‘I am not running for president or prime minister’

From the moment he took up his post as leader of the Church, Christodoulos became the darling of the media. His speeches, his initiatives, his movements all became the subject of discussion. Outspoken, he delivered his views from the pulpit, lambasting the United States, the European Union, globalization and the intelligentsia, among others. The faithful were enraptured and would applaud him in church. On a visit to Volos shortly after his election, he lashed out at the EU, claiming it was «a disgrace for Greeks to use the EU directives as criteria for what they want and not what derives from historical necessity and the tradition of this country.» He also turned on some parliamentary deputies who wanted the oath of office abolished, accusing them of turning Greece into a populist country along the lines of Europe and «committing a crime against the history of the Greek people.» Christodoulos was officially enthroned on May 9, 1998, at Athens Cathedral. His early statements and the demands made by some of his colleagues to grant the archbishop the honors due to a head of state kept then Prime Minister Costas Simitis away from the cathedral. The incident foreshadowed how relations between the government and the church leadership would develop. Speaking at his enthronement, Christodoulos said: «Any attempt to decouple Orthodoxy and the Greeks is a threat to the unity of the nation. The Church has always sought cooperation and exchange on an equal basis with the Greek state. And for its part, the Greek state understands the need for peaceful coexistence with the Church.» In the days following the ceremony, Christodoulos met with Simitis and other political leaders, and discussed national issues with them but also matters of church administration, including the construction of a new cathedral and a new mansion for the Holy Synod, as well as the use of EU funds. Though it was early for criticism, some politicians had begun to view the new archbishop’s actions with concern. He had already begun to mix political slogans with his ecclesiastical messages. «Our people have had enough of promises and big words. Today the people need fighters. They want us to be in the forefront. The people depend on us,» he said, but added: «There is no need for [the rulers] to worry. I’m not running for president or prime minister. They can rest easy. I am not one to question their political sovereignty.» On August 17 of that year, speaking at the Panaghia Sourmela Church in Vermio, the archbishop made a controversial statement suggesting that one day the Black Sea would return to Greek rule: «We are in favor of peace but we bless holy weapons when the moment orders them and the times demand them.» Christodoulos announced numerous initiatives during his nine years as head of the Church of Greece, many of which were never implemented. The most important of those that were carried out was a subsidy for large families in Thrace.