Tuesday, October 21, 2014

as-Safir on the Plight of Orthodox in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine... Prisoners of the Balance of Power

By Rania al-Jabary

The Arab Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine, whose patriarchate is tied to the reigning civil authorities, have been forced to remain hostage to political balances of power. If the balance tilts toward the interest of pan-Arab issues, then they are treated fairly. If the balance tilts away from Arabism, they are the first to pay the price.

Today the Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine are paying the price for Greek domination of the Orthodox  Patriarchate, which has lasted for 480 years. As a result, there are not seminaries for the Arab flock and those who desire to study are forced to enroll at Balamand University in Lebanon or to travel to Greece.

The Arabs are collectively paying the price of Greek domination in a more serious regard, as  Arab land is being handed over to Israelis through various means, including the Greek patriarchs' selling or offering long-term leases on lands from the Orthodox endowment to the Israelis.

Strangers in a Region in Flames

The issue of the Arab Orthodox began when  the Ottoman occupation managed to impose the hegemony of Greek patriarchs over the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which had been managed by Arabs prior to 1534.

"Jordan has inherited a complicated issue from the Ottoman and Mandate eras." With this sentence, Fr Dr Hanna Kaldani begins his discussion with as-Safir, explaining that Jordan has not taken any steps to help the Arab flock because of historical, political, international and other complicated considerations.

In his discussion, Kaldani presents many facts, including that Jordan provides the passports for the patriarch and the Greek monks, since Paragraph 19 of the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate issued by the Jordanian government in 1958 stipulates as one of its conditions that anyone nominated for the patriarch's throne must have Jordanian nationality. Thus Jordan can use this to apply pressure and bargain on behalf of the Arab Orthodox, insofar as it holds custody over the Christian as well as Muslim holy places. Additionally, Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority and Israel, grants recognition to the patriarch.

Those who defend the difficulty of Jordan's position reply that if Jordan put pressure on the Greek patriarch, then the latter would turn away and only cooperate with the Israelis and serve their interests.

However, the problem is that today the patriarch has effectively turned his back on Jordan and is fulfilling his promises to Israel. In 2005, Jordan would not not grant recognition to the current Patriarch Theophilos until he signed a promise to apply the provisions of the Jordanian law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, to cancel all the deals made by the former Patriarch Irenaeus, and to conduct an inventory and engineering survey of real estate belonging to the Patriarchate and send a report on this to the official Jordanian agencies.

What happened in reality is that, nine years after his election, Patriarch Theophilos' agreement with Jordan is still at an impasse and he continues to sell real estate and make long-term leases without informing his flock about the church's financial details. Instead, as the researcher Ali Hattar told as-Safir, Theophilos sold land from the Orthodox endowment that borders the Har Homa (Abu Gneim) settlement. The Israelis have begun to build on it to establish a new settlement.

Jordan's incomprehensible position on the Orthodox issue does not stop here. Despite the fact that the Greek patriarch has completely turned his back on Jordan, the Jordanian government is is intervening in the affairs of the Orthodox community and has asked Archimandrite Christophoros (Hanna Atallah) to obey the orders of Patriarch Theophilos.

The patriarch had issued a decision to transfer Christophoros from the Monastery of Dibbeen in the Jordanian distric of Ajloun to Jerusalem. This has provoked an intense protest from members of the community in the kingdom because they believe that this measure hides intentions to close down the institute that Christophoros had established in the Monastery of Dibbeen or to put someone unqualified in to lead it.

Members of the community expect in the long term that this institute will become a university that teaches theology, instead of those desiring to receive theological education traveling to Lebanon or Greece.

This case of schizophrenia among Jordanian decision-makers becomes complete with the issuing of the law for Christian community councils number 28 of 2014, whih stipulates the necessity of a court of appeals for the religious community council in Jordan according to the lawyer Yacoub el-Farr who told as-Safir that the new law requires the appointment of an ecclesiastical judge who must be proficient in written and spoken Arabic and possess a university degree.

This raises the question of the conditions of the Orthodox community, whose Greek administration practices various forms of neglect toward them. In addition to teaching in Greek but not Arabic, the Arab Orthodox have no universities or institutes in Jordan. Normally, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem prefers for members of the community not to study at Balamand University in Lebanon because it belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch, which has an Arab administration. If they want to study theology, they must go to Greece and study it in Greek.

In any case, el-Farr points out that the Orthodox community has two years to align their situation with the law. The community was just around the corner from attaining an institute that teaches theology at the Monastery of Dibben (the institute founded by Archimandrite Christophoros) when their country's government intervened in their affairs and is inclined toward the patriarch's decision against Christophoros.

The outline of the Orthodox flock's alienation becomes clear when we add to all the above the various agreements between Israel and Greece. It is sufficient to mention the common natural gas agreement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Hattar points out the agreement to store Cypriot gas and the gas that Israel steals from Palestine in Greece in order to reduce Russian gas in Europe will make it impossible for Greece to take a position against the patriarch on behalf of the Arab flock that rejects the sale of Arab lands to Israelis. He reminds us of the importance of a gas agreement for Greece, which is experiencing financial hardship.

Fragmenting Palestinian Christians

Just ISIS is considered the easiest recipe for tearing apart Iraq and Syria, Israel is looking to play the same role by fragmenting the elements of Palestinian Arab society in order to realize its various interests, chief among them the purchase and rental of the Orthodox endowment's lands.

Among their means of tearing apart is a decision in September by the Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar permitting Christians to register under the "Aramaean nationality" in Israel's population records. Israeli newspapers reported that between 130 thousand and 160 thousand Christians are registered.

In this context, Hattar recalls the Zionist experience with the Arab Druze when they included them in military service. He regards the attempt to make the roots of the Arab Christians go back to the Aramaeans can only be interpreted in terms of hidden intentions on the part of the Zionists to rip the Christians away from the Arab social fabric and to justify recruiting them into the ranks of the army of occupation.

Hattar points out that "Gabriel Naddaf, the advocate for enlisting Arab Christians, is close to the Greek patriarch Theophilos."

This issue does not require a lot of imagination, since it is enough for a Christian Arab to become a servant of the army of occupation, then at that point will he refuse or fight against the sale of Orthodox lands in Jerusalem or Palestine?!

A study published by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies at the beginning of this year indicated that changes are leading to the disintegration of regular armies that had constituted a threat in the past and that the process of the disintegration of states in the region will open up for Israel opportunities to build relationships with different minorities that may gain power in the future. It is clear from the study, entitled "New Borders in the Middle East" that dealing with fragmented entities is much easier that dealing with large national states or pan-Arabist groups with a nationalist ideology that brings them together despite differences of religion or race.

Land ahead of Arabization

Perhaps the only idea that the Orthodox in Jordan and Palestine can unite around is not raising the banner of Arabizing the church at the present time. "I am not one of those who is raising the banner of Arabization today. If Che Guavera came and became patriarch in Jerusalem, i would support him" says Hattar, who repeatedly stresses that he is not struggling for this cause because he is Christian, but on a patriotic basis that brings him together with his Muslim brothers who years ago had formed a committee to protect the lands of the Orthodox endowment in Palestine.

This does not mean that Hattar and those who stand against the policies of the Greek patriarchs are against Arabizing the church. Rather, Arabizing the patriarchate so that it can become like its sister the Patriarchate of Antioch is a far-off dream for them.

Hattar poses the question that "What if I struggled against the Greek administration because it isn't Arab, but then they bring along an Arab patriarch who does not prevent the sale of land to the Zionist enemy? We must first establish the principles that we are calling for."

First among these principles is the demand that the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of 1958 be applied. This requires that the patriarch applies transparent accounting standards and that the Arab flock supervise this. According to Fr Kaldani, currently no one knows anything about the patriarch's financial transactions with its money or its endowments. Another one of the principles is preventing the rental or sale of the Orthodox endowment's lands, recovering the land that has gone into Israeli hands, and ending the church's policy that attempts to deliberately leave members of the Orthodox community in a state of ignorance through the establishment of a university that teaches theology in the language of their countries, Arabic.

These principles constitute the real difference between those Orthodox who support the Greek patriarch and those who reject his policies. Those who support him accuse the other side of refusing to grant Theophilos a full opportunity. They are against Arabizing the patriarchate without safeguards that protect the flock and the Orthodox endowment.

The Russians.. a Life-Saver

Like any great power in the world, Russia has its "side-effects" in places around the globe.

"Russia is not looking to 'Russify' us and we have not experienced colonialism from them... This is why closeness to Russia is in our interests". Thus summarizes Fr Kaldani the Arabs' relationship to the Russians.

Starting from the beginning of Russian influence in Palestine in 1850, the Arabs reaped the re-Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1899. However, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was immune to liberation because of the strong Greek influence there. Kaldani recounts in his book "Contemporary Christianity in Jordan and Palestine" that when the first Arab patriarch was appointed in Syria, Constantinople refused to provide the holy oil and so the holy oil was brought from Moscow and that the first person to receive the Eucharist from the hand of the newly-consecrated patriarch was the Russian consul in Damascus.

Kaldani summarizes what happened by saying that the Russians won the round in Syria and lost in Palestine. However, Russia is once more returning and there is talk of re-opening the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society which was closed immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Can the Arab Orthodox hope for a return of their Russian friend who did not ignore their language in the Russian-sponsored schools and who supported their cause?

As an analyst and researcher, Kaldani believes that history is repeating itself. The Russians continue to lose in Palestine and win in Syria. He does not believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel because the Orthodox in Palestine and Jordan are "a negligible amount" who are few in numbers and falling apart and so cannot be looked at as a source of power. Despite his lack of optimism, he still believes that the Arab Orthodox cause is a burning national issue and that any development or change in the structure of this church is held hostage by political events and the decisions of the governments involved.

To put it more precisely, the Orthodox cause is hostage to international equations. Thus the Arab Orthodox, despite their happiness with Russia rising once more, do not hide the fact that in present circumstances the Russians will not confront the Greeks and so the issues remain suspended until there are objective circumstances that call for a confrontation between the two countries. Nevertheless, the spark for such a confrontation exists and its password is "natural gas".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Russia s weight in the Middle East must not be forgotten. It is true that Russia saved the Orthodox in Syria and Lebanon. Sayedna Rephail Hawaweeny, now among the blessed, is a speaking witness of this. Equally eloquent in this sanse are the missionary enterprises of Russian missionaries, St. Stephan of PErm in the 14th century, among finish tribes in the North, creating an alphabet for them and - like SS Cyrill & Methodius - translating the liturgical books for them, or in the 19th century the very successfull Russian mission among the Aleuts and Inuits in Alaska lead by St. Innocent, later Metr. of Moscow, using the same principles as the afore mentioned Saints. Yet the forced annexation of Georgia/Iberia by Russia in the 19th century leans towards a contrary experience equally present in Russia s Church history. Russia russified the entire Georgian Church life, even the liturgical language was replaced by Church-Slavonic and the Katholicosate was suppressed; Russian Bishops replaced Georgean ones, Georgia becoming s aimple province within the Russian realm in every sense of the word. The Catholicosate resurrected only with the Revolution of 1917, just as the Patriarchate of Moscow, causing today a wrong ranking of the Georgian Katholicos in the liturgical Dyptika, counting the date of reestablishing and not true date of it s foundation, 1000 years before before Moscow and the other later national patriarchates.