The Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem also known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is an autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church within the wider communion of Orthodox Christianity. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate considers itself to be the Mother Church of Jerusalem, to whose bishop patriarchal dignity was granted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Greek Orthodox Church (also termed Eastern orthodox) consists of a family of Churches all of which acknowledge the honorary primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Historically, this Church developed from the Churches of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire.
Since 1054 it has been in schism with Rome. However, in 1964 a historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, was held in Jerusalem.
After 1099 and the Crusader conquest, the (Orthodox) patriarchate of Jerusalem, already in exile, was removed to Constantinople. Permanent residence in Jerusalem was not reestablished until 1845.
Since 1662, direction of Orthodox interests in the Holy Land has rested with the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, which has sought to safeguard the status of the Orthodox Church in the Holy Places, and to preserve the Hellenistic character of the Patriarchate.
The parishes are predominantly Arabic-speaking and are served by Arab married priests as well as by members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. The community numbers about 120,000 in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The Church celebrates its liturgy in the Byzantine rite, whose original language is Greek, and follows its own calendar of feasts, preserving the Julian calendar (that is thirteen days behind the Western (Gregorian) calendar).
The number of Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land are estimated at about 100,000 people. A majority of Church members are Arabs and there are also many Russians, Romanians, and Georgians. The Church’s hierarchy is dominated by Greeks, which in effect excludes the Arab-speaking majority from the Church’s upper ranks. This has been a point of endless contention between Greeks in the patriarchate, who are backed by the Greek government in this regard and the (Arab Orthodox Christians)
The headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is also often called (Greek: Sionitis Ecclesia, i.e. the “Church of Zion”). Christians believe that it was in Jerusalem that Christianity was established on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-41) and that the Gospel of Christ spread from Jerusalem. In the Apostolic Age, Christianity consisted of an indefinite number of local Churches that in the initial years looked to Jerusalem as its main centre and point of reference.
Main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.
Before the outbreak of the First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 AD) and the destruction of the Jerusalem Jewish Temple in 70 AD by Titus, Christians led by Simeon fled to Pella in Decapolis (Jordan), where they remained until 135 AD. Some also found their way to Antioch, where they undertook evangelical efforts, and to whom the term “Christians” was first used.
The Hebrews/Jews of Judea once again revolted against Rome in the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136). By or during that time, the Christians had returned to Jerusalem. 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 Greek Jewish converts.
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 the Church of Jerusalem in the life of the Christian Church diminished; though a Greek, Jewish and Christian remnant always remained in Jerusalem and the Holy 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 Greek Jewish converts 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 Churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Since then, the Church of Jerusalem has remained an autocephalous Church.
Jerusalem was established as a patriarchate because of the special significance acquired between the First and Fourth Ecumenical Councils; the erection of magnificent Churches; the conversion of the Holy Land 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.
Eastern Orthodox priest in Jerusalem.
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 and Jews were brutally slaughtered and thousands of prisoners purchased by Muslims 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 Muslim 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, Christians suffered many persecutions. Christian shrines were repeatedly ransacked and defaced by the Muslim 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), named the “Nero of Egypt” for his merciless acts.
Fatamid Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah 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, under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. All Christians in the Holy Land came under the jurisdiction of the Greek 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 Greek 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 Greek Patriarch returned to Jerusalem. The Catholic Church continued to appoint Latin Patricarchs, though the office holder resided in Rome until 1847, when they were permitted to return to the Middle East by the Ottoman authorities.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchs claims to be the uninterrupted line of Apostolic succession to the see of Jerusalem.
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: There has been criticism of the Greek Orthodox Church leadership by some of the members (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 members. The (Arab Orthodox) have expressed the desire to have local Arab leaders in positions of authority in their respective districts, in contrast to the tradition (since Ottoman times) of the higher authority positions being occupied by ethnic Greeks.
The Greek Orthodox Church is sometimes compared unfavourably in this respect to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which has Arabic as its official and liturgical language.
Recent political controversies: 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 Arab Palestinian Authority, Israel and Jordan continues to make the role and place of the Patriarch and the Patriarchate very challenging.The Patriarchate alleges to be the subject of continuing allegations of political impropriety, from various political sources.
In 2005, a crisis occurred in the Church when Patriarch Irenaios was stripped of his authority as patriarch by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem after he had allegedly sold church property in a very sensitive area of East Jerusalem to Israeli investors. The locum tenens (steward) until the election of a new patriarch was Metropolitan Cornelius of Petra [Jordan]. On August 22, 2005, the Holy Synod of the Church of Jerusalem unanimously elected Theophilos, the former Archbishop of Tabor, as the 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem.
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 is once again officially recognising Theophilos as patriarch. Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia had also called for a boycott of Theophilos.
In December 2007, the Israeli government granted Theophilos full recognition. Irenaios appealed this decision to the Israeli Supreme Court, but that court ruled in favor of Theophilos.
The Greek Orthodox Church has property holdings in Jerusalem and throughout Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. In addition to numerous churches, seminaries and other properties used for religious purposes, church property 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. It is the intention of (Arab Orthodox Christians and the Arab Palestinian Authority ) to expropriate these holdings from the Greek Orthodox Church.
Hierarchy of the Throne:
- Metropolitan of Caesaria : Basilios (Christos Blatsos)
- Metropolitan of Scythopolis : Iakobos (George Kapenekas)
- Metropolitan of Petra : Cornelios (Emmanuel Rodousakis)
- Metropolitan of Ptolemais : Palladios (Vasilios Antoniou)
- Metropolitan of Nazareth : Kyriakos (Andreas Georgopetris)
- Metropolitan of Neapolis : Ambrosios (Nikolaos Antonopoulos)
- Metropolitan of Capitolias : Isyhios (Elias Condogiannis)
- Metropolitan of Bostra: Timotheos (Theodoros Margaritis)
- Metropolitan of Eleutheropolis : Christodoulos (Christos Saridakis)
- Metropolitan of Philadelphia : Benediktos (George Tsekouras)
- Archbishop of Gerasa : Theophanis (Theodosios Hasapakis)
- Archbishop of Tiberias : Alexios (Moschonas)
- Archbishop of Abila : Dorotheos (Demetrios Leovaris)
- Archbishop of Joppa : Damaskinos (Anastasios Gaganiaras)
- Archbishop of Constantina : Aristarchos (Antonios Peristeris)
- Archbishop of Mount Thabor : Methodios (Nikolaos Liveris)
- Archbishop of Jordan : Theophylactos (Theodosios Georgiadis)
- Archbishop of Sebastia : Theodosios (Nizar Hanna)
- Archbishop of Askalon : Nicephoros (Nikolaos Baltadgis)
- Archbishop of Diocaesarea : Vacancy