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Ex-Greek Orthodox patriarch, who said church imprisoned him in Jerusalem, dies at 83

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The former patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, who said he was held captive by church officials in the capital for over a decade, has died at the age of 83.

Former patriarch Irineos I died in a hospital in Athens, Greece, on Saturday, the church announced.

Irineos was elected as the 140th Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem in 2001 but was dismissed in 2005 due to allegations he sold three church properties to a far-right Jewish group, Ateret Cohanim. The organization buys properties in Arab parts of Jerusalem to establish a Jewish presence.

The property sales triggered Palestinian anger and led to Irineos’s dismissal by church officials. He denied that he had taken part in the deals.

He was the first patriarch to be dismissed from the position in over 200 years, The Telegraph reported. Patriarchs in the Greek Orthodox church are usually appointed for life.

His successor, Theophilos III, challenged the property sales in court, leading to a long legal battle that ended last year when the Supreme Court upheld a ruling against the church.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, center, at the Church of the Nativity during Christian Orthodox Christmas Eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, January 6, 2023. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Irineos refused to accept his dismissal and moved into a small apartment on the top floor of the patriarchate building in Jerusalem. He later claimed he had been imprisoned in the building by Theophilos.

Irineos received food while in the apartment from supporters who sent up the provisions in a basket tied to a rope that he lowered to the street below.

The church said Irineos refused to accept his deposition and had self-isolated of his own will, Ynet reported.

Reporters from the Associated Press were barred from visiting Irineos in 2011. The police said at the time that they had not gotten involved in the case because no complaints had been filed.

Former Greek Patriarch Irineos I waves as he looks out the window of his apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem, January 6, 2011. (AP/Dan Balilty)

In 2019, Irineos told the Greek consulate in Jerusalem that he was in “de facto” imprisonment and his passport had been stolen. He said Theophilos was trying to force him to transfer to a monastery near Jericho.

His health deteriorated in 2019 and he returned to Greece.

He was born on the island of Samos and died in Athens.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land, commanding massive real estate holdings dating back hundreds of years. It faces regular accusations of selling or leasing properties to Israel in predominantly Palestinian areas.


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