Is One of Jerusalem’s Longest-running Religious Spats Over?

Feud at Greek Orthodox Patriarchy in the Old City may have been resolved with the so-called ‘monk in the window’ reconciling with current patriarch.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (right) is greeted by the former ousted Patriarch of Jerusalem, monk Irenaios, March 22, 2016.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (right) is greeted by the former ousted Patriarch of Jerusalem, monk Irenaios, March 22, 2016. Credit: AFP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A dramatic reconciliation has occurred in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy in Jerusalem. After 11 years in solitary confinement, the former head of the church has finally met with the current patriarch, leading officials to hope this will conclude a lengthy and embarrassing affair.

Irenaios was chosen as patriarch of Jerusalem in 2004. Shortly after, though, he was accused of advancing real estate deals with the settler organization Ateret Cohanim and a procedure was launched to remove him.

In 2005, the church’s leaders met in Istanbul and decided to impeach Irenaios and demote him to the rank of a simple monk. A new patriarch, Theophilos III, was chosen to replace him. This was a historic development, since the appointment is meant to be for life and there is no record of such a case in the church’s lengthy history.

Irenaios proceeded to lock himself in his small apartment in the Patriarchate’s building in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and refused to recognize his successor. He has remained in that apartment almost continuously for the past 11 years. He would get his food by dropping a basket from his window, which was filled by members of the Abu Amar family – a Muslim family considered close to Irenaios. The sad image of “the monk in the window” became a minor tourist attraction over the years.

From that apartment, he continued to struggle to clear his name. Initially, he had the backing of the Israeli government, which refused to recognize Theophilos. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said it would be inconceivable for Israel to accept an impeachment based on the sale of property to Jews. But after the Greek government exerted pressure, the state eventually recognized Theophilos.

Over the years, Irenaios’ small group of supporters claimed the church had imprisoned him in the apartment, while the church insisted he had cloistered himself. The assumption was he knew that he had always been free to leave the building, but feared that if he did, he might not be allowed to return.

Over the past few months, the murky relationship between the two patriarchs seemed to have cleared. In November, Irenaios was hospitalized at Hadassah University Hospital, Mt. Scopus, and Theophilos came to visit him – a move that generated great interest among Jerusalem’s Greek community.

But the real breakthrough came last Tuesday, when the church marked Forty Martyrs Day, which is also the day of St. Theophilos, when it is customary to bless all those named after him. Patriarch Theophilos held a reception for all those wanting to bless him, and, to the shock of the crowd, Irenaios came to give his blessing.

The patriarchy’s secretary refused to comment, while Irenaios could not be reached for comment.

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