TBILISI, DFWatch – Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, is unfamiliar with there being negotiations regarding returning church control over the Monastery of the Cross to Georgia.

The Patriarch said this in an exclusive interview with the online portal Izrus.co.il.

The site where the monastery was built in the 11th century by a Georgian king has roots back to the fourth century, and the monastery itself was a cultural center for Georgian culture through the Middle Ages, but was sold to the Greek Orthodox church in 1685. There have since been several incidents of vandalism, and Georgia has been seeking to reclaim control over the monastery.

In the end of February, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said that negotiations with the Israeli government are in progress to transfer control and place the monastery under Georgian management again, after which liturgies will be conducted in Georgian language.

After the president’s statement, Israeli government officials made comments that they know nothing about these negotiations.

The Georgian church made the same statement. But later, the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze and the Georgian Culture Minister Nika Rurua once again stated that these negotiations are in progress, however they do not specify exactly who are involved in the negotiations.

“I have no clue about the negotiations Saakashvili, Kalandadze and Rurua are talking about,” the Jerusalem Patriarch says in the interview.

“We have excellent relations with Israeli authorities. They never exerted any pressure on us, especially in matters of land ownership. A lot of land in the Jerusalem Patriarchate is in long-term lease from the Israeli authorities,” he says.

“The government has never even tried to discuss the transfer of our lands with someone. Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed this to us. They were also surprised by the statements by the Georgian side.”

The issue about the Monastery of the Cross wasn’t raised during the Georgian Patriarch’s recent visit to Jerusalem either.

Theophilos III says he met the Georgian Foreign Minister and no words were said about the Monastery of the Cross issue. He says neither Archil Kekelidze, Georgian ambassador to Israel, said anything about it.

According to the Jerusalem Patriarch Georgian businessmen appealed to them through mediators and suggested to expiate the monastery, which is impossible, he tells.

“Do not get me wrong, the role played by the Georgian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and in the region is very high. Cross Monastery, founded by Georgians, served as a center of education,’ Patriarch says, ‘Naturally, this is a place associated with the name of the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, cannot but be costly to the Georgian people.”

According to him, the Greek Patriarchate acquired this monastery 300 years ago, when it was at the edge of decay. There is the oldest books and manuscripts library, seminary founded in XIX century still works there.

“We have tried to keep the spirit of the place, develop it.” He explains.

“Naturally, the Georgian authorities would like to regain the monastery as a symbol of presence in the Holy Land, which began about 16 centuries ago.”