Church peace icily confirmed

In a frosty announcement yesterday, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate said it was lifting the sanctions it had placed on Archbishop Christodoulos and three Greek bishops after the Church of Greece agreed to accept the Istanbul-based church’s suzerainty over three dozen northern Greek sees. The Patriarchate said it was restoring communion with Christodoulos – broken at the beginning of May after the archbishop flagrantly challenged Patriarch Vartholomaios’s authority over the 36 bishoprics – in response to the Greek Church’s decision on May 28 to pledge respect for patriarchal decisions of 1850 and 1928 governing the balance of power between the two churches. The announcement added that the Patriarchate had decided to recognize «on sufferance» the newly appointed bishops of Thessaloniki, Eleftheroupolis and Kozani, whom Christodoulos picked without first securing Istanbul’s approval. The bitter turf war, which broke out following the deaths last summer of two northern bishops, hinges on which church has ultimate control over sees in parts of Greece that were wrested from Turkey after 1912. When it came to a list of candidate replacements being sent to Istanbul, Athens insisted that the document was just for the patriarch’s information, while Vartholomaios claimed the right to approve the list. Education Minister Marietta Giannakou, who brokered a preliminary peace deal between the belligerent churches last month, expressed satisfaction with yesterday’s news from Istanbul. «I hope a new era is starting in relations between the two churches,» she said. «What has been agreed… regarding the recognition of the three bishops must be followed to the letter.» There was no immediate official reaction from the Church of Greece.