The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine and Spiritual Culture (Part XII)

New Martyr Philosophus of St. Petersburg

New Martyr Philosophus of St. Petersburg

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

by Father John Anthony McGuckin

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem ranks fourth in the precedence of honor of the Orthodox Churches. Even in antiquity Jerusalem was never a large Church with a significant sphere of political influence. In the 3rd century it was politically in the saddest state of decline, and ecclesiastically was the minor partner of Caesarea Maritima, itself the seat of a most important Christian university school. Jerusalem had a different kind of symbolic influence, and importance, however, chiefly as the site of the holy places where the Lord taught, and suffered, and rose again. In its most important patristic phase it was the center of an internationally influential liturgical revival, that followed after Emperor Constantine's building of the church of the Anastasis (Resurrection) and other places of pilgrimage. The story of Saint Helena's discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem, was added to by several other major discoveries of the holy relics of New Testament Saints such as St. John the Forerunner or Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, stories that electrified Christian Constantinople and led to a massive movement of the building of pilgrimage churches in the Holy Land. From the late 4th to the 6th centuries Roman Palestine, with Jerusalem at its center, was renowned throughout the Christian world as a thriving Church based around pilgrim traffic.

Pilgrimage continued throughout ancient times. Its moment of glory came at the time of the Council of Chalcedon when the city's bishop, Juvenal, managed to secure from the conciliar father the admission of its right to be regarded as the primary See of Palestine (by virtue of its ancient status and contemporary importance), and they also gave to it then the status and title of a patriarchate (though without extending its territorial jurisdiction). The bloody wars of the Crusades often suggest to observers that passage to the holy places was cut off by the Islamic occupation of the holy city after the 7th century, but in fact there were many times when the Byzantine Emperors regained control of the land routes, and even when they did not have the military upper hand, they easily negotiated pilgrim access by means of treaty. So it was that until the massive disruptions of the first three Crusades, the Church in what was formerly Roman Palestine, centered round Jerusalem, continued as a fairly lively nexus of pilgrim sites, sustained by the city church and by numerous monasteries in the desert region of Judaea and modern Jordan, reaching down to Gaza and Sinai. The fame of these Judaean monasteries rivaled that of the earlier settlements of Christian Egypt, which by this stage had themselves fallen into a degree of obscurity following barbarian devastations of the desert settlements. In the 5th century the instability of the churches, following in the aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon 451 AD, was acutely felt in Jerusalem.

The 7th century, however, was definitely to throw a curtain over any further expansion of the Patriarchate, as it soon found itself thereafter in the unenviable position of a city that was not only sacred to the Jews, but had also become a holy site for the new politically ascended religion of Islam. Even so, with a few exceptions the Christian holy places were allowed to operate in reduced numbers for most of the time. Pilgrimage has always been one of the raisons d'etre for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem therefore, and continues to be so. But in saying this it is extremely important not to overlook the profound significance of the increasingly dwindling local population of about 35,000 Arab Christians who have been suffering politically for so long, in a form of silent martyrdom. These have long felt themselves pinned between a rock and a hard place.

On the one side was the old Ottoman government, representing the massive Islamic majority of the region (successively replaced by the British Administration, and then by the state of Israel) which had little intrinsic care for resident Christian Arabs (to put it euphemistically), and on the other side was the higher Orthodox clergy who occupied all the offices of the Patriarchate, and were almost entirely Pharnariot Greeks. The church of the Anastasis (Resurrection), with the Patriarch at its center, continues to be governed by the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross, which still makes up a powerful and focused Greek clerical community. The monks are known as Hagiotaphites (brothers of the Holy Tomb), and the Patriarch is ex officio the head of its affairs. His title is His Beatitude the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and of All the Promised Land. All bishops of the local synod (two eparchies at Akka (Ptolemais), and Nazareth, and several other titular archbishops such as Mount Tabor, Jordan, and Kerak) whose complement does not exceed eighteen, must be members of the Brotherhood. The senior hierarchs are all predominantly occupied with the administration of one of the chief shrines of the Holy Land.

The local faithful are almost entirely Arabs (there resident Greek Christians number in the low hundreds) with predominantly Arabic parish priests. The latter are mostly married, and the celibates among them are rarely admitted to the higher offices of the Church so that the synod of the Jerusalem Patriarchate will never lose its Greek operative majority.  Since 1958 there has been a new constitution partly influenced by the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, that gave the Christian Arabs more voice. Since then (from 1960) there has been a reluctant admission that there should always be a small number of Arab bishops in the local synod. Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, the local Christian population shrinks day by day, as a result of some assimilation, but largely the desire of local Arab Christians to emigrate to an easier life elsewhere. There are currently about 156,000 Orthodox faithful belonging to the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, living in the Palestinian territories, Israel, and Jordan. Throughout the 20th century there have been regular occasions of disruption and unrest in the Patriarchate's affairs.



With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George