Remaking the Church of Greece

In a strong show of solidarity, senior clerics last week rallied round Greek Orthodox Church leader Archbishop Christodoulos. The unified stand of the clergy during an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod on Friday dealt a blow to enemies of the Church of Greece who had been hoping to force the archbishop from his seat and take away one of the traditional pillars of this country’s society. For the duration of about a month now, the Church of Greece has come under unprecedented attack that seems to be driven less by religious or moral motives than by political ones. The intensity of the criticism urged the bishops to back Archbishop Christodoulos, a move that helped ease pressure on the Church. The point is not to expel the clerics who have been accused of ethical misconduct; clearing out the corrupt clergymen has to be done anyway. The point, rather, is to reconstruct the Church, empowering it to face up to some very specific challenges. In reaction to the sex and corruption scandals involving senior clerics, some left-of-center parties as well as some of the most conservative deputies from the ruling New Democracy party have raised the issue of separating Church and State. Archbishop Christodoulos’s statement that «circumstances dictate that we brace ourselves for a so-called separation [of the Church and State] whenever that is sought,» showed that the Church is mindful of the conundrum. Should the State stop paying salaries to the clergy, the Church should be ready to take the issue to a local or international court and win back any property that has been seized by the State. The Church must also put special emphasis on education and the different bishoprics must promote the establishment of private schools, injecting students with the requisite technical knowledge and moral integrity to meet contemporary challenges. Similar experiments have succeeded in the past. The clergy must join hands with the laity. The parish must again become a reservoir of social solidarity while senior clerics must turn their bishoprics into agents of social reform. The archbishop and the Church are not out to sever the ties between the Church and the State. Their aim is to consolidate the ties between the two institutions, for it was on the basis of their strong relationship that the Greek State and society were built. However, as Christodoulos stressed, were there an attempt to separate the two institutions, «the Church will suffer no damage whatsoever.»

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