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'Patriarch could become persona non grata in Bethlehem'
Published Wednesday 06/01/2010 (updated) 08/01/2010 08:47
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Protesters in Manger Square awaitnig Greek Patriarch Theophilios III
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Bethlehem – Ma’an – A group of prominent Greek Orthodox Palestinians threatened on Wednesday to split from their church over the sale of West Bank land to Israel.

Marwan Toubasi, the deputy minister of tourism and the organizer of a protest movement, made the pronouncement at a news conference in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Wednesday, as Orthodox Christians marked Christmas Eve. Leader of the Greek Orthodox Club of Beit Sahour Dr Elias Isaid, however, said a split from the church was "unrealistic."

"Today's demonstration is the start of our action against the patriarch," Isaid commented, and if the concerns of the Palestinian parishes are not met, "we are prepared to declare the patriarch a persona non grata in Bethlehem."

Approximately 300 protesters rallied in Manger Square, holding signs condemning the actions of the patriarch. "The Holy Land is not for Sale or Lease," one banner said, "Theophilos = Irenais" said another, likening the new patriarch to the sacked former leader he replaced.

Those protesting were part of the Council of Arab Orthodox Institutions and Organizations in Palestine, representing 19 groups across the country. Greek Orthodox Palestinians are angry over promises made by the patriarch in 2005 when he was appointed, centering on the creation of a more consultative process that includes Palestinians and Jordanians in an effort to prevent further long-term land leases to Israeli developers.

Scout bands welcomed the Syrian and Coptic patriarchs into Manger Square with much fanfare, but packed up their drums and bagpipes ahead of the arrival of Theophilos. Silence filled the square ahead of his arrival, broken by a car from the partirach's office blaring Christmas music, which drowned out the boos of protesters.

Theophilos was walked in to the church surrounded by officials and a cordon of riot police, who linked hands and formed a human barricade between the booing protesters and the patriarch.

Protest supporters shouted condemnations at Theophilios, saying he failed to implement a pledge to reverse past sales, and angry accusations over recent land deals. Church land has been used to build Israeli settlements, including Har Homa and Ma’aleh Adumim, the protesters say.

"We are starting the demonstrations against the patriarch now," said Isaid.

A PLO official recently told a Greek newspaper that the land deals were "treacherous agreements made with the Patriarchate which are contributing to the cutting off of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the Palestinian hinterland."

The Council of Arab Orthodox Institutions also asked the Palestinian Authority to intervene and nullify the land sales.

The Greek Orthodox make up the largest denomination of Palestine’s Christian minority.
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1 ) Mark of Lewiston / USA
06/01/2010 11:46
I'm sure this is very informative for many. But while concerning, I'm not sure I know enough to have an opinion. Church hierarchies are always enigmatic. Splitting the community is serious stuff.

2 ) Assad / USA
06/01/2010 23:46
the greek patiarch believes the land id owned by the greek orthodox church and obviously has little regard for palestinian greek orthodox christians. the land in question is in palestine which does have laws against selling to isreali's since they immediately claim it is part of the zio entity like the squatter colonies...could i suggest making a palestinian orthodox church apart from the greek? also the greek orthodox is under the same palestinian laws as everyone else....no selling land to zio

3 ) Mark of Lewiston / USA
07/01/2010 11:15
That helps in understanding, Assad. Thanks.

4 ) Mark of Lewiston / USA
07/01/2010 12:21
That helps in understanding, Assad. Thanks.

5 ) Catherine Sullivan / USA
07/01/2010 16:37
So sorry this is happening. All around the world, the Church cannot get along within itself. I hope this will be resolved in a peaceful manner, so that the integrity of the Church in Palestine remains intact. God bless you.

6 ) Dani / USA
07/01/2010 19:17
The name Greek Orthodox is only the english version. The arabic version and the original name in the Roman Orthodox Church. It is true the the inhabitants of palestine (and much of the middle east) spoke greek before the arab invasion in the 7th century. However, all the original inhabitants of the area now speak arabic (but are still orthodox). The Greek clergy who comes from greek to palestine controlls the church and has very little connection with the parishinors.

7 ) Dani / USA
07/01/2010 20:43
Any division in the church is unacceptable (accourding to church law). Thus, the arab speak christians need to stand up against foreign control of their church in a non-violent but firm way to regain the lands that the patriach sold. In addition, it she became a law that our patrieach also speaks the language of the members of his church, namely Arabic so there will be connection between the leaders of the church and the followers.
Merry Christmass to all of you
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