Turf war

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios has chosen to pour more oil on the flames of the recent spat between the Phanar and the Church of Greece. The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians appears to be heading for conflict with the Greek government, unless it plays into his hands. Vartholomaios’s stand raises questions over the solidity of his judgment and his intentions, which appear, at least in part, to have politically expedient objectives. His decision to sever communion (something similar to a suspension of diplomatic relations) with the Greek Church’s leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, effectively pushed things to the gates of schism. The refusal of the patriarch to recognize the three metropolitan bishops who were appointed without his approval, and his insistence that the sees remain vacant, suggest that Vartholomaios may move to designate other bishops to these posts. Such a decision would clearly split not only the church but also the people. Worse, it would seriously undermine the patriarch’s influence in Greece – a truly undesirable development. Orthodox Christianity would have much more to gain if Vartholomaios sought ways to enhance his role as a spiritual leader instead of trying to impose territorial rights over Greek dioceses. In his drive to control the sees in northern Greece, the patriarch will find little public support. For its part, the Greek government has made clear that it will not hesitate to enforce the laws of the Greek State. That includes issuing the necessary presidential decrees that will certify the appointment of the new bishops picked by Greece’s Holy Synod. This is how things have worked until now, and this is how they will work again this time. The patriarch is well aware of that, of course. However, he claims that Christodoulos «has a big ambition, and in order to fulfill this ambition he sacrifices institutions, he sacrifices the unity and the cooperation of Orthodox Christianity, he harms the holy interests, the privileges and the rights of the most august Ecumenical Throne.» Vartholomaios also accuses Christodoulos of being a «matricide» of the Mother Church as he refuses to abide with the will of the Phanar. Christodoulos, on the other hand, claims that the «genuine spiritual leader is he who has a moral posture that does not bend under blackmail or pressure.» The division is very deep. We are at the gates of schism. The patriarch has started a holy war which could have dramatic consequences. He should think again and seek reconciliation, for the good of the Patriarchate and the Orthodox Christian religion.

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