Orthodoxy is shaken

The Greek Orthodox Church is in crisis after Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios suspended relations with Archbishop Christodoulos on Friday for challenging the patriarchate’s authority in parts of Greece. The Istanbul-based patriarchate also brought the Greek government into the long-festering quarrel by urging it not to recognize the Church of Greece’s appointment of three bishops in bishoprics under the patriarchate’s spiritual authority. The crisis between the patriarchate, which is first among equals in the Orthodox Church, and the Church of Greece, appears to be the worst since the patriarchate granted autocephalous status to the Greek Church in 1850, after Greece became independent. The issue revolves around the fact that in 1928, through a Patriarchal Act, the patriarchate granted administration of certain sees in the most recently liberated parts of Greece. «These never stopped being provinces of the patriarchate, but in the difficult years after the Asia Minor catastrophe, when our patriarchate was burdened by circumstances and could not administer these sees easily, it handed over temporarily the administration to the Church of Greece. It did not hand over the sees, only their administration,» Patriarch Vartholomaios explained to a group of visitors to Istanbul yesterday. A mission from the patriarchate is due in Athens today to brief the government on the decision that the expanded Holy Synod took on Friday. In this, 41 bishops from across the world backed Vartholomaios in severing communion (suspending all ties and mention of his name) with Christodoulos, demanding the reversal of the appointment by the Church of Greece of new bishops for Thessaloniki, Eleftheroupolis and Kozani. The patriarchate threatened that if this was not done, it would take over direct control of the 36 sees in question. «We cannot communicate with a brother who only in words respects the mother church,» Vartholomaios said. «Since the day of his enthronement, and despite his pronouncements, he has systematically worked to weaken my position,» he added. The patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem have backed Vartholomaios. Christodoulos, who was elected in 1998, says Greek law is on his side. Although shaken by the patriarch’s decision, he stressed yesterday that he will «remain on the battlements to which the Grace of God, the love of my brothers and the love of our people have placed me.»

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