The Orthodox Church has decided to demote Irineos, its former Patriarch of Jerusalem, to the rank of simple monk.

Irineos, who has been accused of selling Church land in the Christian quarter in the old city of Jerusalem to Jewish investors, had refused to resign.

He denied wrongdoing, but Church leaders voted last month to isolate him, in effect removing his authority.

A special court had condemned Irineos in absentia as he declined three invitations to appear before it, the Church said.

An aide to Irineos said he would not step down, but would issue a statement on Friday.

Irineos was the religious head of 100,000 Christians in the Holy Land, most of them Palestinian.

Archbishop Cornelius has assumed the patriarch’s duties until a permanent replacement can be found.  Cornelius, together with some other bishops, visited the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei in his office in Ramallah and updated him on the latest church decision.

They informed Qurei that Archimandrite Attallah Hanna will remain the main contact between the church and the Palestinian Authority.

Some sources claimed that the legally, Church leaders cannot dismiss the patriarch.  However, the church can decided to demote him.  By demoting him, Irineos lost qualification of being Patriarch of Jerusalem since he is only a simple monk now.

Dismissing the patriarch, can only be done by the governments of areas where his congregation lives – namely Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Only Jordan has so far agreed to do this.

Irineos was accused of ‘anti-canonical and anti-ecclesiastical actions’, a Church statement said.

‘These actions led the Church to the threshold of a schism. In order to avoid the consolidation of the schism and safeguard the unity of the body of the Church … this painful action was deemed necessary.’

The statement warned congregations to ‘close their ears to misleading information’.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who chaired the meeting, described the decision as ‘very sad’.

The statement read, “We wish that God will enlighten former Patriarch Irineos, now monk Irineos to repent.”