There is an uproar in the Greek Orthodox church: approximately a month and a half ago, when Ma’ariv revealed the enormous deal in which the Greek Church of Jerusalem leased a large compound in the Old City to the Jews, Patriarch Irineos I hurried to deny it. Now Ma’ariv reveals the lease agreement itself.

The contract reconfirms the precise details that were revealed, calling into question the Patriarch’s story who in some interviews denied the existence of the deal and in others its validity by claiming that the person who signed it did not have the authority to do so. The contract, which is entitled “Lease Agreement,” was signed in Jerusalem on August 16, 2004, and it is valid for 198 years (which effectively makes the deal like a sale). It was signed on the one hand by the buyers’ attorney and on the other by Nikolas Papadimas, the director of the finance department in the Patriarchy and one of Irineos’s closest associates. The deal was signed only after Papadimas submitted a power of attorney which the Patriarch gave him at the office of attorney Yaakov Miron, allowing him to lease the Church’s property for generations.

It will be remembered that Ma’ariv reported that Papadimas leased the Imperial and Petra Hotels, which are located near Jaffa Gate, to two groups of Jewish buyers, together with several nearby stores adjacent to the Arab market. Until the agreement was signed, all these properties were held and operated by Palestinian people who live in East Jerusalem.

According to the content of the lease agreement: Written in Jerusalem on August 16, 2004 between the Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem by means of Irineos I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, via power of attorney from May 6, 2004 (hereinafter referred to as the Patriarch) on the first part, and on the second part the ________ Company (Ma’ariv has withheld the name). The Patriarch is the exclusive owner of the property known as the Imperial Hotel, which is part of the building located at Omar Ibn el-Hatib square, Jaffa Gate, the Old City of Jerusalem. This part of the building includes all the area of all the floors above the ground floor, the ceiling and the air space above it, the entrance to the hotel and the emergency exit on the ground floor, the stairwell between the side entrance and the emergency exit and the entrance floor, the stores on the entrance floor.

The signatures of Papamidas are prominent on the contract, and beside them is a stamp reading “Director, Finance Department of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem.” The contract is eight pages long, and contains two sketches in Arabic of the large building.

This is the larger of the two contracts signed that day. The second contract deals with the leasing of the Petra Hotel.

Since Ma’ariv revealed the deal, the Patriarch’s chair has been rocking forcefully. Arab sources, members of the Greek Orthodox church in Israel, together with the upper echelon of the Palestinian Authority and high-ranking members of the Jordanian administration, criticized him harshly for transferring the land to Jewish hands. Sources in the priesthood of the church criticized the giving of the church’s many properties to Papadimas, a young Greek man who is not at all religious. Likewise, the Patriarch was criticized a good deal from within because some of his stories were found to be untrue.

In this context it should be noted that the Patriarch was caught in the past telling versions of events that later turned out to be inaccurate. For example, after his connections with Yasser Arafat were revealed, Irineos claimed that he did not know Arafat at all. This claim was disproved when a picture of the two men embracing and kissing was published in Ma’ariv.

In recent weeks several high-ranking church officials dared to speak publicly against Irineos, calling for his ouster. Only last weekend, when the church celebrated Palm Sunday, nearly all the bishops in the Patriarchate decided to hold an “Italian strike,” and when the Patriarch arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher he discovered that the bishops had remained at home and did not come to worship with him. Upon his departure from the church Irineos was surrounded by hundreds of people who called him names and tried to attack him. Irineos left the place under police protection.

Tomorrow the Greek Church will celebrate the Resurrection Service, and following rumors recently circulating throughout the Old City that Ma’ariv would reveal the documents, a great deal of tension is expected during prayers and around the church.

At the same time, the church awaits the decision of Bartolomeos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who serves as the head patriarch of all the patriarchs. After high-ranking priests in Israel contacted him with a demand to dismiss Irineos, members of the Patriarchate are now awaiting his decision.

This article ran in Maariv on April 29th, 2005