Church feud staggers on to a conclusion

The 11-month battle between Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Church of Greece, took a strange twist yesterday when the patriarch dropped his demand for three Greek bishops to apologize for what he calls their irregular election and declared instead that he sought «forgiveness from them and every one else.» Christodoulos and Education and Religion Minister Marietta Giannakou, who had mediated between the two churches, declared their satisfaction with Vartholomaios’s statement, seeing it as the end of the dispute. The patriarch’s declaration followed intense pressure by the Greek government for him to drop the demand that the bishops apologize, something which officials said had not been in a deal brokered by the government. The unprecedented crisis erupted last July when the bishop of Thessaloniki died. The sees of Eleftheroupolis and Kozani then fell vacant. All three are among the 36 «new territories» that the Patriarchate had provisionally allowed the Church of Greece to administer since 1928. When the Church of Greece went ahead with the election of new bishops, the patriarch said that the Greek Church was usurping the Patriarchate’s authority. At the end of April, the Istanbul-based Patriarchate broke communion with Christodoulos. Giannakou’s mediation led to Vartholomaios’s agreeing with the election of the three bishops while the Church of Greece agreed to adhere to patriarchal decision of 1850 which established the Greek Church as autocephalous and the 1928 act regarding the «new territories.» But Church of Greece officials were adamant that the deal did not include Vartholomaios’s demand that the three bishops apologize in writing. The government stepped in again, forcing Vartholomaios’s statement, which he made to the Athens News Agency correspondent in Istanbul. «In the face of the three metropolitan bishops’ refusal to display their true desire for forgiveness from the Mother Church, and in light of the resulting danger of a resurgence of the crisis in relations between the two churches, which no one wants, we personally, as patriarch, request forgiveness from them and all others, because we saddened them in exerting our responsibilities and we wish them success in their pastorate as if they were never elected,» the statement said. Christodoulos, with whom the Patriarchate restored communion on Friday, declared his joy. «His All Holiness and my humble self overcame the ordeal in relations between the two churches with love, forgiveness and courage,» Christodoulos said. «The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece are starting a new chapter in the future of Orthodoxy and Hellenism.» Giannakou said: «I feel especially happy that both his All Holiness and his Beatitude, with their wise stand, put an end to a crisis whose continuation could only cause damage to the Church and the Nation. The two pillars of Orthodoxy set a good example.»