The Ecumenical Patriarchate rejected the Church of Greece’s efforts to usurp its jurisdiction over certain Greek bishoprics and warned of “serious consequences” if the Greek Church went ahead with the election of bishops for Thessaloniki and Eleftheroupolis. This left the Greek Church to choose between backing down or risking an unprecedented rift between the two churches.
Prime Minister Costas Simitis held an unscheduled meeting with Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Education Minister Petros Efthymiou (whose portfolio includes religion) to discuss the issue. Both ministers expressed the hope that the two churches will find a solution but their unease was also clear. Because, if Archbishop Christodoulos chooses to go ahead with the election, on the basis of a 1977 law, the government will have to back him against Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who bases his stand on a Patriarchal Act of 1928 granting the Greek Church administration over 36 sees in northern and eastern Greece while keeping spiritual authority with the Patriarchate.
In a strictly worded letter delivered to Christodoulos, Vartholomaios demanded that the Patriarchal Act of 1928 be adhered to. The patriarch rejected a decision taken on November 6 by the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece. “The vote of the majority is stronger than that of Holy Canon only on issues pertaining to the authority of those who decide,” Vartholomaios wrote. “The decision that was taken does not have the power to change the stipulations of the Patriarchal and Synodic Act of 1928.”
Vartholomaios pointed out that Christodoulos had repeatedly reiterated the need to keep secular laws out of religious issues.
The patriarch wants to be sent a list of suitable candidates which he can change before the Greek Church elects its new bishops. Christodoulos wants to send a list simply to inform Vartholomaios without his changing it.
The patriarch wrote that “in the inconceivable event” that the Act of 1928 is violated in the election of the new bishops, “the Ecumenical Patriarchate will not recognize the result, which will certainly lead to serious consequences.”
The letter from the Ecumenical Patriarchate rejecting the decisions of the Church of Greece regarding the ecclesiastical administration of the ‘new territories’ was delivered in Athens on Wednesday, by Tyroloe Metropolitan Panteleimon. The Patriarchate’s emissary stayed 15 minutes and refused to make any statements on his departure, saying he was not authorized to enter into talks with Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Church of Greece.
After receiving the letter, the Athens Archiepiscopate issued an announcement insisting on its position and saying it would examine the letter with ”due attention” and judge its contents with the ”respect incumbent to the Patriarchate, alongside the dominant sense of responsibility toward the Autocephalous and Self-governing Church of Greece”.
The announcement ended, however, with an appeal to let the faithful concentrate on the upcoming Christmas holiday undistracted and for all sides to ”work so that Christ’s message of love and peace will fill the hearts of all”.
After the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Costas Simitis and attended by Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Education and Religious Affairs Minister Petros Efthymiou and General Secretary for Religious Affairs Yiannis Konidaris, Efthymiou said that the government’s position on the issue was unchanged from the start.
”The two chief institutions of Orthodoxy must relate with understanding, dialogue and perfect cooperation,” he stressed. He ruled out any legislative intervention by the government, unless the two sides were in full agreement and jointly requested this from the Greek state.
Papandreou reiterated the government’s position on the issue and said the government was taking all steps that ”might contribute to the climate required for this dialogue and a final understanding”.