Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Palestine's Orthodox Priest Attalla Hanna ordained as Sabastia Archbishop Theodosios

A Rare Day for Orthodoxy in the Holy Land
By Maria C. Khoury

Orthodoxy is not based on ethnicity but in Jerusalem with the dominant Greek leadership in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate there were cheers, clapping, whistling and extreme joy expressed at the ordination of the Palestinian Archimandrite Attalla Hanna ordained Theodosios Archbishop of Sabastia on December 24, 2005. To be lighting candles at Christ’s Holy Tomb on the Eve of the Nativity of the Lord is not the place to be when everyone else is heading to Bethlehem to receive the “New Born King.” However, this was not an ordinary day in the Holy Land.

It was a special day that the Palestinian Orthodox Christian community has been waiting for over twenty-five years since the passing of the first Palestinian bishop from our village of Taybeh, Bishop Symon in the early 1980’s. This historical day in the Orthodox Christian community was blessed by the new patriarch His Beatitude Theophilos III officiated with representatives from Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Greece attending in witness of this extraordinary day for a Palestinian Orthodox bishop. I have such little faith thinking the recent patriarchate scandals would not allow this day to happen in my lifetime.

The Orthodox community in Palestine has been waiting anxiously to see a minimum of two local bishops of Arab ethnicity to join the Greek Orthodox leadership as stipulated by Church policy and this issue alone has created a huge gap among the Greeks of the Brotherhood and the local Arab faithful. As a scholar, His Beatitude Theophilos always speaks eloquently but the most important emphasis was that the Holy Synod finally fulfilled one of its obligations to the Orthodox community with the new ordination of the Palestinian bishop. Furthermore, all of us were thrilled that an Orthodox Christian woman, Ms. Hind Khoury, Ministry of State, Jerusalem Portfolio, was the official representative of the Palestinian Authority to this rare occasion. Also, giving a congratulatory speech on behalf of the Palestinian president was Mr. Rafeek Huseni at a reception in the Greek Patriarchate following the four hour well attended service. Mr. Margaritis, Deputy General Consul of Greece offered warm congratulations on behalf of the Greek government.

The representative from the Jordanian Parliament, a well known Orthodox layman, Dr. Odeh Qawas did not forget to thank the bishop’s mother for helping to raise him the Orthodox way and maintain the traditions and values of the One True Faith. Dr. John Tleel, the author of “I am Jerusalem,” a person I consider a treasure in the Old City, said that as Christians we are in the holy season of experiencing the Birth of the King of Glory, also we are experiencing the birth of a new Palestinian bishop and we should focus on our Orthodoxy not on our ethnicity but it’s obvious this new appointment brought joy to every Palestinian Orthodox soul in the world.

Born (l965) in Al-Rameh (near Haifa) to Arab Israeli Orthodox Christian parents, Yacoub and Alice, the new bishop has only one brother and one sister. He was ordained a priest (l991) at the Holy Sepulchre the same spot where this holy sacrament took place. He has represented the World Council of Churches at meetings on human rights during which the suffering of Palestinian people was discussed. For his devotion and dedication to the Holy Land ministry, Archbishop Theodosios has received an honorary doctor of theology degree from the Sophia Theological Institute of Bulgaria. He also studied theology for seven years in Greece. He is one of the few highly educated Palestinian clergymen that speak out for justice and peace for all people in the region. He has served as the official spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for many years appointed by the late Patriarch Diodoros.

Archbishop Theodosios, well respected by the Christian and Muslim people was called “bishop” even years before his official elevation and is against all forms of violence and supports non-violent solutions to the Israeli military occupation. The Israeli propaganda machine has tried to smear his reputation and marginalize him in the past especially since he is very competent to fill the gap between Christians and Muslims and has often participated in Christian-Muslim dialogue promoting better relations among the different faiths united by cultural, social and political aspirations.

The new bishop is a man of great faith that can lead us to better understanding and relations with others serving the Lord in a very troubled land. Many of his high school classmates came to the ordination as well as the Mayor of Al Rameh who were very proud to see one of their own sons join the ranks of the Greek Orthodox leadership in Jerusalem. “Axios” was shouted in many languages! Sadly since many Palestinian Orthodox Christians could not enter Jerusalem to witness this sacrament due to Israeli military policy requiring permits, various receptions were held in different locations to congratulate His Eminence the new Palestinian Archbishop of Sabastia Theodosios.