Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis met with four emissaries from Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios yesterday as the government was increasingly drawn into a bitter and unprecedented battle between the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians and the leader of the Church of Greece. Education and Religion Minister Marietta Giannakou leaves for Istanbul tomorrow in an effort to mediate between Vartholomaios and Archbishop Christodoulos and try to restore relations between the two. Vartholomaios, backed by 41 senior clerics and with support from the patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, last Friday severed communion with Christodoulos. This was the culmination of worsening relations since last summer when the death of the bishop of Thessaloniki brought to the fore a dispute over 36 bishoprics in Greece over which the Istanbul-based Patriarchate gave temporary control to the Church of Greece in 1928. Giannakou is to make clear to Vartholomaios the serious concern of the government over the consequences of his severing ties with Christodoulos. But all sources indicated that she was not the bearer of any compromise that would please the patriarch, as the government seems set to issue the presidential decrees ratifying the appointment of three bishops elected by the Church of Greece to head disputed bishoprics. The deadline for the presidential decrees to be signed is Monday – 10 days after the bishops’ election. Up to now, the government had tried to stay out of the unprecedented and bitter quarrel between the two churches. «The government is ready to play a mediatory role if both sides wish this,» government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said yesterday. «Both sides want this effort and that is why it is now being made.» Bishop Chrysostomos of Ephesus, who leads the mission of four bishops to Greece, said after the meeting with Karamanlis: «I think that we met with the prime minister’s understanding, at least with regard to our arguments. I think it was a very useful cooperation.» He added that the prime minister told him that he «respects the Patriarchate.» Chrysostomos said that the bishops had asked Karamanlis whether the presidential decrees would be issued. «We asked him but I am not obliged to speak on behalf of the prime minister,» the bishop told reporters.