Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III‘s mediation over Deir Es-Sultan Monastery crisis was unsuccessful, according to Coptic Orthodox Church’s Pope Tawadros II in an interview with host Amr Abdel Hamid, on Wednesday on TeN channel.
The decades-old dispute over Deir Es-Sultan Monastery was recently renewed by the monastery’s need for renovations.
When the Egyptian Church sent a delegation for restoration work, the Ethiopian Church rejected the delegation leading to the crisis, Tawadros said, adding that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch attempted to mediate, but it did not work.
“The Egyptian Church offered more than one solution, and when the Israeli government carried out the restoration work, we protested, resulting in the recent attack on an Egyptian monk,” he said.
The Egyptian Church filed a claim with the court of urgent matters, which is now being followed up by a Coptic lawyer, he mentioned.
“Our relationship with the Ethiopian Church is very good and we are keen on it, and even our statement [regarding the crisis] was in a very calm form, even though the Ethiopian Church’s statement was severe and offensive to me in person,” Tawadros said.
“We try to resolve things calmly and legally,” he added.
The Egyptian church possesses 17 documents confirming its possession of the monastery, but Tawadros claims that there seems to be a political reason behind not returning the monastery to Egyptian sovereignty.
The Egyptian ambassador in Israel, Tawadros continued, is playing “a wonderful role” in resolving the issue.
He highlighted the monastery’s importance as the entrance of the Egyptian patriarchate in Jerusalem, and its position on the path to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Coptic Egyptian property in Jerusalem, which was sponsored by the Syriac Church, included many monasteries and churches, said Tawadros, pointing out that the Egyptians who currently visit the Holy Land are mostly elderly people.
According to the Coptic Church, the history of the monastery dates back to the reign of Sultan Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (684-705 AD), who granted it to the Copts, who named it after him: Deir Es-Sultan Monastery. The Coptic Orthodox Church’s ownership of the monastery was confirmed during the reign of Sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, in the 12th century.
The Coptic Church says that Abyssinian people resorted to the Coptic Church in the last half of the 17th century as a temporary shelter, until they solved their problems and returned to their own churches, which were acquired in 1654 by the Greek and Armenian Churches due to the inability of the Ethiopian Church to pay taxes. The Coptic Church temporarily hosted the Abyssinian monks as guests in some rooms of the monastery.
On April 25, 1970, during the Easter Mass in the Church of the Resurrection, the Israeli government sent military forces to enable the Ethiopian monks from the monastery to change the locks and take control of the monastery. When Coptic monks learned of this, they rushed to the monastery, but Israeli forces prevented them from entering.
The Bishop of the Copts filed an appeal before the Israeli Supreme Court, which unanimously approved the restoration of the monastery to the Coptic Church on March 16, 1971, but the Israeli government still refuses to implement the Supreme Court ruling to this day.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm