Vote brings churches to the brink

The Church of Greece appears to have widened the gap between itself and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as a majority of bishops adopted a resolution yesterday giving the Greek Church the final say in naming bishops to head sees in which the Patriarchate claims spiritual jurisdiction. There was no immediate reaction from the Istanbul-based Patriarchate. The clash has been escalating since July, when the longtime bishop of Thessaloniki died. Another northern Greek bishop died shortly after, leaving two of the 36 so-called New Territories without bishops. Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, asserted his right to name their successors. A Patriarchal Act in 1928 granted the Church of Greece autonomy, but the Patriarchate maintained authority over parts of Greece that were liberated from the Turks after 1912. At the end of a three-day meeting, the Church of Greece Hierarchy, (which, when complete, comprises all of Greece’s 80 bishops and Archbishop Christodoulos), voted that the 1928 Act applied «as it has been shaped today» and that the list of candidates would be sent to the Patriarchate but decided that the final decision would be taken by the Greek Church. Of the 62 members of the Hierarchy present, 50 voted in favor, 12 against and one cast a blank ballot. Nine bishops walked out before the vote, expressing their opposition to the decision to take a hard line. «Why should the catalog (of candidates) not be approved by the patriarch? Why should we approve it here again?» Bishop Hieronymos of Thebes, one of the nine who walked out, asked NET, a state television channel. Although the two points voted on by the bishops did not seem to say so clearly, Hieronymos indicated that the vote meant the Church of Greece maintained that it had Greek law on its side in not giving the Patriarchate the last word. Meanwhile, a poll by the Metron Analysis company found that 27.7 percent of those polled say Christodoulos is right in the dispute, 17.5 percent say Vartholomaios is right, while 32.6 percent say they have no opinion. Another 14.4 percent say neither is right and 6.8 percent say both are.