American Nun Lobbies for Contested Convents

Article excerpt

As she packed her bags for a three-day lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress, a feisty American-born Orthodox nun expressed anxiety over the impact a decision by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) may have on the school she administers in the biblical town of Bethany.

Sister Maria Stephanopoulos is worried about what will happen when the modern village of Abu Dis, in which her school is located, is transferred to Palestinian security control. She fears that the Palestinians will yield to pressure and transfer the school's property from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Sister Maria, the sister of former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos, earlier helped create an international incident when the Moscow Patriarchate sought to gain control of a small monastery in Jericho. That monastery had been used by a few monks from the Orthodox Church Outside Russia since the time of the Russian Revolution. The compound, known as the Jericho Gardens Monastery, is near the traditional place of Jesus' baptism.

Like a second small monastery in Hebron, the Jericho site is on land now governed by the Palestinian National Authority. With the help of the Russian government--or perhaps acting on its behalf--the Moscow Patriarchate is pressing its claim to be the sole successor to the prerevolutionary Orthodox Church and therefore, the rightful owner of the history-rich Holy Land monasteries.

At the urging of the Russian government (to whom the Palestinian Authority is politically and financially indebted), President Yasir Arafat sent soldiers to evict the so-called "white Russian" monks. …