Vladivostok, January 13, Interfax - Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS) Chairman Sergey Stepashin said he hopes the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem will be returned to Russia this year.
"Most likely, I am 99% certain, I think God will help us, we are returning [the Alexander Metochion] to our country this year, which is very important. And we do hope that our patriarch will hold a service in the Church of Alexander Nevsky, in Jerusalem, after the return. I think it would be very symbolic," Stepashin told reporters in Vladivostok on Wednesday.
The 800th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Nevsky and the 130th anniversary of the Alexander Metochion, where the Church of Alexander Nevsky is located, are marked this year, he said.
The issue of the return of the Alexander Metochion has been actively raised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.
"I want to thank Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]. For the first time, one and the same issue was probably raised four times, the last time was before the New Year," Stepashin said.
"In actual fact, we received a registration number that it is Russian property, property of the Russian state, that's how it was. IOPS is a legal successor of that Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, but litigation is taking place now. It turns out we have a new IOPS in Israel, a new thing, in New York, in Germany. I am confident, I am convinced that it will return to Russia this year because it was made for Russians, not for those abroad. Can you imagine, this society is now led by a person called Worontsow-Hoffmann, but what does Hoffmann - I am sorry, I am not a nationalist - have to do with Orthodoxy," Stepashin said.
The Alexander Metochion is situated in the Old Town of Jerusalem, in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is an archeological and architectural compound standing on land bought by Emperor Alexander III of Russia in 1859. The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896.
The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the 1917 revolution. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexey Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at that time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin, and the society resumed operating there. At present, the compound is managed by a society led by German citizen Nikolay Worontsow-Hoffmann.
At present, two different organization of the same name - Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society - exist separately in Russia and in Germany. In 1992, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation approved a resolution on "the restoration of the historical name of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society." The Justice Ministry then recognized it as a successor to the Soviet Palestine Society and to the historical society.
The Russian society is headed by Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion.
Currently, the metochion is occupied by Worontsow-Hofmann's organization registered in Munich. According to Worontsow-Hoffmann, before they left Palestine in 1948, the British authorities confirmed the society's right to all related property on the Holy Land.