Church clash

The spat between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece over the so-called «New Territories,» the bishoprics of land that became part of Greece after the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, has gone too far. It appears to be a dispute over influence and power, which is not consistent with the perception of the Church’s mission. That is, at least, the perception of the faithful. For the bishops seem to think otherwise. The Patriarchate saw the need to elect a new bishop for Thessaloniki as a golden opportunity to demand respect for its rights over the provinces that were incorporated into Greece long after the declaration of the autonomy of the Church of Greece. Experts say that the Patriarchical Act of 1928 is legally valid; but there is also a reality which also has political dimensions, and is hard to ignore. Taking advantage of the opposition to Archbishop Chrystodoulos inside the Holy Synod, Patriarch Vartholomaios is exerting pressure in order to regain control over the provinces in the «New Territories.» His Zakynthos tour was, no doubt, the culmination of this tactic. He reached the point of leveling a clear, if indirect, public threat reminiscent of politicians’ clashes. Perhaps the pressure pleases the local metropolitan, who never passes up a chance to criticize the archbishop in public. The pressure may also please the Phanar, which believes that with some backing in Greece, it will achieve its goals. However, the protagonists do not seem to care about the impression the Church brawl makes on the public. Above all, they do not seem to care whether stoking up old passions is deepening the existing chasm, which can injure Orthodoxy as a whole. The request by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to approve the list of candidate metropolitans in the «New Territories» raises questions among circles that have no particular interest in religious affairs, nor any reason to be fond of Christodoulos. The latest fray between the two churches is the last thing needed in a country that has been repeatedly exposed to outside threats. Fortunately, Christodoulos has so far resisted pouring more oil on the flames. Maybe this is because he believes that the balance of power inside the Hierarchy is not in his favor right now. On the other hand, a strong section of metropolitans categorically oppose the patriarch’s demands. This could cause polarization or even a rupture inside the Church of Greece, because of its tense relations with the Phanar. It is imperative that a realistic compromise be reached.