The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
The fate of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and the Christian existence in the Holy Land were linked with the political developments in the region in every age. In the Byzantine age, the Jerusalem Church was Greek in appearance, but it did not relinquish its eastern roots. During the Arab conquest, it was arabized in terms of clergy, people and language. In the age of the Crusades, antagonism appeared between the followers of the Eastern and Western Churches. Two patriarchal entities emerged, one was a Latin entity and the other was an Orthodox, which emerged in Constantinople. The Orthodox entity was not linked or in communion with the Holy See of Rome, but was hostile to everything that was Western. After the Crusades, Arab Patriarchs, who were elected from the national clergy, resumed caring for the small Christian community in Palestine. As time went on, this community shrank into a minority after it had constituted the sweeping majority in the Byzantine age. The Eastern Patriarchates, namely, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, fell early under the Arab Islamic rule in the seventh century. This was followed by the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate, which fell when the Ottoman Muslims conquered Constantinople in AD 1453. The Jerusalem Patriarchate was the weakest, the fewer in number and the smaller in size.
The Ottomans conquered Palestine in AD 1516. From the political standpoint, Mamluk sovereignty was replaced with that of Turks. From the religious standpoint, Arab sovereignty was replaced with that of the Greeks. Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Constantinople became the head of the Orthodox Millet in the Sultanate. The Ottomans used the millet system to rule non-Islamic peoples. They viewed the Patriarch of Constantinople as the representative of all the Orthodox subjects in the Sultanate. Thus, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and through it, the Greek clergy controlled all the Orthodox Patriarchates that were under the jurisdiction of Istanbul. Therefore, the Jerusalem Patriarchate was hellenized in the sixteenth century, and Greek Patriarchs replaced the Arabs in the St. James Jerusalem See. Germanos, one of the clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, was enthroned as the Patriarch of Jerusalem to succeed the last Arab Patriarch Dorothaos, or Atallah. “It is, therefore, no coincidence that the successor to the Arab Patriarch of that time, Atallah, was a Greek, Germanos, from the Morea, who instituted the custom of nominating a Greek successor and not living in Jerusalem but in Constantinople as a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s court”.
Arab ecclesiastical literature points out that: “the Greek Germanos gained a perfect command of Arabic and that among the many visitors who came to the city of Jerusalem, there was a young man from Morea, called Germanos, who had spent several years in Egypt and learned Arabic there. He gained a good command of Arabic to the point that he was not suspected of being of Greek origin. He mixed with the monks and proved his ability and skills. He was ordained by Patriarch Atallah as a deacon and continued to advance in the clerical hierarchy until he was enthroned as Patriarch in AD 1534 at the resignation of Patriarch Atallah.” Germanos was nominated to his new post by the Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah I, who recommended him to the Ottoman rulers for the post of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The Orthodox Arabs call this era of the history of the Jerusalem Patriarchate the “Age of Usurpation.” In other words, the Greeks usurped the patriarchal post from the Arabs. Qazaqya narrates the story of the arrival of the Greek clerics to Jerusalem and describes them as the “dignified guests.” These guests included Ioakim and Germanos, the first was appointed Patriarch of Alexandria and the second was appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem.
But what was the influence which Germanos left in the Jerusalem Church? “Germanos was the first Greek Patriarch, who with great resolve and shrewdness, devised the system and nature of the Jerusalem Church and turned it into a Greek entity, once and for all.” As the new Patriarch, Germanos enforced practical steps in his bid to control the Patriarchate. “He reserved the high ecclesiastical posts to his Greek kinsmen and gave them the holy shrines, such as the churches, monasteries and property as a booty.” Germanos founded a congregation of monks and empowered it to run the Jerusalem Church. It came to be known as the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. Germanos ruled the Jerusalem Patriarchate for 45 years (1534-1579) during which he enabled the Greeks in the Patriarchate to exclude the Arabs. “He restricted the rank of bishop to the Greeks, and every time an Arab bishop died, he appointed a Greek bishop in his place. In fact, the status of the Greek bishops of Jerusalem during the long reign of Patriarch Germanos and before his death, became codified and is still in force to date. In other words, no bishop could be ordained unless he was Greek.” These facts are confirmed by other sources than Arab historians, “The Church of Jerusalem lost its natural independence and self-control. During a Patriarchate of forty five years, he filled all the Episcopal sees with his fellow Grecians.”
Arab and Greek writers offer contradicting information on the story of Germanos and the control of the Greek Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It is very difficult to gain access to the old documents at the library of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. There is no doubt that the two reports of Anton Bertram of 1921 and 1925 are closer to historical objectivity. Bertram was a British judge appointed by the British mandate authorities to investigate the difference, which erupted between Patriarch Damianos and the Synod and the Arabs and Greeks. Bertram studied and revised several documents and met with several Arab and Greek figures. He explained the views of the two sides in an objective manner. He sometimes gives his own views. Therefore, we can depend on the views of Bertram to reach a result that is relatively objective on the issues that are raised by this study. Otherwise, our discussion would be held in a vicious circle. In his comments on the Germanos story, Bertram says the following: “There can be no question that, considered from this point of view, the Patriarchate of Germanos marks a turning-point in the history of the Church. Gregorios Palamas, who published a history of the Church of Jerusalem in the year 1862, speaks of him as commencing the glorious and up to to-day unbroken succession of Greek Patriarchs on the throne,” Another writer believes that the Greeks came to Palestine “under the slogan of Orthodoxy.” In other words, the Arabs accepted Germanos as their own Patriarch because he was Orthodox like them. As a result of the hellenization of the Patriarchate, many of the Orthodox converted to the Latin denomination, particularly in the nineteenth century. A conflict erupted between the Latins and the Greeks over the proprietorship of the Holy Places, while both parties were alien to the country. Had power remained in the hands of the locals, the Latins would not have dared to demand rights on the Holy Places. It should be recalled that the Catholic Church represented by the Franciscan Fathers established permanent rights on the Holy Places since the fourteenth century during the rule of the Mamlukes, at the end of the Crusades.
Greek historians call the Palestinian Arabs “Arabophones”, according to the theory, which says that the Orthodox Palestinians are ethnic Greeks by origin and that over time; these ethnic Greeks lost their identity and became Arabs. Some Greek historians do not deny that the Patriarchs of Jerusalem before the Ottoman conquest were from these Arabophones. However, since these Arabophones are originally Greek, the succession of Greek Patriarchs to the Jerusalem See did not stop at all, even in the period when the Arabophones were exercising the patriarchal jurisdiction. Farid Kassab, a contemporary of the Arab-Greek conflict answers by assuming the authenticity of the Greek theory which says: “people can belong to an ethnic group by their own will and emotions more than by belonging to this group by virtue of blood.” Bertram estimates that the Patriarchs of Palestine before the Ottoman conquest were Arabs, not Arabophones, including Patriarch Atallah (1505-1553), whom Greek sources call Dorotheos, or Atallah in Arabic, “there seems no reason to doubt that a Patriarch who at this period ordinarily bore an Arabic name was himself of local extraction.”
The successors of Germanos remain Greek until this very day. Germanos made arrangements for his successor to be a Greek. “As a result of one of these tours (in Orthodox countries) he brought back his nephew, Sofronios, to the monastery and ultimately nominated him as his successor. In 1579 Germanos after a laborious patriarchate, being an old man decided to retire and asked that his nephew should take his place.” The Arabs believed that the enthronement of Sofronios as Patriarch was done through shrewdness, trickery, and deception. The Arab-Greek conflict which dates back to the era of Germanos was not clear or tangible at the beginning and did not take the explosive form which it reached in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. “Another point to notice is the complete harmony between all elements in the Church. There is no indication that Germanos was considered as initiating a new Hellenic dynasty of Patriarchs. There would appear to have been no conscious distinction between a Patriarch who came from Greece and one, like Dorotheos, was of native origin.” However, the Patriarchate was gradually hellenized and a difference could be detected between an Arab and Greek: “There can be no doubt, however, that during the last four centuries the Patriarchate, by a gradual and almost inevitable development, has become more Greek in character. It was during this period, moreover, that it assumed the form with which we are now familiar as a continuous and active institution. The Patriarchate, as we know it, may be said to date from the time of Germanos. From the first years of his patriarchate it became involved in a series of continuous struggles with the Latins which did not cease till after the Crimean war.”
Thus the Patriarchate was hellenized with the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher from which Patriarchs and bishops who run the holy shrines were elected. The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, “is the most ancient and powerful institution of the Patriarchate, its president is the Patriarch himself, and its principal function is to act as the guardians of the sacred shrines.” In the last four centuries, the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher became more Greek. In fact, it became almost purely Greek, although some of its members were Arabs and some of them became Patriarchs, such as Sofronios (1771-1775) and Anthimos (1788 – 1808). Historians say that Germanos was not the founder of the Brotherhood but only reorganized it. The Brotherhood was only the old group of monks, which existed in the Holy Places ever since it was established and is called the monks of Spoudaei or the Zealots. Its main task was to supervise the Holy Places and to guide the pilgrims. The Spoudaei, according to Moschopoulos, are the founders or the origin of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. There may have been a relationship between the old group of monks and the Brotherhood, but it cannot be viewed as a constituent relationship.
There is no doubt that Germanos was the real founder of the Brotherhood, which governs the Jerusalem patriarchal diocese today. According to Bliss, the Brotherhood “under the present rules dates back from the Patriarchate of Dositheos, which began in the year 1662.” The Brotherhood includes among its members bishops with the rank of metropolitan bishops and archimandrites, deacons and monks. The Patriarch is the head of the Brotherhood, and his Synod is formed from its members. Its central monastery is located next to the Patriarchate. The Central Monastery has other affiliated monasteries such as St. Savvas Monastery (Mar Saba Monastery), Mont Temptation Monastery (Qarantal Monastery), Monastery of St. George and John the Hozevites (Wadi Kelt Monastery), and the Cross Monastery (al-Musallabah). The Brotherhood owns 18 monasteries in Jerusalem inhabited by monks and the families of the Orthodox community. It also had 19 monasteries outside Palestine, in Istanbul, Athens and Crete, which have the status of agencies for the Patriarchate. Among the unique characteristics of the Brotherhood, which makes it different from the Western Catholic orders, is that the monks are paid a salary from the Patriarchate (from 12 to 75 pounds in 1925). They also hold Church jobs and own, lease or invest in real estate. They are not forced to live a collective life, some of them live with their families. All of the 120 members of the Brotherhood are from Greece, with the exception of one member from Bulgaria, who was admitted in 1925. Moschopoulos sums up the privileges and rights of the Brotherhood in the following thirteen points:
1- The Holy Sepulcher, all its annexes, all the holy shrines and monasteries of Palestine, and all the charitable institutions in Palestine and abroad shall be attached to the Patriarch in his capacity as the head of the Brotherhood. All of these things are the property of the Greek nation.
2- The Holy Sepulcher and its annexes form a cohesive unit of monasteries that enjoys some kind of administrative independence so as to help in investing its funds under the supervision of the Patriarch, in his capacity as the head of the Brotherhood.
3- The function of the monks and clergy who make up the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher is to serve and guard the Holy Places. The laws of monastic orders and the decisions of the Patriarchs of the Holy City and their Synod govern the Brotherhood.
4- Since the Holy Sepulcher and its annexes are attached to the Greek Jerusalem Patriarch, it is therefore a property of the Greek nation. The Brotherhood chooses its monks from this nation in accordance with its laws and regulations.
5- The Greek Patriarch is elected from among the members of the Brotherhood. He is helped in governing the Church by the Synod, which is a Church council consisting of metropolitans, bishops and archimandrites of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher.
6- All the Orthodox faithful residing either permanently or temporarily in the Jerusalem Patriarchate are under the jurisdiction of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem.
7- The vows, offerings and grants made to the Holy Sepulcher and the shrines, monasteries and other Holy Places are the property of the Greek Brotherhood.
8- The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem is entitled to request and accept the vows, offerings and grants for the holy places from the Orthodox Christians in all parts of the world.
9- The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher shall enjoy an internal independence and self-management on matters concerning its internal life, in accordance with the written and unwritten laws and the old customs and traditions that have been observed since time immemorial and which have become law by the lapse of time and by their enforcement for several centuries.
10- The Brotherhood is entitled to inherit the movable and immovable property of its deceased members. Any intervention by the families of the monks or any other person shall be prohibited.
11- The Brotherhood shall have the full right of proprietorship of its funds in Palestine and abroad, and is also entitled to dispense these funds at full freedom whenever it desires so.
12- The property of the Brotherhood is exempt from all forms of taxes, and everything that is imported is exempt from customs duties.
13- Within its resources and funds and at its full freedom and moral commitment only, the Brotherhood shall offer the necessary funds for the restoration of the existing churches and for building new churches.
It is noteworthy that there is no written law in the Jerusalem Patriarchate. The general laws enforced in the Eastern Patriarchates and a number of customs and traditions observed in the Jerusalem Patriarchate are followed in running the Jerusalem See. The first bylaws of the Patriarchate were promulgated in 1875 and continued to exist until 1958.
The Orthodox Patriarchate owns many Waqf properties (endowments) in Palestine and abroad. It is the richest Church institution in Palestine. The history of the Awqaf (endowments,) of the Patriarchate dates back to 1523. The jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Patriarch covers seven dioceses in Palestine, Jordan and part of the Sinai Peninsula. However, they are not dioceses in the real sense of the word, because their bishops do not reside in these dioceses, with the exception of the bishops of Nazareth and Akko. These dioceses are under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch. Titular metropolitans, archbishops and bishops head these dioceses. Other bishops and archimandrites reside in the property of the Patriarchate abroad. The bishop of Sinai is independent and is elected by the monks of the Saint Catherine Monastery. He is ordained and confirmed by the Patriarch. He mentions the name of the Patriarch in the Mass, but enjoys independence in the management of the monastery.
In the nineteenth century, nine Patriarchs occupied the throne of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. “Under the Turkish Government the highest degree of honour was accorded to the Orthodox Patriarch, who took precedence, so we are informed, of all the Ottoman subjects except the Mutessarif (Governor) himself.” “The Patriarchate has always tended to assume a strongly monarchic character, and in the case of His Beatitude the present Patriarch there has always been a marked determination to control every detail of administration. As head of the Church he has had practically unrestricted financial power.” The Holy Synod, according to the bylaws of the Patriarchate of 1875 consists of six bishops and nine archimandrites and the number can be increased or decreased according to need. “Although nominally under the constitutional control of the Synod, the Patriarch has in fact been accustomed to secure the carrying out of his own wishes.” All the Jerusalem clergy, whether Arabs or Greeks, carried the Ottoman citizenship.
Most followers of the Jerusalem See are ethnically Arabs, with the exception of the monks of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, some families, and Greek traders and professionals. The Arab subjects lived on the periphery of the Orthodox Church throughout the Ottoman era. Schools were rare. Even if schools existed, they were low-level. Arab priests were not educated. The great challenge, which faced Orthodoxy in the 19th century, was the systematic growth of the Catholic and Protestant missions at the expense of Orthodoxy. Musset comments on Papadopoulos book: ‘Historia tes Ekklsias Iorosalimon,’ by saying: “Papadopulos cannot find anything to say on the spiritual life and missionary activity and intellectual production of the Orthodox Church.” The history of the Orthodox Church in the nineteenth century revolves around a number of focuses, such as the conflict with the Latins over the Holy Places, the conflict with the Latins and Protestants on the conversion of the followers of the Orthodox Church to these two Churches. The measures taken by the Orthodox Church were not effective enough to forestall the conversions. There were also the conflicts between the Arabs and the Greeks and between the Greeks and the Russians.
The victim of all these conflicts was the general interest of the Orthodox Church and the Arab laity. In 1838, Orthodox monk Anthimos estimated the number of the faithful in the Orthodox Church to be 15,690. The major Orthodox centers were Jerusalem (600 people), Beit Jala (1,000 people), Ramallah (1,000 people), Jifnah (2,000 people), Kafr Yasif (1,500 people), Nazareth (1,000 people), and Salt (400 people). Salt is the only location in Jordan in which Anthimos mentions that there was an Orthodox community. The second census was taken in 1904 and its source was the Orthodox Patriarchate, which estimated the number of faithful at 49,558. Charon believes that the more realistic number was 30,000. As for the Orthodox of East Jordan, they were estimated at 9,757 and the rest were in Palestine. The Orthodox Christians in Jordan live in the following locations: Ajloun, Hoson, Souf, Anjara, Salt, Eremimin, Fuheis, Madaba, Ma’in, Karak, Irbid, Taybeh, Kafr Abil, and Shatana. It is unreasonable that Orthodox Christians existed only in Salt according to the Anthimos census. He has surely neglected to mention the other locations. Another author estimated the number of the Orthodox in the early nineteenth century at 30,000 people. Their number was reduced to 25,000 as many of them were converted to Catholicism and Protestantism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite all this, the Orthodox constituted the largest denomination compared with other Christian denominations.
The history of the Orthodox Church in the nineteenth century focuses on the liberation of the Jerusalem Church from subservience to Constantinople, the Russian influence, the Russian–Greek and the Greek–Arab controversies. It also focuses on the bylaws of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which were issued in 1875. Often relations became tense between the Patriarch, the Synod and the members of the Brotherhood. It reached the point of disruption of relations among them and the expulsion of the Patriarchs from their posts.
This part, which discusses the history of the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate, is divided into four chapters as follows:
- Chapter One: the independence of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and the Russian-Palestinian ecclesiastical relations, 1800-1872.
- Chapter Two: Legislation in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the events of the years 1873-1879.
- Chapter Three: The Imperial Palestinian Orthodox Society 1882- 1917.
- Chapter Four: the Orthodox Arab issue in the age of Patriarch Damianos, 1897- 1931.