Arab orthodox

The Arab Orthodox are Greek Eastern Orthodox Christian communities which have existed in Southern Turkey and Greater Syria since the early years of Christianity: they are generally affiliated along geographic lines either to the Antiochian ("Northern") or Jerusalemite ("Southern") patriarchal jurisdictions.

Members of these communities still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Eastern Roman" or "Asian Greek" in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. In that particular context, the term "Rûm" is used in preference to "Yāvāni" or "Ionani" which means "European-Greek" or Ionian in Biblical Hebrew (borrowed from Old Persian Yavan = Greece) and Classical Arabic.

Members of the community also call themselves "Melkites", which literally means "monarchists" or "supporters of the emperor" in Semitic languages (a reference to their past allegiance to Macedonian and Roman imperial rule), but, in the modern era, the term tends to be more commonly used by followers of the Greek Catholic church.

Some typically Grecian "ancient synagogal" priestly rites and hymns have survived partially to the present, notably in the distinct church services of the Melkite and Greek Orthodox communities of the Holy Land.

During the Palestine Mandate, members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem were prominent in many of the major cities including Jaffa, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Haifa and Jerusalem and also formed the majority of Christians in Arab villages of the Galilee, a region associated with early Christianity.

Arab discontent

The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has been run by Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians from Greece or Constantinople (Istanbul) since the Ottoman conquests and the Turkish imposition of the Phanariot Ethnarchy. In the 20th century many of those who made up the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre were not only Greeks but Greeks from Samos Island. Patriarchs Damianos I and Timotheos I were accused of "flooding the Patriarchate with Samiotes." The local Arabs and their local clergy (who were married, unlike the Greeks in the Brotherhood who refused admittance to any married men), began to rebel and their cause dovetailed with Arab nationalism.

In 1909, Arab Orthodox Christians formally petitioned the Ottoman highest authority demanding more Arab inclusion in the upper ranks of the Patriarchate. Eventually, several Arab Christian Orthodox conferences were held to promote this cause:

  • The First Arab Orthodox conference was held in Haifa on July 15, 1923.
  • The Second Arab Orthodox conference was held in Jaffa on October 28, 1931.
  • The Third Arab Orthodox conference was held in Jerusalem on September 23 and 24,1944.
  • The Fourth Arab Orthodox conference was held in Jerusalem on March 23, 1956
  • The Fifth Arab Orthodox conference was held in Amman on December 8, 1992.

In addition, especially during the Mandate, there were Orthodox clubs in Haifa and elsewhere and Orthodox Scouting groups.

Arab Orthodox were leaders of the Palestinian National Movement, formed the leadership of the Arab portion of the Communist Party of Israel and later Rakah and edited the leading newspapers in Mandatory Palestine including Filastin, edited by the Isa brothers (Daoud Isa), and Al Carmel which was edited by Najib Nassar. Khalil Sakakini, a prominent Jerusalemite, was also an Arab Orthodox as was the PFLP founder George Habash and George Antonious, author of The Arab Awakening.

1948 war

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, a number of Greek Orthodox villages were affected, including:

In addition around 20,000 fled Haifa, 20,000 fled West Jerusalem, 700 fled Acre and 10,000 fled Jaffa. However prominent members remained such as Tawfik Toubi, Emile Toma and Emile Habibi and they went on to be leaders of the Communist party in Israel.

Recent history and current events

The Greek Orthodox Arabs make up the largest Christian demographic in the West Bank, Jordan and Syria and the second in Lebanon.

There have been numerous disputes between the Arab and the Greek leadership of the church in Jerusalem from the Mandate onwards. Jordan encouraged the Greeks to open the Brotherhood to Arab members of the community between 1948 and 1967 when the West Bank was under Jordan.

Land disputes and political ones have been common since 1967, with the Greek priests portrayed as collaborators with Israel. Land disputes include the sale of St. John's property in the Christian quarter on April 11, 1990, the transfer of fifty dunams near Mar Elias monastery, and the sale of two hotels and twenty seven stores on Omar Bin Al-Khattab square near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

A recent dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the Greek, Patriarch Irenaios has led to the Patriarch being pushed aside because of accusations of a real estate deal with Israel. This dispute, between the Greek leadership and the local Arab authorities, is the latest manifestation of the phenomenon of the Arab-Orthodox.

The Arab Orthodox Society still exists in Jerusalem.


  • Sir Ronald Storrs, The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs. Putnam, New York, 1937.
  • Itamar Katz and Ruth Kark, 'The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its congregation: dissent over real estate' in The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 37, 2005.
  • 'Orthodox Shun Patriarch Irineos' [1]
  • Seth J. Frantzman, The Strength and the Weakness: The Arab Christians in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 War, unpublished M.A thesis at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

External links

  • East Jerusalem Arab Orthodox web site
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