Alexis Tsipras’s gains from the agreement – or the “proposed” agreement – with Archbishop Ieronymos are evident. The Church’s gains, however, are not as clear. The government immediately revealed its intention to “cash in,” with its spokesman anticipating the removal of some 10,000 clerics from the civil servants’ register and the hiring, at a later date, of doctors, teachers and others who staff the “social state.”
The Church moves in a dimension that is not tied to the demands of politics, so perhaps we will see its gains later. However, among the many questions raised by the proposed deal is whether it will come to anything.
Here, once again, we see the prime minister’s tactic of presenting himself as the active politician who dares to tackle chronic problems, while going about this in a way that shows indifference to the essence of the issue, to the result. As in the Prespes name agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there has been no preparation that would lead to a strong political and social front capable of supporting the deal at home. Now, even as the prime minister and the archbishop stress that the agreement will be put to the Church Hierarchy and the Cabinet for further discussion, it has already provoked strong reactions from bishops and from the lower clerics who are afraid that their lives will change radically. Furthermore, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has jurisdiction over the churches of Crete and the Dodecanese, appears not to be in the loop. From the establishment of the modern Greek state, ties between the Church of Greece and the Great Church of Constantinople have been difficult and critically important. Today’s developments suggest either dangerous indifference or conscious undermining of this relationship.
In the joint press conference with the prime minister, the archbishop spoke of his anxiety over the Church’s finances and the need to transform its assets “from a material object into a spiritual one,” thanking Mr Tsipras for contributing toward this. He also thanked him for his “initiative to leave the Constitution’s preamble as it was shaped by our fathers.” As Article 3 refers to the “prevailing religion,” the question arises: beyond the trick of the state giving clerics’ salaries to the Church instead of paying them itself, beyond a common fund for Church property whose ownership is disputed by the state, just how will this deal change relations between church and state?