Patriarch led oldest church in Jerusalem

 

The head of the largest and oldest church in the Holy Land, Patriarch Diodoros I of the Greek Orthodox Church, has died from a heart attack at the age of 77, the church said yesterday.

The death of Patriarch Diodoros comes less than three weeks before Christmas, which the Greek Orthodox church celebrates in early January.

Archimandrite Atallah Hanna said the Church's Holy Synod would meet later to appoint an acting leader and to arrange the funeral, which would probably be held by the end of the week at the Church of Ascension on the Mount of Olives.

The Palestinian President, Mr Yasser Arafat, and King Abdullah of Jordan sent condolences after Patriarch Diodoros died on Tuesday night, but the church did not report any condolence notices from Israeli officials.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem covers Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan and has 250,000 mainly Palestinian members. Mr Arafat described Patriarch Diodoros as a "supporter of the Palestinian cause who also backed Arab causes".

When Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land last March, he had a friendly meeting with Patriarch Diodoros in Jerusalem. However, his patriarchate has been marked by controversies and protests.

Born in Greece, Patriarch Diodoros moved to British Mandatory Palestine in 1938 and lived most of his life in the Holy Land. He became Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1981.

Patriarch Diodoros never mastered fluent Arabic, and was accused of reserving the highest offices in the church for Greek-born clergy. Throughout his reign, no Palestinian-born or Israeli-born monk or priest became a bishop in the Church of Jerusalem. In late 1993, he faced a revolt among Palestinian laity who accused him of using his office to sell community-owned land to Israeli settlers.

After the Patriarchate established formal links with a small, schismatic group in Greece, two archbishops on his staff were deposed and demoted to the rank of monks by Greek Orthodox leaders from all over the world.

The patriarch sided with the Russian Orthodox Church in a dispute between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Russia. When over 60 Orthodox Church leaders gathered in Jerusalem early this year, Arab Orthodox laity protested outside the meeting against land sales and the promotion of Greekborn clergy over their Palestinian colleagues.

Meanwhile, tourism officials are reporting an exceptionally quiet Jerusalem in the week before Christmas.