Church elects a moderate as new archbishop

Senior Orthodox clerics yesterday elected a moderate and popular churchman, Bishop Ieronymos of Thebes, to succeed Archbishop Christodoulos, who died last month. Ieronymos, who had been a runner-up to Christodoulos in the last archbishopric elections in 1998, was appointed following two rounds of voting at Athens Cathedral. The 70-year-old cleric, from Viotia in central Greece, garnered 45 out of 74 votes in the first round, compared to 27 votes for his key challenger Bishop Efstathios of Sparta. Ieronymos got 33 in the first round, missing the minimum 38-vote mark. When a lamp lit up outside the cathedral, indicating that a new archbishop had been chosen, hundreds of supporters and clerics clapped and cheered. Ieronymos greeted supporters briefly upon emerging from the cathedral before walking on foot to the archbishop’s residence in Plaka. He then led a service in memory of Christodoulos at the First Cemetery. Senior Church figures and politicians welcomed the election of the new archbishop, considered a reformer but less outspoken and media-savvy than Christodoulos. Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox faithful who had clashed frequently with Christodoulos, welcomed the development. «My esteem for (Ieronymos) is great and longstanding and my hopes for cooperation with him in solving the problems of the Orthodox Church are even greater,» Vartholomaios said. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis also sang the bishop’s praises. «His faith, devotion to the Church… worthiness and experience will serve him well in his historic mission,» Karamanlis said. Ieronymos, who holds several degrees from Greek and foreign universities, had criticized as «extreme» the mass rallies organized by Christodoulos in 2000 to protest the state’s decision to delete the reference to religion on citizens’ ID cards. Church sources said they thought Ieronymos would continue in Christodoulos’s footsteps, boosting ties between the Church and society, particularly with young people. But they also expected him to distinguish clearly the role of the Church from that of the state.