Thousands flock to archbishop’s funeral

Thousands of Greeks filled the center of Athens yesterday to pay their last respects to Archbishop Christodoulos, who was given a state funeral following his death from cancer on Monday at the age of 69. President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis as well as ministers, bishops and a 12-member delegation from the Vatican attended a requiem mass at Athens Cathedral, where the archbishop’s body had lain in state. The mass was led by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who flew to Athens from his base in Istanbul. «With his actions our brother enriched the Church of Greece… (his) death is a great loss for the Orthodox world,» said Vartholomaios, whose relations with Christodoulos had been strained due to a dispute over the management of certain Greek dioceses. Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis also spoke about the archbishop, credited with opening up the Church to young people and mending ties with the Vatican. «Today we bid farewell to an important Greek. We hope your work will find competent successors,» he said. After the service a 21-gun salute boomed as Christodoulos’s open casket was carried through the city center to Athens’s First Cemetery. Hundreds of priests and a 900-soldier guard of honor escorted the gun carriage carrying the coffin, followed by thousands of Greeks of all ages. Mourners lining the streets cried out «immortal,» «martyr,» «farewell» as the coffin wound through Syntagma Square, past the site of the Temple of Zeus and on to the city’s historic cemetery. Schools, courts and government offices remained closed as Christodoulos was granted honors normally accorded to heads of state. World political and religious leaders, including the Russian and US presidents, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and Pope Benedict XVI sent messages of condolence. The Holy Synod is to elect a new archbishop next Thursday. Contenders include Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki and Bishop Ieronymos of Thebes.