Crucial Church debate

The bishops who form the highest decision-making body in the Church of Greece began a three-day meeting yesterday that will determine whether the dispute with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate leads to schism or whether another effort will be made to find a solution. The first day of debate among the 75 members of the Hierarchy present was relatively muted, but it was clear that there were two distinct camps. Bringing the issue to a vote could lead to rupture between supporters of Patriarch Vartholomaios and Archbishop Christodoulos. Representatives of both factions spoke yesterday and will continue today. The Hierarchy normally comprises 80 bishops and the archbishop. But two bishops have died and four were absent yesterday. The dispute concerns the interpretation of the 1928 church agreement whereby the Church of Greece was given autonomy but the Ecumenical Patriarchate retained spiritual authority over sees in northern, eastern and southern Greece that were liberated from the Turks after 1912. With the recent deaths of two bishops in northern Greece, the patriarch sought to reinforce his right to name their successors. The Church of Greece resisted this. «We did not provoke this crisis, it was forced upon us,» Christodoulos said yesterday. «The Ecumenical Patriarchate is not threatened by our Church, which supports the Phanar and assists in the needs of its bishoprics,» he added, referring to the Istanbul district that is home to the Patriarchate. «In my opinion, His Holiness (Vartholomaios) refers to the Act of 1928 as if it was agreed upon yesterday,» Christodoulos said, getting to the point of the dispute. For the Church of Greece, he said, «what applies is the law of the Greek State, as this was determined by Law 590 of 1977.» On this basis, he argued, allowing the Patriarchate to appoint bishops to bishoprics in Greece would be of questionable legality. The Bishop of Xanthi proposed that the Patriarchate and Greek Church set up two broad committees to hold a dialogue in a last-ditch effort to end the impasse. The government and main opposition New Democracy party have kept out of the fray, despite ND honorary chairman Constantine Mitsotakis’s intervention on Monday and yesterday on the side of the Greek Church and his call for «all the political parties to take a stand at last.»