Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pantelis Kalaitzidis on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

From the French version, here. The title of this article was apparently chosen by the editors of the Service Orthodoxe de Presse. It originally appeared in Greek in the newspaper Thessalia on March 29, 2005. For another article on Middle Eastern Christianity by the same author, see here.

The Current Situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem:
An Ecclesiastical Neocolonialism?

by Pantelis Kalaitzidis

After various stormy events and the revelations regarding the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we will dare to wonder: does not the most glaring scandal of recent times ultimately lie in the impermissible contempt evinced by the Greek leadership of the the Patriarchate of Jerusalem toward the Arabic-speaking faithful and in the reduction to zero of the "theology of the local church" in favor of a"Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" which, imposed from the outside and constituted on the principle and basis of the (Greek) national community of origin of its members, pursues the defense of the corporate interests of a closed group of celibate clergy? Does the scandal not thus lie in the replacement of the "ecclesiological" criterion with "national" and economic interests which go so far as the sale of lands and the transfer of the Patriarchate's lands and properties on behalf of Israeli economic interests in the (Arab) Old City of Jerusalem?

As many here have said and claimed in all the debates about this situation, the scandal of international dimensions that is rocking the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represents a "taboo subject" and a "delicate national question" that is better not touched or delved into further. Reasons of national interest, which are constantly evoked, prohibit almost any discussion of the background and especially avoid touching the taboo of the Patriarchate's "Hellenism", which should be maintained at any price, even at the price of measures that run contrary to its "ecclesiality." It is characteristic that the most tenacious adversaries of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Greece (which has also been very recently criticized and severely challenged on the basis of the implication of certain of its members in moral and financial scandals) and the most radical anti-clerical criticism in Greece in no way consider challenging this famous "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which all consider to be a national "cause" or "patrimony", while the progressive or enlightened theologians, for their part, until now avoid broaching the question, contenting themselves with general considerations about a "universal Hellenism"-- which they affirm is different from nationalism-- and a "universal Byzantine tradition" to which the current patriarchate is one of the heirs.

In this way we close our eyes to the fact that this concept of "Hellenism"-- and its concrete application-- not only breaks apart and dissolves the Body of Christ (and introduces into it as definitive the criteria of nation, race, language, civilization, etc. which divide its unity) but moreover also reduces the Arabic-speaking faithful to the rank of second-class Christians, to ecclesiastical "subjects", good for serving the uniqueness and longevity of a cultural or even phyletist Hellenism, for assisting the servants of this Hellenism, the Greek upper clergy. With methods and processes that leave nothing to envy over the worst periods of colonialism and imperialism, the latter, the members of the "Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" are imposed upon the body of Arabic-speaking faithful of the Church of Jerusalem, systematically and by every means excluding from the episcopate the native Orthodox of the Holy Land, out of fear of an Arabization of the Patriarchate, without taking into account that in proceeding this way they only accelerate it.

So why do we still today persist in denying the Orthodox of Palestine and Jordan their natural right to choose their pastors themselves and for how long will we continue to organize the recruitment of celibate clergy, sent from Greece, in order to administer the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? For how long will we continue to evoke the delicate question of the status of the Holy Places in order to prolong-- at the expense of the Palestinians, whose national rights we are supposed to be defending-- a "Greek" ecclesiastical dominance in Palestine and Jordan? Would it not be good for us to remember everywhere those words of Christ: "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12)? How would we behave, we "haughty Greeks," if someone imposed on us here an imported sort of ecclesiastical administration of a colonial type?

Are we unable to perceive that the Palestinian Orthodox, these distant heirs of the first Christian community of Jerusalem, may resent it when, after so many occupations, martyrdoms and persecutions, they are experiencing the domination and occupation of "Greek Orthodoxy" and have become strangers and servants in their own home, deprived of any responsibility or any participation in the life of their Church, all because we present ourselves as the sole and ultimate heirs of Byzantium, as the defenders and heralds par excellence of Orthodoxy? Indeed, in the name of what logic or what historical reality can one justify the notion that the Christians of Palestine are less "Byzantine" and less Christian than us? So are we consistent with our proclamations-- either naive or triumphalist--  such as that Orthodoxy has always respected the local traditions and peculiarities of peoples and that is never had the least resemblance to any colonialism? Yes or no: does the ecclesiological situation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represent an ecclesiastical colonialism and a cultural imperialism?

Does the fact that one endeavors to assure at any price Hellenism  in the Holy Places and to keep sites of Christian pilgrimage under Greek control bear witness to our ecclesiological sensibility and to the priority given to theological criteria or does it not rather confirm the subordination of these criteria to priorities of a national, neocolonialist, racist, and, in the final analysis neo-pagan sort? Are we incapable of understanding that Arabization cannot be avoided and is already under way? And that the faster and more smoothly it takes place, the less the price that "Greek" interests will have to pay, while the more it is delayed the more the justifiable anger of the Arabic-speaking Orthodox masses grows, as well as the inevitable exploitation of their feelings by Russian "ecclesiastical" diplomacy? Are we really incapable of learning all the lessons from what happened, in a context of tensions and disputes, during the Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch a century ago? Do we know that through the racist and neocolonialist behavior that we display, we are denying the Palestinian Orthodox community the cultivated elites, the clergy, the theologians, and the intellectuals of which they are in urgent need? Have we realized the dire consequences, of which there will be no lack, of the proselytism carried out among the Arabic-speaking Orthodox by the Roman Catholic Church which, for many decades, has encouraged the promotion of Arabic-speaking clergy to the highest ecclesiastical offices and which, contrary to the smug and pretentious behavior of our "Greek Orthodox" monks, has really contributed to the advent of a theologically-formed clerical and lay Palestinian elite and has truly put itself-- without hijinks or dubious transactions-- shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people?

I think that the moment has come to answer courageously and sincerely a whole series of crucial questions such as these: To what should we ultimately grant priority, to "the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?" (Matthew 23:17). In other words, to impersonal principles-- such as the "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem-- or to living images of God? To guarding the "Holy Sepulcher" or to the spiritual growth and maturation of the "living body of Christ"? To the idols of nation and race or to the truth of this God who illumines the truth of man? To the longevity and safeguarding at any price of Hellenism in the Holy Places or to the rebirth of the local Church? It is, of course, entirely possible that the long-awaited rebirth of the local Church in Palestine and Jordan will be accompanied by phenomena of rejection-- as in almost all the local Churches that surround us-- that is to say, by a religious nationalism and an identification with the state. As condemnable and regrettable as these phenomena may be, they will ultimately be less repugnant than the  neocolonialism or religious imperialism which, imposed in the name of Christ and Orthodoxy, aim to transform living icons of God, baptized members of the ecclesiastical body, into house slaves and objects of domination and power.

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