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The Orthodox Church / The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Number of faithful

approx. 200,000, mainly in Israel and Jordan

Title of First HierarchPatriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine
See of the First HierarchJerusalem (Israel)
Current incumbentTheophilus III. (Giannopoulos), born 1952, in office since 2005
Bishops and dioceses23 bishops; 6 dioceses + autonomous archbishopric on Mount Sinai (= Catherine Monastery)
Liturgical LanguageGreek and Arabic
Presence in Austrianone
Presence in Germanynone

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was established in 451 with the decision of the Council of Chalcedon to elevate the Church of Jerusalem to the rank of patriarchate. Previously, the Christian communities in the Holy Land were under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The decision of the Council of Chalcedon was made due to the increasing significance of Jerusalem as a destination for Christian pilgrims, especially from the Constantine era and onwards. However, the heyday of Christianity in the Holy Land ended at the beginning of the 7th century, when first the Persians and later the Muslim Arabs conquered Jerusalem. Under Crusader rule (12th century), Rome established a Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. After the Seljuk and Mamluk conquests, and since 1516, the Holy Land became and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years. In this period, all Orthodox Christians were under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, while all patriarchs of Jerusalem were usually residing in Constantinople.

The Ottomans largely handed over the supervision of the holy sites in Jerusalem to the Greeks. This gradually led to the estrangement between the Greek-born hierarchy and the Arabic-speaking population, which still creates tensions between the communities and the bishops of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The bishops of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are elected from among the ranks of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, which consists exclusively of Greeks (currently about 120 monks). The married parish priests and the faithful, on the other hand, are mostly Arabs. Therefore, the liturgy is primarily celebrated in Greek in the monasteries, while Arabic is generally used as the liturgical language in the parishes.

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem also includes the autonomous Archdiocese of Mount Sinai, which practically corresponds to the Brotherhood of St. Catherine's Monastery on Sinai. It is the oldest surviving Orthodox monastery in the world and preserves within its walls valuable manuscripts and numerous icons from the earliest Christian era. In 1575, the Ecumenical Patriarch declared the monastic community autonomous meaning that the abbot chosen by the monks is ordained archbishop by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Under Patriarch Diodorus I (1981-2000), the Patriarchate of Jerusalem emerged as a spokesman for those Orthodox who were very reserved about ecumenism and withdrew its delegates from all bilateral and ecumenical dialogues of the Orthodox Church. The patriarchate went through a difficult time under Patriarch Irenaios I (2001-2005), who was finally deposed because of controversial real estate deals and has been under house arrest since then. With the Patriarch Theophilos III, who has been in office since 2005, the Patriarchate opened up to ecumenism again and resumed its participation in the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, and in international dialogues. In 2014, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem hosted the International Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue Commission, which met in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Recently, Patriarch Theophilos has also been attempting to mediate in intra-Orthodox conflicts.


  • P. Christinakis, Die heutige Verfassung des Patriarchats von Jerusalem, in: Gesellschaft für das Recht der Ostkirchen (Hg.), The Constitutions of the Churches (Kanon 19), Egling 2006, 22-40.
  • S. Rusos, The Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the Greek – Palestinian – Israeli triangle, in: One in Christ 39 (2004) 15-25.
  • E. Chr. Suttner, Das Patriarchat von Jerusalem. In: Der christl. Osten 42 (1987) 82-97.