Athens sees ‘misinterpretation’

Athens has described a ruling by a Turkish court yesterday that the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch is not the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians as a «misinterpretation» of international law. «The ecumenical status of the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) is in the foundations of international treaties, the holy rules of Orthodoxy, history and Church tradition,» said Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos. «These things do not change and are not altered with judicial decisions based on misinterpretations of the Lausanne treaty,» he added. Koumoutsakos was reacting to the decision that was announced earlier in the day that Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I is only the head of the local Greek Orthodox community in Ankara. The court’s decision, however, has no impact on his status outside Turkey. Vartholomaios is the internationally recognized spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox. The court’s verdict could help to strengthen the Turkish government’s position in disputing the patriarch’s global role. The Turkish government has long sought to contain Vartholomaios’s influence and objects to the use of the title «ecumenical» or universal. The ruling was included in an appeals court verdict that upheld a lower court’s decision acquitting Vartholomaios of charges of illegally barring a Bulgarian priest from conducting religious services. The court also upheld the acquittals of other top church leaders on the same charges. Turkish officials reject any Vatican-like status for the patriarch and say he is the religious head of the Greek community of around 3,000. «The Patriarchate, which was allowed to remain on Turkish soil, is subject to Turkish laws,» the appeals court argued. «There is no legal basis for the claims that the Patriarchate is ecumenical,» the court added.

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