A universal mission

The Phanar-based Patriarchate would not have attacked the Church of Greece had it not been systematically incited by the reformist government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The attack serves the government’s aim of ideologically transforming Greek society by subordinating the elements that help define the nation itself. This issue is highly political and it should be treated as such. The identity of the main individuals involved – whether it is Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios or Archbishop Christodoulos – does not really matter. The first major blow to the Orthodox creed is that in eying a fief on Greek territory, the Patriarchate has undermined its universality. No doubt, the Vatican will continue to meet with the patriarch in Istanbul rather than with the Russian patriarch, who has the largest Orthodox following. The patriarch will also have the backing of those Western powers that want to curb the influence of the Russian Church in the Baltic countries and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Patriarchate’s dispute with the Church of Greece has undermined its internationalist image. Instead of playing a new and powerful role at this period of the church’s history, as it should be, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has entered a quarrel with the Church of Greece, the only church that supports it both morally and in terms of personnel. The weight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate far exceeds its real strength in terms of manpower and wealth. But it may well jeopardize its status if it loses its sense of mission and starts dealing with trivial issues. It cannot be allowed to deteriorate into a nouveau riche clique who organize baptisms and wedding ceremonies in Phanar, nor can it identify with a group of self-styled reformist officials who treat the Church of Greece – both the faithful and the priests – as an anachronistic group incapable of adapting themselves to the demands of globalization. The Church of Greece has held to a moderate stance in recent weeks despite the fact that it has often been accused of following extremist practices. Such charges come from those who want to see the hierarchy back down each time it is faced with a challenge, most importantly the identity-card controversy. Greek citizens want to see the Patriarchate display a similar moderation and live up to its universal mission.