greeks in the Church's hierarchy excludes the Arab majority from its upper ranks. This has been a point of endless contention within the church and among its outside supporters, with the Greeks backed by the Greek government, Israel, and the Turkey-based Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in opposition to the native Palestinian clergy, some of whom seek to nationalize the church's leadership.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the second biggest owner of land in Israel, after only the Israeli government. The Greek Church purchased most of its lands from the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. In the 1950s, shortly after Israel’s independence, the Greek Patriarchate agreed to lease most of its lands in Israel to the Israeli government for 99 years, with an option to extend. Even Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was built on lands owned by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's properties also include historic buildings in Jerusalem's Old City, including the Imperial and Petra hotels, inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, as well as extensive areas in the Palestinian territories.
In 2005, it was revealed that then patriarch Irenaios had sold lands owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in East Jerusalem to Jews who seek to increase their presence in what is a predominantly Arab area. The majority of Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem identify as Palestinians, and the sale of lands to Israelis caused a major uproar, which resulted in Irenaios being ousted as Patriarch.
Head of the Patriarchate and of the Holy Synod is Patriarch Theophilos III (Ilias Giannopoulos), Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Israel, Syria, beyond the Jordan River, Cana of Galilee and Holy Zion.
Total membership is estimated at 200,000, with no more than 3,500 remaining in Jerusalem itself.
Greek Orthodox Church, with a membership of around 500,000, is the largest church in Israel / Palestine.