NEWS

Iconoclastic bishop rapped

As a steady queue of several thousand believers flocked yesterday to see what they believe is a miracle-working religious icon in Athens Cathedral, senior church officials traded accusations of idolatry and heresy in a quarrel reminiscent of the iconoclastic dispute that split the Byzantine Empire 12 centuries ago. In an interview published yesterday, a senior bishop accused the Church of Greece of commercially exploiting the «paganistic, sick faith» of certain of its members by staging tours of icons and religious relics. «When believers identify themselves with an icon, that is idolatry,» Theoklitos, Bishop of Ioannina, told Ta Nea daily. «And we bear responsibility for this, for we encourage idolatry by hawking around saints’ relics to fill church collection boxes.» But Archbishop Christodoulos, on a visit to Mount Sinai in Egypt, said Theoklitos’s comments smacked of Protestant doctrine – which the Orthodox Church of Greece deplores as heresy. «Anyone who used isolated examples of excessive behavior to condemn adoration and remove icons from our faith and our Church would definitely be veering toward Protestantism,» the church leader said. Theoklitos singled out for criticism the case of the icon of Our Lady of Jerusalem, which was brought to Thessaloniki on October 16, on loan from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to mark the 1,950th anniversary of St Paul’s visit to the city, and the 90th anniversary of Thessaloniki’s liberation from the Turks. After a 45-day stay – during which it was visited by an estimated 2.5 million pilgrims from Greece and neighboring Balkan countries – the icon was sent to Athens on December 2 for 10 days. Since then, an estimated 120,000 people have paid their respects to the icon in Athens Cathedral – where it is displayed beside a prominent collection box.