Relations between Patriarchate of Constantinople and Church of Greece becoming more strained

Athens, February 22, 2016


Relations between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece are in a new phase of tension on the threshold of the Pan-Orthodox Council, reports Romfea.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople has reacted to the numerous publications addressing the reason for the absence of the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece at the Assembly of Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambesy, Switzerland.

As was earlier reported, Archbishop Ieronymos II was not present at the meeting of Primates of the Local Churches “for personal reasons”. However, at the recent meeting of the Holy Synod the Greek hierarch denied this information stating that the reasons were not personal.

In the response to this on February 19 the Patriarchate of Constantinople published the letter by Archbishop Ieronymos to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of December 8, 2015, in which Ieronymos informed the patriarch that he would not participate in work of the Assembly of Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches “for personal reasons”.

“At the Holy Sobor of Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches on January 21-28, 2016, for personal reasons which prevent us from taking part in it the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece will be represented by Their Eminences Metropolitans Seraphim of Karystos and Skyros, Chrysostomos of Peristeri and Germanos of Elis,” the letter reads.

The next day, February 20, 2016, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece published the last letter received by the Patriarch of Constantinople from Archbishop Ieronymos prior to the Assembly of Primates of the Local Churches. The date of the letter is January 13, 2016:

“For the media's information, concerning the publication mentioning the delegation of the Church of Greece at the Meeting of Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambesy, Switzerland, and in order to prevent any further erroneous opinions in this regard, we are sending you from the Holy Synod’s archive an exact copy of the recent letter by Archbishop Ieronymos dated January 13, 2016, regarding the delegation of our Church at the Meeting of the Local Churches which was held on January 21-28, 2016, in Chambesy.

"This letter does not mention any 'personal reasons' for the absence of His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece at the aforesaid meeting because the circumstances did not allow any such expressions. It is obvious that the sender’s final theses can be found in the last letter, and not in the interim one,” the statement of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece reads.

At the same time, one metropolitan from North Greece expressed the opinion that it was explained by “canonical reasons”, and not “personal ones”. In his view, at least four such canonical reasons can be singled out:

The first canonical reason: the uncanonical interference of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the election of the Metropolitan of Ioannina. In Canon Law this is classified as intrusion upon the jurisdiction of another Local Church. The land is under the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece. It is ruled by the "serving hierarchs" (article 3 of the Greek Constitution) of "Old Greece" (Greek territory which gained independence in the 19th century) and the "New Territories". There are exceptions: Crete, the Cyclades and holy Mount Athos are ruled by the patriarch. The Church of Greece is autocephalous and is ruled by the Synod of Bishops headed by the primate, the Archbishop of Athens. The Archbishop of Athens is mentioned in the diptychs, and commemorated by the Ecumenical Patriarch as are all heads of other Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. The election of new bishops is the most important administrative task entrusted to the bishops of the Church. Any outside interference in this process, coming from either civil or Church authorities, is unlawful and canonically inadmissible. It is a well known fact that the patriarch ended up meddling in the election process of the Metropolitan of Ioannina.

The second reason is opening of a representation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Athens without any authorization received from the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. The metropolitan says the following on this matter: “Archbishop Seraphim of blessed memory predicted this when he turned down the establishment of this representation. 'The representative of the Patriarchate is the same as the archbishop," he said, adding, "The Phanariotes want a separate representation in order to throw their weight around in my Archbishopric and provoke discords". Provoking dissensions and divisions in other Local Church is punished in a very severe way by the Holy Canons.

The third reason is the attempt of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to negotiate with the Greek Government a change in the official status of the Patriarchal representation in Athens, raising it to the level of 'Exarchate'. This is another case of an uncanonical interference in the jurisdiction of other Local Churches.

“Some bishops now even wonder: how the archbishop, despite all this, still commemorates Bartholomew in the diptychs?” the metropolitan relates.

The fourth reason is the desire of the Patriarch of Constantinople to gradually divide the Local Church of Greece which administratively belongs to Athens.

“Old Greece is associated with the Autocephalous Church of Greece of 1850, 1855 and 1866, while New Greece which was freed in 1912-1913 from the Ottoman yoke, both spiritually and administratively pertains to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, that is, to a see situated outside the Greek state”.

“Thus we are unintentionally 'buttering the bread' of Erdogan-Davutoglu. An exaggeration? Not at all! Turks are seeking to separate the insular Greece from the mainland Greece on the geopolitical arena,” the metropolitan argues. Then he goes on: “On the other hand, these attempts are being made in the Church sphere as well. They dream to reduce the administrative authority of the Church of Greece drastically and to return it to the limits of 1882. Earlier, in September 2015, an attempt was made to divide the hierarchy of the Church of Greece. The Ecumenical Patriarch sent out invitations to the meeting only to metropolitans of South Greece”.

“So, all the above-mentioned canonical reasons for the absence of the Archbishop of Athens in Geneva do exist, and they are by no means 'personal'. At the same time, it is to the credit of the archbishop that he sent a delegation of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Church of Greece to the meeting. The Ecumenical Patriarchate embraces Western Europe, America, Australia and Asia, according to the Holy Canons. Let it leave the hierarchy of the Church of Greece alone in peace. We need a strong, canonically and spiritually united Greece which will support its mother Church of Constantinople (which it has been doing), instead of being a sort of a puppet captive satellite of the Patriarchate,” noted one of the metropolitans of North Greece in conclusion.


Rob 2/28/2016 6:57 pm
This article focuses on jurisdictional issues but fails to mention the underlying and far greater strain between traditionalist Greek clergy and the ultra-liberal Phanar. One only needs to contrast the positions of Metropolitan Seraphim of Pireus with that of Patriarch Bartholomew, or the recent excellent criticism by Fr Zisas of the Chambesy documents, not to mention of course the very long-standing stand-off between the Phanar and Holy Mountain (made all the more tense by the fact of the mountain's position within the Phanar's jurisdiction).
Perhaps the Greek Church should start to look elsewhere for support? We have only the Russian Church to thank that the Cretan Synod documents were not more modernist than they are, so the choice seems obvious.

George Mangan AIA2/28/2016 4:31 am
A new commandment I give to you...
That you love each other, even as I have loved you.
By this all men will know that your are my Disciples,
If you have Love for each other.
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