• ISRAEL \ Jul 24, 2002
    reads 2547
    Division in local Greek Orthodox community
Division in local Greek Orthodox community A division within the local Greek Orthodox Church became public this week, with calls from church laymen in the Galilee to install a priest as patriarch who had been quoted as justifying suicide bombings in an Arabic newspaper.

The Israeli Arab weekly, al-Ahali, which is widely circulated in Galilee, quoted Father Hanna Atalla as saying that he does not recognize Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineous I, who was elected by the Greek Orthodox Synod almost a year ago.

Irineous' election has yet to be approved by the Israeli government, a step necessary for his official accession to office.

Nabil Oudi, who wrote the report, said he had asked Atalla if he wants an Arab-led patriarchate, as in Syria. Atalla said this needs to be discussed, according to Oudi.

A month ago, Atalla was quoted in the Gulf News, which identified him as the official spokesman of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, as saying that "martyrdom" by Palestinian men and women is part of the intifada, and can not be separated from their liberation movement.

"Some freedom fighters adopt martyrdom or suicide bombing, while others opt for other measures. But all these struggles serve the continued intifada for freedom. Therefore, we support all these causes," Atalla said in a speech in Dubai on June 20, according to the report.

In response, Irineous said that Atalla is not a spokesman for the Patriarchate.

Oudi said he and other church lay members consider Atalla the spokesman of the Greek Orthodox community and it is immaterial whether he is the spokesman of the patriarchate or not.

Atalla said yesterday that he had been misquoted by the Gulf News and that he had written to the paper saying so.

He said he stands with Palestinians and supports their struggle, but by peaceful means.

"I reject all people who bomb human beings," he said. He also insisted that he has been the spokesman for the patriarchate since 1994 and continues to serve in that role.

He said he is on good terms will all the synod members, but that there are some priests in the patriarchate who were trying to make trouble for him.

Regarding the possibility of Arabizing the patriarchate, he said that in Christianity there is no difference between Greek or Arab clergy, or those of any other nationality.

Father Gabriel Naddaf, the newly appointed spokesman of the patriarch, said yesterday that Atalla was never its spokesman. According to Naddaf, Atalla exploited a period when the former patriarch, Diodoros, was very ill, and spoke as if he represented the patriarchate.

Naddaf said that Atalla has been quoted in Arabic papers sympathizing with Hamas and calling for Palestinian Christians to become suicide bombers. Naddaf said Atalla says he denied the statements but Naddaf has never saw any of the denials published.

Naddaf said that Irineous called in Atalla and told him to be careful what he says. After Atalla's reported remarks in the Gulf States, the synod distanced itself from the remarks.

"The Orthodox Church never supported terror. We are for peace and dialogue and against violence and terror," Naddaf said.

Attala lives in the patriarchate's offices in the Old City of Jerusalem and is employed there. In fact, Atalla and Naddaf share an office. It appears that no steps have been taken to discipline Atalla. "When the time comes, we'll take the appropriate steps," Naddaf said.