Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
File:Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem logo.gif
Coat of arms
LanguageArabic, Greek, English
HeadquartersJerusalem, Israel
TerritoryIsrael, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf States (except Kuwait).
PossessionsUnited States,
South America
FounderThe Apostles
IndependenceApostolic Era
Official website

The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (Greek: Πατριαρχεῖον Ἱεροσολύμων Patriarcheîon Hierosolýmōn, Arabic كنيسة الروم الأرثوذكس في القدس), also known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem as its head. It is regarded by Orthodox Christians as the mother church of all of Christendom, because it was in Jerusalem that the Church was established on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1–41). From Jerusalem the Gospel of Christ was spread to the world. This church is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is also often called "Σιωνίτις Εκκλησία" (Greek: Sionitis Ecclesia, i.e. the "Church of Zion"). There are about 100,000 Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, most of them Palestinians.

Land holdings

The Greek Orthodox Church has extensive property holdings in Jerusalem and throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. Those holdings include the land on which the Knesset and the prime minister's residence are located, as well as an array of historic buildings in Jerusalem's Old City, including the Imperial and Petra hotels inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City.[2]


Eastern Orthodox priest in Jerusalem.
Main Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.

In the Apostolic Age the Christian Church was organized as an indefinite number of local Churches that in the initial years looked to that at Jerusalem as its main centre and point of reference. (See also Jerusalem in Christianity)

As the persecution of Jews by Roman authorities in Judea increased, and the enslavement of most of Jewish and Christian population of Judea and the dispersion throughout the Roman Empire, the importance and place of the Church of Jerusalem in the life of the Christian Church diminished; though a Jewish and Christian remnant always remained in the city.

Eusebius of Caesarea provides the names of an unbroken succession of thirty-six Bishops of Jerusalem up to the year 324.[3] The first sixteen of these bishops were Jewish—from James the Just through Judas († 135)—the remainder were Gentiles.

By the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 the bishop of Aelia Capitolina (the name given to the Roman colony founded on the site of Jerusalem after Bar Kokhba's revolt), was not even the highest ranking in the province, being subject to the Metropolitan of Caesarea. However, the Council accorded the bishop a certain undefined precedence in its seventh canon.

It gradually grew in prestige, and in a decree issued from the seventh session of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 it was recognized as possessing full Patriarchal status, ranked fifth after the Churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch (see the article on Pentarchy).

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 and Ethiopian Coptics and Armenian Orthodox Christians).

Recent history

Lately there has been criticism of the church leadership by some of the Palestinian faithful (known as Arab Orthodox) who accuse the Greek-speaking and largely Greek-born leadership of squandering their money and treating their Arabic-speaking members as second-class faithful.

The Palestinian faithful (Arab Orthodox) have expressed the desire to have local and or Palestinian leaders in the positions of authority in their respective districts, in contrast to the tradition (since Ottoman times) of the higher authority being made of ethnic Greeks. The Orthodox Church is sometimes compared unfavourably in this respect to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which has Arabic as its official and liturgical language.

In 2005, a crisis of the patriarchy occurred when Patriarch Irenaios was stripped of his authority as patriarch by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem after he had allegedly leased church property in a very sensitive area of East Jerusalem to Israeli companies. [4] The locum tenens (steward) until the election of a new patriarch was Metropolitan Cornelius of Petra. On August 22, 2005, the Holy Synod of the Church of Jerusalem unanimously elected Theofilos III, the former Archbishop of Tabor, as the 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Political controversies

Patriarch Theophilos took the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem 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.

The Patriarchate continues to be the subject of continuing allegations of political impropriety, from various political sources. Theophilos's critics[who?] claim that he was favored by Israel owing to his ties with key US officials, such as former CIA chief George Tenet (who is Theophilos's cousin[citation needed]), whom he reportedly met through the Greek lobby in the United States. They note that, remarkably, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a meeting with Theophilos at her request during a recent trip to Israel. On the other hand, it is also been reported that he, as then Superior of the Holy Sepulcher, merely showed Secretary Rice the holy sites, as he did for President Vladimir Putin of Russia and other dignitaries visiting the Holy Land.

For some time the Israeli Government withheld recognition of Theophilos as the new Patriarch, and continued to only recognize Irineos as Patriarch. This position has been criticised as defying the unanimous decision by representatives of all Orthodox Churches meeting at the Phanar at the call of the Ecumenical Patriarch withdrawing communion from Irineos and recognizing Theophilos's canonical election.[citation needed]

Israel's refusal to recognise the Patriarch's temporal role, had inhibited the Patriarch's ability to take the 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 newspaper Ha'aretz reported on February 4, 2007 that two Ministers in the Israeli Government offered to recognize Theophilos if he would give up control of several valuable properties.[citation needed] 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 Irineos and are afraid of the consequences of court action.[citation needed]

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 in an effort to gain civil recognition.[citation needed] The Court was due to give a decision in mid-2006, but delayed giving a decision twice since then. A decision was due in January 2007, but the Israeli government again requested a further delay in the case.

In May 2007, the Government of Jordan revoked its previous recognition of Patriarch Theophilus III,[5]. Metropolitan Theodosios (Attallah Hanna) of Sebastia, Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, has also called for a boycott of Patriarch Theophilus III.[6] But on 12 June 2007 the Jordanian cabinet reversed its decision and announced that it is once again officially recognising Theophilos as Patriarch.[7]

In December 2007, the Israeli government finally granted Patriarch Theophilos full recognition. Irenaios appealed this decision to the Israeli Supreme Court,[8] but that court ruled in favor of Theophilos.[citation needed]


  1. ^ CNEWA - Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  2. ^ Jerusalem Post: Court freezes recognition of Greek Patriarch
  3. ^ Eusebius, The History of the Church (Tr. A. G. Williamson, Penguin Books, 1965. ISBN 0-14-044535-8), see summary in Appendix A.
  4. ^ "Jerusalem affairs: Religiously political". Jerusalem Post. December 20, 2007. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ Jerusalem Post: Court freezes recognition of Greek Patriarch

See also