ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Athens Archbishop Ieronymos caught the public by surprise on November 6 in a joint televised announcement from Maximos Mansion of a deal about the Church of Greece’s assets, the clergy’s salary, and other issues regarding to Church-State relations. Most hierarchs were unaware this announcement would happen. The 10,000 some-odd priests had no idea, and even the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) learned the news from the press.
Prime Minister Tsipras said “today, we stand before a historic agreement for the benefit of both sides…Our aim is to strengthen the autonomy of the Greek Church, recognizing its role.”
Tsipras read a joint communique in which the basic elements of the deal were included. He said that the two sides will set up a fund to manage and develop property claimed by both the Church and the state since 1952, along with any other asset the Church voluntarily transfers to the fund. The revenues and obligations from the property development will be equally divided among the Church and the Greek government.
Tsipras also said that the priests will no longer be considered civil servants and will therefore be excluded from the official payroll, known as Single Payments Authority, but the Government will still pay their same annual salaries, about $200 million euros,to the Church as a subsidy, which will be deposited into a special Church fund.
Archbishop Ieronymos said he held “secret” Tsipras and that “with this agreement we are showing our intention to move a step forward, with mutual respect for one another.”
Both Tsipras and Ieronymos said thatthese proposals will serve as a blueprint for further talks between the two sides. The government cabinet and the Holy Synod of the entire hierarchy of the Church of Greece will convene at a later day to decide whether to approve, to correct, or even reject these proposals.
The National Herald has learned that there is much dysphoria at the EP because it has a lot of ecclesiastical involvement in Greece with the Metropolises of the New Lands, as well as the Metropolises of Dodecanese and also the Semi-Autonomous Church of Crete, whose hierarchs and priests belong ecclesiastically and canonically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate but they are paid by the State of Greece, as is the case with the hierarchs and the clerics of the Church of Greece.
High-ranking ecclesiastical officials brought to the TNH’s attention that there is another serious issue involved that has to do with priests who are on loan from the Church of Greece to the Metropolises of the Greek Orthodox Diaspora, especially in Europe, and receive their salaries from Greece.
TNH has learned that the concern of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew caused by the unexpected announcement, and he awaiting official notification and monitoring the matter’s development. He will raise the issue at the next Synod, November 27 to 29.
The 10,000 or so priests reacted strongly, calling Ieronymos to recall the intended deal or otherwise face their public protest, unprecedented in the Church of Greece’s history. Some even called for Ieronymos’ resignation. Some also expressed concern about Ieronymos’ and Tsipras’ private talks.
Ieronymos shifted gears, downplaying the issue, as he exited a Holy Synod meeting, saying the clergy had nothing to worry about and no decision would be made without taking their concerns into account.
He said that “there was an announcement that we have an intention, a willingness, on the part of the Church and the State to find a solution to problems that have persisted for nearly a century. We all come across them and bypass them every day. This was conveyed to the Synod and we approved it. From now on we must conduct a great effort to explain to our clergy, because it is chiefly they who worry, that anything done we will do together, with all the priests.”