ATHENS -- As Greece is preparing for exploratory talks with Turkey for the first time i four years, Archbishop Ieronymos jumped into the fray by ripping Islam as a being a political party that’s used war for its aims.
In an interview with private broadcaster Open TV about the role of the Church in overthrowing the four-century rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1821, he said Mehmed, conqueror of Constantinople, used taxes to keep the populace in line.
“As we know, Islam is not a religion but a political party and political quest, and (it's believers) are people of war, of expansion” he said.
“That is a characteristic of Islam, it is also mentioned in the teachings of Muhammad. Therefore the Conqueror saw the needs that emerged: how he would govern; how he would collect taxes; and mostly how he would unify all these people under his rule,” he added.
That brought an immediate blowback from Turkey's Foreign Ministry condemning the remarks without denying their accuracy, but as likely upsetting the scheduled talks in Constantinople Jan. 25 over Turkey's plans to drill for energy off Greek islands.
“We strongly condemn the presumptuous statements of Ieronymos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, against Islam during a television interview,” the ministry put in a press release.
“These provocative expressions of Archbishop Ieronymos, which incite the society to hostility and violence against Islam, also show the frightening level Islamophobia has reached,” it added.
“The fact that such a statement was made at a time when preliminary preparations are being made for exploratory talks is also meaningful and is an unfortunate step towards undermining the process,” the ministry said.
The Greek Church responded the Archbishop meant “nothing more than the perversion of the Muslim faith by a few extreme fundamentalists who sow terror and death around the world.”
“The Archbishop and our Church respect in practice all the known religions,” it added. "Furthermore, the example of the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Thrace confirms this to us in the clearest way,” said Kathimerini.