Laying down the law

The Ecumenical Patriarchate will not give up its rights over the the so-called «New Territories,» the bishoprics of land that became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Patriarch Vartholomaios said yesterday in his clearest and most categorical comment on the dispute with the Church of Greece. The patriarchate had held on to this right when granting the Church of Greece autonomy. Vartholomaios was speaking at a lunch on Zakynthos, where he was the guest of Bishop Chrysostomos, an outspoken dissident against the policies of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece. «Sometimes the term ‘New Territories’ causes controversy,» Vartholomaios said. «We have no reason to stick to this term. But if I am not mistaken, official documents, official books, the Act (founding the Church of Greece), other documents, including the Greek Constitution, if I am not mistaken, refer to it. That is how it has been since 1912. But we repeat that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no difficulty in referring to its provinces, which are in Epirus, in Macedonia, in Thrace and the islands of the (Aegean) archipelago. These are provinces of the (patriarchal) throne, their administration was given to the Holy Church of Greece on a tutelary basis and the Patriarchate never gave up its right to them. Things are very simple and they should not be misinterpreted nor should they make anyone unhappy nor create controversy,» he said. Long-simmering tension between the ancient patriarchate, which is based in Istanbul, and the Church of Greece flared up after the death of Bishop Panteleimon of Thessaloniki on July 9. Vartholomaios sought to reassert the patriarchate’s right to name a new bishop but ran into stiff opposition from the Greek Church. He has offered a compromise in which the Greek Church will provide the patriarchate with a list of candidates. But sources said that Christodoulos yesterday told a close aide of the patriarch’s, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus, that the Greek Church would not comply, the Athens News Agency reported. Vartholomaios was warmly welcomed on Zakynthos, with 42 bishops joining him – 18 of whom were from the Church of Greece. Among the latter were Hieronymos of Thebes, who lost out to Christodoulos in his bid to become archbishop in 1998. Church observers said the large number of bishops who gathered around the patriarch was a sign for Christodoulos, but the Athens News Agency quoted sources close to the archbishop as saying that the display was insignificant. Vartholomaios will today visit the islets of Strofadia, where he will pray at the tomb of St Dionysus. He will then visit Cephalonia for a few hours before returning to Istanbul tonight.