One month after its decision to defy its Istanbul-based Mother Church and elect three new bishops to contested sees, the Church of Greece yesterday backtracked and agreed to observe existing agreements on its relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With the sole exception of hardliner Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta, the Church Hierarchy – the plenary session of all 80 bishops, chaired by Archbishop Christodoulos – voted «to continue in the future, as we have done so far, to respect and observe» agreements dating to 1850 and 1928 which regulate the Greek Church’s relations with the Patriarchate. In response, the Patriarchate, which had severed contact with Christodoulos after the controversial election and refused to acknowledge the three new bishops, issued a statement expressing satisfaction, and voicing hope that «this decision will provide a sincere beginning of brotherly relations» between the two churches. The deal followed a mediatory effort by Education Minister Marietta Giannakou. Simmering tension between the two churches erupted last summer into a turf war over control of 36 northern Greek sees that were wrested from the Turks following the Balkan Wars. Ignoring the patriarch’s claim to have the right of final approval on candidates for northern sees, in April the Church of Greece went ahead and filled three seats, two of which had been vacant since the summer. «I welcome this positive development,» Giannakou said. «What is most important is the unity of Orthodoxy and the smooth cooperation between the two churches, for the good of all Greeks.» However, sources said Christodoulos described the decision not as «a hasty retreat,» but rather as a gesture to maintain the peace.