Tackling the church feud

Here’s to the Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis in Brussels, whose visit was highly revealing of the manner in which he promotes national issues in his private discussions with foreign leaders. The recognition of a «powerful Greece» was reflected in the face of his British counterpart Tony Blair when he heard the request of the Greek premier for the return of the Parthenon Marbles for electioneering reasons. The condescension with which Blair treated Simitis was indicative and it actually helped Greek citizens understand what the latter’s colleagues mean when they say ‘Bravo, Costas.’» The image of a prime minister with a deft touch when handling Greece’s foreign affairs collapsed within a few minutes. However revealing, the event was also very humiliating. Vainly, the government’s spinmeisters have been lashing out at the conservative opposition in an attempt to dissolve the bad impression made. In any case, Simitis has returned to Athens and it is time he dealt with the primary political issue, namely the assertive behavior displayed by the Phanar-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and its attacks on the Church of Greece. The wishes and urgings for an intrachurch solution to the dispute are now meaningless, especially after Patriarch Vartholomaios’s interview with journalist Ioannis Pretenderis on Mega television. Vartholomaios’s observation that «in Greece, because there is a strong State, the Church of Greece is more subordinate to the laws of the State that we are here (in Turkey), as we are able to carry out our spiritual ministration freely» was a political judgment that degraded Greece’s political set-up vis-a-vis Turkey’s and was hence unacceptable. Furthermore, Vartholomaios warned that should the Church of Greece insist on exerting administrative control over the bishoprics of northern Greece, the result will be a «return to a pre-1928 status,» which effectively means a schism in the Greek Church across the country. The dispute may have started as a feud between the two churches but it taken on a clearly political dimension. If Greece’s political parties had reason to abstain from the confrontation a few weeks ago, this no longer seems advisable. We are obviously in the runup to the elections and the ecclesiastical row must not become the bone of partisan contention. The fact that we are in pre-election period should not prevent political parties from reaching a compromise on how to best tackle the issue and make it clear that there can be no «New Territories» (the land that became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13) with a special status, and that administrative issues lie in the sphere of responsibility of the Church of Greece. The Patriarchate, for its part, must be supported in every possible manner in its universal mission which, however, is not that of exercising control over the sees on Greek territory.