Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Interview with Patriarch Theophilos from 2011

Although it's from 2011, it's still an interesting read and gives a bit of an insight into Patriarch Theophilos' worldview. The entire interview can be read in the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture here.

What is your opinion about the ongoing negotiations of a taxation agreement between the Israeli government and the Vatican, which could mean that church institutions would have to pay income, property and municipal taxes? Does this Orthodox Church feel sidelined knowing that if an agreement is reached, it will set a precedent for the other churches?

The situation with the Vatican negotiations is far more complex. The Greek Orthodox Church is not sidelined because the legal status of the patriarchate differs from the Vatican’s. It is the only church institution with Jordanian law. The patriarchate is a local institution. The Vatican is a spiritual and political entity, so its representatives cannot speak on behalf of the local Christians here.

[The Patriarchate's refusal to follow the Jordanian laws regulating it will be the subject of a future post].

Speaking of heritage, there have been accusations by some local Arab Orthodox residents that the Greeks have maintained cultural dominance and that Arabs have not been promoted to certain official positions in the church to the same degree as the Greeks have. Is this true?

There is a bigger question here. The name of the patriarchate and all Eastern Orthodox Christians locally here is “Rum.” This is how they are recognized and identified by the Muslim Arabs and Palestinians, in general. It is a matter of cultural identity or identity crisis that many people have difficulties understanding the meaning of “Rum.” The West has also brought them confusion about their identity, which could be remedied with education and [an] understanding [of] history. And you have to refer back to your roots. You cannot disregard the Byzantine presence that was here. The stones are talking — everything is talking. I have prepared an academic study which gives a very thorough and complete analysis of the meaning of “Rum” and what it means to be a member of that church.


There are many videos online of infighting that takes place between the Greeks and Armenians in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They seem shameful, and it is hard to understand how such clashes occur in holy places. How would you explain the dynamic here to an observer?

I understand your question, but people try to limit those religious conflicts and fights to certain events that have taken place between Franciscans, between Greeks and Armenians, Armenians and Syrians, Copts and Ethiopians, and so on. But, in fact, we must think a bit deeper and ask ourselves what the entire conflict is about between Palestinian Muslims and Jewish Israelis. Is it not about religion? It is about religion. What is the importance of Jerusalem, politically speaking? Is Jerusalem important for military or strategic purposes? It is purely religious, nothing else. The conflict here is religious. When you see clashes in Jerusalem, especially over the Temple Mount and al-Haram al-Sharif, what is it all about? Is it not about religious areas? So they focus on a particular point in the Holy Sepulcher; that makes sense; it is natural. But they cannot focus on the broader picture of what is going on here in the Holy Land.

Now, there is another thing that we should not forget; we have to take into consideration our human predicament. Actually, all the fights and clashes in the past were in the name of God. The Crusades, what were they all about? Were they not in the name of God? And there are so many others. Today, it is not called “in the name of God,” but in this game, in one way or another, religion is involved.


Anonymous said...

Is Patr. Theophilos actually arguing that "Rum Orthodox" are not, in fact, Arabs?

Samn! said...

Yes. And he's saying that instead of asking for proper pastoral care, they should instead learn to see themselves as Hellenes.

trif said...

So the Patriarch is saying Rum=Hellene?

Samn! said...


Anonymous said...

No he's not.

Rum = Roman

This includes both Arab and Greek Orthodox Christians.

We should all consider ourselves as Romans first, as brothers, and not descend into petty nationalism.

Samn! said...

In the context, and in the context of his behavior and other statements, it's clear that he believes that Rum = Hellene.

However, the very idea of "Romans" itself is problematic... there is no reason to tie the Christian faith to a dead empire.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not it is desirable, the fact is that Christianity is tied by history to that dead empire.

There is, however, no reason to tie the Christian faith to nationalisms that were never a part of it, especially since doing so goes against the faith: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Samn! said...

Yeah, I think it's time to get over Rome. We are not Romans. There are no Romans. Recognizing the past is good and all, but it can also be disastrous. Not that I disagree with you about nationalism, but romeosyne is a form of ersatz nationalism.

Samn! said...

That is, the Epistle to Diognetus still gives the best definition of how our identities are to be as Christians.