Patriarch brings out his big stick

The badly soured relations between the Church of Greece and the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians took a dramatic turn for the worse on Saturday when Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios threatened to solemnly censure Archbishop Christodoulos if he goes ahead with controversial plans to elect new bishops today for three northern Greek sees. In a strongly worded announcement, the Holy Synod – the Patriarchate’s governing body – warned it would break communion with Christodoulos and refuse to recognize the three new bishops if the Church of Greece insists on their appointment. The two churches are locked in a bitter turf war over which has overall control over some 30 northern Greek bishoprics that were wrested from Turkey in 1912. Simmering discord boiled over last summer when the sees of Thessaloniki and Eleftheroupolis became vacant following the deaths of their bishops. Christodoulos agreed to send Vartholomaios – who, nominally, holds supreme authority over the so-called New Territories but has ceded their administration to the Church of Greece – a list of candidates, for his information alone. Vartholomaios insisted on his right to vet the list, and warned of a possible schism between the two churches. On Saturday, after the Church of Greece announced the Hierarchy (all the country’s bishops) would meet today to elect new bishops for Thessaloniki, Eleftheroupolis and Kozani, as well as Mesogaia in Attica, the Patriarchate accused Christodoulos of breaking a compromise agreement reached earlier this year. «This disrupts the canonical order and the respect due to the Mother Church,» the announcement said, and urged Greek bishops not to go ahead with the election.

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