Jordan- Orthodox congregation calls for Arabising Greek-led church

Jordan Times – 18/11/2009

(MENAFN – Jordan Times) Jordan’s Orthodox congregation on Tuesday called for “Arabising” their Greek-led church and rescinding a decision by Patriarch Theophilus III to dismiss a senior Jordanian church court member.

Hundreds of Christians staged a sit-in in front of the Orthodox Church court in the capital yesterday, demanding the cancellation of last week’s decision to remove Archimandrite Hanna (Christoforos) Atallah from his post as the church court’s vice president.
The Jerusalem-based patriarchate, which covers Jordan, Israel and the
Palestinian territories, described the decision as part of a “normal process to transfer judiciary staff and an internal affair with no personal agenda”.

But Orthodox Christians in Jordan consider the dismissal “unfair”, and
yesterday called on the Greek patriarch to “keep away from our priests” and leave the holy lands. “We want neither the patriarch nor his leadership they [Greek clergymen] have not done anything for us, so they have no right to come and rule us,” shouted one middle-aged man, who wore a traditional red and white koufiyeh (head cover).
Another protester, Basem Khouri, described the Greek leadership of the
church as a “failure”. “We want it to be Arab,” the 48-year-old told

The Jordan Times, as other protesters recited prayers and religious chants.
“An Arab would definitely know the country’s needs better than a Greek,” remarked Dina Bandak Awwad, who also took part in the sit-in. “For us, Father Christoforos is more than a spiritual father,” the
37-year-old Amman resident said, noting that the clergyman “helps many needy families”.
Abu Anwar, a mukhtar (community leader) from the northern city of Ajloun, echoed similar sentiments. “Father Atallah wants to do good, while the patriarch wants to destroy us,” he charged. Atallah had been vice president of the Amman church court since 2005; before
that, he spent four years as a member of the tribunal.
He attributed his dismissal to a series of decisions targeting Arab
clergymen in the Greek Orthodox Church.

These include suspending his salary and those of two other senior churchmen who took part in an Amman meeting that called for revoking recognition of the patriarch for not fulfilling previous commitments.

In addition, Theophilus prevents young Arabs from becoming monks,
Archimandrite Atallah said, highlighting the lack of Arab representation in the Holy Synod – the highest decision-making body at the church – which should be composed of 18 members who hold Jordanian citizenship, with at least two originally Jordanian bishops or archbishops, in accordance with the patriarchate’s 1958 law.
Currently, there is only one Arab archimandrite in what the protesters
labelled the “unholy” synod. Father Issa Misleh, the patriarchate’s spokesperson, defended its position, noting that “renewing leadership of church courts is an ordinary measure, and there will be similar transfers during the coming period”.

“The patriarch wants to put the right man in the right place,” Misleh told The Jordan Times in a phone interview yesterday, adding that “there is no difference between a Greek and an Arab in the Orthodox church”. Regarding Arab representation in the Holy Synod, the priest noted that obstacles posed by the Israeli occupation are delaying several measures to be taken by the patriarchate, including the appointment of an Arab to replace a synod member who died more than a year ago.

He also refuted claims that Theophilus does not permit Arabs to become monks, noting that at least two Palestinian theology students were recently offered the chance.

Misleh argued that Arabs are “incapable” of managing their church’s affairs, which he said explains the dominance of Greek clergymen in the patriarchate’s leadership since the beginning of the Ottoman era.
“We [Arabs] have no potential to hold senior posts in the church The church always calls on young Arabs to become monks, but they prefer to become priests and get married,” Misleh said.

Orthodox Church priests who choose to get married do not hold senior posts in decision-making bodies, while monks, who remain celibate, and unmarried priests can be promoted to leading positions in the patriarchate. The number of Orthodox believers in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is estimated at more than 200,000, with some 110,000 in Jordan alone. Christians account for some 4 per cent of the Kingdom’s population, which stands at around six million.

By Thameen Kheetan


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