OPINION

Church war

The feud between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece has long overstepped the mark. This war in the church has tarnished the image of both sides, mandating a solution as soon as possible. Until then, the two rivals must temper their words in order to block any further escalation of the crisis and to preserve the Church’s image. Both must convey the message of non-aggression – one they try to transmit in almost all other situations. This appeal is directed mostly at Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, as he has been the one feeding the tension through his remarks. Archbishop Christodoulos, on the other hand, has refrained from any public statements. Kathimerini does not wish to get involved in issues of canon law. However, the current crisis also has a political dimension. It would obviously not have arisen had it not been for the identity card disagreement between the archbishop and the prime minister – a rift that has left underlying antagonism. Fearing the political cost of that conflict, the Simitis administration has tried to detract from Christodoulos’s public image. People in the know are aware that to achieve this, the government supported a long series of critical publications and gave all Holy Synod members who disliked Christodoulos the green light to challenge him in public. At the same time, it used the Ecumenical Patriarch as a counterweight in order to offset the archbishop’s influence on society. Under these circumstances, the Phanar-based Patriarchate deemed that conditions were ripe for it to reassert its role in picking bishops in the so-called «New Territories,» the bishoprics on land that became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. True, the 1928 Act founding the Church of Greece referred to this right but the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has diminished in recent years. The need to select a new bishop for Thessaloniki became the pretext for bringing the long-simmering tension to the fore. Knowing that he has a strong foothold within the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and that he enjoys the favor of the Simitis administration, Vartholomaios has maintained an intransigent stance which stymied any quest for a decent compromise between the two sides. As mentioned above, the dispute has overstepped the bounds and threatens dangerous consequences. It is not certain whether the government fully grasps the severity of the problem – or whether it is still approaching it through the prism of election concerns. Let us hope the former is true.