Constantinople.- Greek Foreign Ministry has stripped Jerusalem Patriarch Irenaios of his diplomatic passport and issued him a six-month passport that refers to him as the former patriarch of Jerusalem, ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said on Friday. Earlier, Irenaios insisted that he would not resign, despite a decision by the world’s Orthodox Church leaders upholding the patriarch’s deposition by his own bishops.
World Orthodox leaders voted Tuesday to stop recognizing the patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I. Representatives of 12 main Orthodox churches cast their votes during a rare “pan-Orthodox” synod, presided over by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.
Irineos has persistently refused to resign despite efforts by his own church members to depose him over explosive allegations that his church leased property to Jewish investors in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians consider their capital.
The vote doesn’t directly call for his removal. But the act of refusing to recognize his authority is expected to put additional pressure on him to resign.
“We had to make a sad decision about the Jerusalem patriarch,” Bartholomew said.
Irineos was asked to resign during the synod, but he refused, Bartholomew said.
The Istanbul proceedings are the first major pan-Orthodox summit in more than a decade. The gathering has no authority to formally dismiss Irineos or pick his successor. That duty rests solely with the synod, or governing council, of the Jerusalem church. Irineos refuses to convene the synod.
Orthodox clerics supporting Irineos’ removal – represented by six bishops at the synod – claim they already have voted to remove him as patriarch and sought the endorsement of the pan-Orthodox synod representing the highest authority in the Orthodox church.
Cornelius, the Metropolitan of Petra, said the vote Tuesday would boost efforts by church leaders in the Holy Land to remove the patriarch.
“He can call himself patriarch, but he is not,” Cornelius said.
Speaking from Jerusalem, Father Dimitrios, the secretary for the Holy Synod in Jerusalem, said the church in the Holy Land will start working to elect a “locum tenens” – someone to execute the duties of the patriarch until a new one is installed.
“It’s a day of our joy and the day of our freedom,” Dimitrios said.
As Irineos was leaving the patriarchate, he was asked by reporters whether he would resign. He said nothing, but shook his finger back and forth as if to indicate no.
Earlier, Bartholomew prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide the clerics in making their decision as they met in the gold-adorned Cathedral of St. George.
Irineos’ attorney, Franciscos Ragoussis, signaled earlier Tuesday that his client would continue to fight his ouster.
“No one can try in any legal way to cut us off from our rights, religious liberty and religious duties, and any entity that is going to challenge these is going to be brought in front of international justice,” he said in Istanbul.
A former financial adviser to Irineos is accused of giving Jewish investors 198-year leases for two church-owned hostels and several shops in the Old City. Palestinians were outraged, claiming the deals were part of Jewish encroachment on Arab quarters.
The scandal represented an embarrassment for the Orthodox church, and Tuesday’s meeting was widely seen as an effort by Bartholomew and other church leaders to improve its image in the Holy Land.
For Bartholomew, who is considered the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, the meeting also represents an assertion of his authority, which has sometimes come under challenge from Turkey and within the Orthodox church.