Church gives ground to Muslims

In a surprising change of opinion, the Church of Greece said yesterday that it would support the building of a Muslim cemetery and mosque in Attica but its opposition to the possible separation of Church and state led to heavy criticism in Parliament. The Church of Greece had been opposed to the creation of Muslim prayer sites in Greece but the Holy Synod yesterday issued a statement saying that this long-held policy was about to change. As a result, the Church will give up land it owns in the area of Schistos, western Athens, for the building of a Muslim cemetery, the Holy Synod said. The decision was made out of respect for «the needs of these people, since this is what our Church teaches us; to show our love and help to all people – without discrimination – who are God’s creatures,» according to Father Chrysostomos, who read out the Synod’s statement. The Church of Greece also said it was in favor of the creation of a mosque in Athens. The only official Muslim cemeteries and mosques in Greece are in the northeast of the country in Thrace. Plans to build a mosque in Paeania, east of Athens, were approved in 2000 but the project has stalled since. A change of policy from the Church may win it new friends but its opposition to suggestions that its powers need to be curbed caused some anger in Parliament yesterday. The leader of Synaspismos Left Coalition, Alekos Alavanos, claimed that the Holy Synod had prepared a document which would be read out in churches on Sunday referring to MPs who last week proposed a separation of Church and state as being «new Diocletians.» Roman Emperor Diocletian was famed for his harsh treatment of Christians, including the imprisonment of clergy and the execution of those refusing to worship Roman gods. Alavanos also criticized the Synod’s assertion that only the Greek people could decide whether to separate the Church from the state and accused the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, of cultivating «far-right policies.»