JERUSALEM – The man enthroned last week as Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem signed a secret document obliging him to nullify the recent sale to Jewish groups of land comprising much of a key entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, and has allegedly made statements against Jews living in certain parts of Jerusalem, WorldNetDaily has learned.
The newly installed Greek Orthodox leader, Theofilos III, was crowned in a ceremony Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in spite of objections by Israel, which is currently debating whether to recognize him as the official Jerusalem patriarch – the religious leader of 100,000 Christians in the Holy Land.
Theofilos is attempting to succeed current patriarch Irineos, who church officials tried to oust in May by holding new patriarchal elections amid allegations Irineos leased church land in Jerusalem to Jewish groups. The leases, signed last year for a period of 98 years, include two hotels that comprise a large section of the Jaffa Gate, the principal entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem.
The property transfer enraged the church’s significant Palestinian membership, who claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Irineos, still recognized as patriarch by Israel, has for now resisted World Orthodox leaders’ calls to step aside, claiming a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge. Sources close to the lease negotiations told WND the deal was signed by the financial minister of the church’s Israel bank accounts and that Irineos was directly involved with the property transfer.
WND has learned prior to the new patriarchal election, Theofilos, along with other candidates for patriarch, signed a secret church document stating if he was elected leader he would nullify all transactions made by Irineos, including the Jaffa Gate lease.
The document, addressed to the Palestinian Authority and obtained by WND, states, “We, the candidates of the Greek Orthodox Church, hereby agree that we are obliged to abide by the law of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate … In the event that we are elected, we shall act for the cancellation of all transactions made during the period of Irineos I, and shall keep the Orthodox religious trust.”
High placed sources close to the church said the document was drafted by a PA government minister with the cancellation of Irineos’ lease of the Jaffa Gate hotels to the Jewish groups as the specific goal.
“The candidates were essentially blackmailed by the Palestinians that if they didn’t sign the document and cancel the lease, they would not get approval of the PA as candidates and could not run in elections,” a church source told WND. “This is an outright racist policy against the Jews. If peace proposals come through and Jerusalem is ever divided, the Palestinians want Jaffa’s Gate, but Irineos’ lease would give it to Israel.”
A senior church leader close to Irineos told WND, “Theofilos has made statements about not providing Jerusalem land to Jews. He agrees with the Palestinians that they have the rights to eastern Jerusalem.”
Theofilos was elected in August by the church’s Holy Synod, the supreme canonical authority in the Church, in a 14-0 vote.
Installation of a new patriarch requires the approval of Israel, Jordan and, traditionally, the Palestinian Authority. Both Jordan and the PA have approved Theofilos. But Israel says Theofilos failed to comply with official Israeli election procedures, and has established a committee comprised of senior government ministers to debate recognition of Theofilos
Irineos continues to occupy the patriarch’s quarters, and did not attend Theofilos’ installation ceremony.
Speaking to WorldNetDaily, Irineos said he could not comment on the secret document regarding nullification of the Jaffa Gate sale, but said “there is a lot at play here in the election of Theofilos and attempts at deposing [me].”
“The electorate was blackmailed into supporting Theofilos. They were told by Fathers and Brotherhood members and others that if they didn’t vote for Theofilos, they would be kicked out of the church. Documents were made to be signed, including a letter that said ‘I will not stand with Irineos.’”
Irineos said he will not step down as patriarch, and is “eagerly awaiting” the Israeli committee decision.
A lobbyist involved in the patriarchal elections who spoke with WND on condition of anonymity – claiming that speaking on the record may place him in danger – said, “There were very clear indications Arab politics were at play in the Synod’s deciding to elect Theophilos. There was direct blackmail involved.”
The lobbyist continued: “The document Theofilos and the other candidates signed is racism, pure and simple. The church has a very large Palestinian and Jordanian Arab constituency. The only reason the church wants the Jaffa Gate lease nullified is because it signed over Jerusalem land to Jews.”