With its three-day Holy Synod getting under way on Tuesday in Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is expected to present visiting Education Minister Costas Gavroglou with its “red lines” as regards the government’s proposals to relax church-state ties.
Apart from discussions concerning the replacement of Archbishop Demetrios of America, the Holy Synod will discuss details of last month’s tetantive deal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Greek Archbishop Ieronymos with Gavroglou.
The deal, which sowed divisions in the church, sought to remove priests from the state payroll as part of a revision of the Greek Constitution.
Gavroglou’s visit is seen as a continuation of the government’s effort to engage with religious authorities after the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece failed to endorse the deal.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has jurisdiction over Crete, parts of northern Greece and the Dodecanese, has already voiced its opposition to the deal.
Its objections were relayed to the government during the previous visit by Gavroglou to Istanbul on November 11, while the Church of Crete has also expressed its opposition.
Moreover, it was revealed on Monday that Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, had sent a letter to Tsipras last year to protest potential changes to Article 3 of the Greek Constitution.
In his two-page letter dated August 1, 2017, Vartholomaios said that the Phanar objects to plans to remove references in the constitution to the patriarchate and its jurisdiction, as well as references to the Patriarchal Act of 1928, with which the patriarchate granted the Greek Church temporary administrative powers over 36 bishoprics belonging to the patriarchate.
Doing so would alienate the patriarchate, Vartholomaios said in the letter which was personally addressed to Tsipras.
According to sources, trust in the government among senior clergymen of the patriarchate is at a low point as they feel it is pursuing the interests of the Church of Greece at its expense.