Jerusalem patriarch strikes back
- Patriarch vs Archbishop
A week after he announced measures to clean up the church, Archbishop
Christodoulos appears to be fighting as hard as ever for his personal
survival. Revelations implicating him in scandal are stubbornly
mounting. While he continues to deny allegations of links between
himself and indicted priest Iakovos Giosakis, the harder fight might
prove to be freeing himself from charges unexpectedly hurled by
Patriarch Eirinaios of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem patriarch strikes back
Embattled Eirinaios accuses Christodoulos of sending him Greece's most
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Eirinaios of Jerusalem (R) enters the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre for Easter 2002 celebrations in Jerusalem's Old City
PATRIARCH Eirinaios of Jerusalem directly linked Archbishop
Christodoulos with Greece's most wanted man, stating in a surprise
revelation on February 23 that Christodoulos sent Apostolos Vavylis to
Israel to help elect him.
The revelation, made in an announcement by the patriarch's spokesman,
caused an uproar in Athens, resulting in a frenzy of calls by Athens
newspapers for Christodulos' resignation.
Christodoulos denied the charge, which represented a complete reversal
of Eirinaios' previous statements, and disavowed any close connection to
Vavylis, who used the alias Apostolos Fokas in Jerusalem. A statement by
the Archdiocese of Athens attributed Eirinaios' statement to an
organised smear campaign.
Both Christodoulos and Eirinaios had attempted in the last month to
distance themselves from Vavylis, who was convicted on charges of
transporting one-and-a-half kilos of heroin in the late 1980s and later
identified as a Mossad agent in a 1996 Greek intelligence service (EYP)
document published in the Athens daily To Vima.
In a sworn affidavit given to Israeli authorities, Vavylis admitted
that Christodoulos sent him to Israel to help elect Eirinaios as
Patriarch of Jerusalem, the fourth-ranking hierarch in Orthodox
Christianity. Vavylis admitted to employing illegal tactics in the
electoral campaign, including distributing doctored pictures of
Eirinaios chief rival, Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostron.
Rotten real-estate deals
Eirinaios' allegation against Christodoulos coincided with a burgeoning
financial crisis at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The
patriarchate is the keeper of Christianity's holiest shrines, including
the Holy Sepulchre, and owns many prime properties in Jerusalem and
other areas of Israel and Palestinian territories.
On February 23, a real-estate company operating in Israel obtained a
court order to tie up all of the patriarchate's bank accounts and place
a lien on parcels of its real estate to satisfy an $8 million claim
against the patriarchate. The amount was awarded by the Israeli Supreme
Court one year ago to the company South African Israel after the
patriarchate broke a contract leasing a prime property in the Abu-Tor
area, between Mar Ilias (Prophet Elijah) and Jerusalem. Assessors valued
the property at $3 million.
In the past, the patriarchate had signed a number of other property
deals with the same company, including one involving land in Nazareth.
The lease for the property had been signed by Eirinaios' predecessor,
the late Diodoros, who later broke the contract. The case has been in
the courts since the late 1990s, but the negotiations with the company
over the huge court award were handled by Eirinaios' accountant, Nikos
Papadimas, whose father described him as an "errand boy who had not
finished high school", was given a broad power of attorney by Eirinaios
to manage and rent the patriarchate's property and negotiate on its
behalf. The accountant disappeared several months ago, and Eirinaios has
accused him of embezzling $600,000, which other sources at the
patriarchate estimate is one-tenth of the real amount missing.
One of the properties tied up by the court is believed to be a 75-acre
parcel of land in Mar Ilias, in the old Arab quarter between Israel and
the Palestinian territories, about one-and-a-half kilometres on the
Israel side of the wall now separating the two sides.
"Eirinaios' responsibility lies in not negotiating a proper payment
scheme and using an incompetent person [Papadimas] to handle the affair.
He could have struck an agreement to slowly pay off the debt. We believe
Papadimas was used to cut deals which Eirinaios did not want to sign
personally," a high-level clergyman at the patriarchate told the Athens
A number of the vast property holdings of the patriarchate are of
strategic importance to Israel, either because they lie on the border of
the Israel with the Palestinian Territories or because they could
influence the future status of Jerusalem.
In a July 2002 letter to PM Ariel Sharon, Eirinaios offered to sell to
the Israeli state key Jerusalem properties, including the land on which
are built the residence of the Israeli president, the Knesset
(parliament) building, the prime minister's residence and the property
occupied by the education ministry.
Bishops in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, were at a
loss to explain Eirinaios' reversal in tying Vavylis to Christodoulos.
"Eirinaios now feels that Christodoulos is sinking, so he is throwing
the last stone to bolster his own position. He is saying that he is not
to blame because Christodoulos sent these unsavoury characters over
here," one bishop said.
But they also say that both Vavylis and his cohort, retired Greek
officer Ioannis Triantafyllakis, had told everyone that they were there
acting on Christodoulos' behalf.
In 2001, when Greek Consul-General Petros Panagiotopoulos warned
Eirinaios that Vavylis was "dangerous", the patriarch replied that
Vavylis was Christodoulos' "spiritual child".
In an argument with the driver of Eirinaios' rival, Timotheos, Vavylis
claimed that he was a Mossad agent. He told others that he was working
for Greek intelligence [EYP].
The current crisis has led a number of Jerusalem hierarchs to seek
Greek government intervention to set matters aright. One bishop said:
"Greece allowed crooks to help manage the patriarchate. Now they are
obliged to put things in order. We all heard that Christodoulos sent
Vavylis here, and he did whatever he wanted. He had enormous powers,
with ties in Greece and Israel."
"These people evicted us from our very home. I came here as a youth
with short pants and ended up needing [Vavylis' permission] to see the
patriarch," another bishop told the Athens News.
ATHENS NEWS , 25/02/2005, page: A05 Article code: C13119A051