Christodoulos crosses Rubicon

Calling the bluff of an angry Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and in the face of strong internal dissent, the head of the Church of Greece yesterday swayed top Church officials to elect new bishops for three vacant sees in northern Greece. On Saturday, Istanbul-based Vartholomaios urged Greek bishops to fight Archbishop Christodoulos’s plans to hold elections, and threatened not to recognize the result. He also warned he would break communion with Christodoulos, which would mean severing communications with the head of the Greek Church and ceasing all mention of the archbishop during prayers. The two churches are embroiled in a bitter turf war for control of 36 northern Greek sees that were wrested from Turkey in 1912 – before which they came under the Patriarchate’s full control. Matters came to a head last year, when the deaths of three northern Greek bishops raised the question of their replacement. Yesterday, 35 bishops in the Hierarchy (the full body of the Church of Greece’s bishops) agreed with Christodoulos’s motion to elect new bishops for the sees of Thessaloniki, Eleftheroupolis and Kozani – as well as the unobjectionable bishopric of Messogaia, which is in Attica. But 23 voted against, nine abstained, five refused to take part in the process and eight voted blank. Earlier, the Hierarchy had ratified an agreement supposed to establish a compromise between the two churches on the question of the northern bishoprics. Anthimos, Bishop of Alexandroupolis and a staunch Christodoulos supporter, was elected bishop of Thessaloniki, while archimandrites Chrysostomos Avagianos and Pavlos Papalexiou were chosen for Eleftheroupolis and Kozani, respectively. There was no immediate reaction from Istanbul.

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