Athens has responded angrily to comments made by the leader of the Orthodox Church of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) during a visit to the Vatican suggesting that Greece’s northern city of Thessaloniki is FYROM’s heartland. Archbishop Stephan, who is also bishop of Skopje, made the comments on Saturday during a memorial ceremony for Saint Cyril, a cleric born in Thessaloniki who developed the Slavonic language based on what is now called the Cyrillic alphabet. «Saint Cyril, today in your Thessaloniki and ours, everything has turned to ash and dust and nothing remains of your language and ours,» he said. The archbishop’s speech was made in the presence of FYROM Premier Nikola Gruevski. Responding to the comments on Saturday, Greece’s Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis condemned them as «extremely provocative and absolutely unacceptable,» particularly as they were made in Grueveski’s presence. She added however that the move simply highlighted the «correctness of Greece’s stance» in the entire Macedonia name dispute. Bakoyannis said the development also highlighted the importance of settling the name dispute as soon as possible «because as long as it remains unresolved it can become a tool and vehicle for… expansionism for which there are no historical grounds and (which is) dangerous for regional cooperation and stability in the sensitive Balkans.» The comments of FYROM’s chief cleric also riled Thessaloniki’s Bishop Anthimos, who has not shied from criticizing Skopje’s stance on the Macedonia name dispute. «We will never accept the name Macedonia going to the neighboring country which has stolen and usurped it,» Anthimos said. Thessaloniki’s outspoken prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis also expressed outrage at the «distortion and absurdity» of Archbishop Stephan, whom he described as «a historically ignorant representative of the Church of Skopje.» FYROM’s Premier Gruevski, who visited the Vatican with his country’s top cleric and met there with Pope Benedict XVI, also took the opportunity to reiterate Skopje’s arguments on the name issue. «Although a member state of the European Union and NATO is trying to obstruct our accession prospects, denying us our national identity and uniqueness, we remain determined to join these alliances… as a nation whose culture and language constitute one of the cornerstones of European civilization,» he said. «We will not join Europe in any other way – only as Macedonians,» added Gruevski, who is preparing for parliamentary elections on June 1.