ATHENS – Greece’s powerful Holy Synod, which got the New Democracy government to back down and allow Epiphany Day celebrations during a COVID-19 second lockdown now is going after three TV stations who criticized the clerics.
The leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church said the stations were guilty of “sullying religion” and appeared to be trying to move toward more serious accusations of blaming the media for blasphemy, said Germany’s state broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which didn’t identify them.
The site noted that the media is reluctant to take on the church which even got Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to concede to allowing the celebrations that saw churches filled with flocks, bringing worry of another Coronavirus spike.
On January 6, Greek Orthodox Churches were opened to worshippers, despite the official ban on public gatherings, the government looking the other way after Mitsotakis pleaded with clerics to obey health measures before giving in.
"We showed disobedience," said Metropolitan Athenagoras, the spokesperson of the Holy Synod, "and the government showed tolerance,” touting the church’s authority even over the state in this case as there is no separation between the two.
It wasn’t unanimous among the leaders with the head of the Church, Archbishop Ieronymos – who had to be hospitalized after being infected – saying at first that health measures should be obeyed.
Some Bishops insisted that Holy Communion, in which parishioners drink from the same spoon, wasn’t a health risk and that God would protect them from COVID-19, which didn’t happen as it spread in the church and clerics died too.
On the Jan. 6 Epiphany Day celebrations, some churches followed health rules but others deliberately didn’t in a further snub of the health protocols, the site noted, including letting churchgoers in a queue kiss a priest’s hand and icons.
The report said that the Church has a schism of its own between modernists, traditionalists, rationalists and visionaries as a power struggle is developing over who will succeed Ieronymous, who is 81 and frail.
The church is trying to keep practicing ancient religious rituals during the pandemic despite the risk with uneven adherence to wearing masks and keeping safe social distances, finally pushing away the government.
Some clerics, however, want no interference or change to any practices even during a time when a second wave of the Coronavirus swept across the country, bringing a second lockdown Nov. 7, 2019 that’s still on.
"God's laws overrule human laws," Metropolitan Mektarios of Korfu has repeatedly said, the report added, he being one of many in the Church who believe that even as some of its leaders have died.
During the celebration, however, a priest in Kalamata interrupted a service because some of the participants refused to wear masks. "Play objector in your home — not here," he reportedly told them.
"Those who do not wear a mask should leave. Respect your fellow human beings and the law." The scene, which was filmed, went viral on social media platforms. Most online commentators seemed to agree with the priest's approach, said the report.
But Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira has spread a conspiracy theory even against the opening of a vaccination campaign health officials said must inoculate 70 percent of the population of more than 10.5 million to stop the pandemic.
"Vaccines are a product of abortions," he said, according to the report. "This product that comes from killed embryos will be injected into our bodies. … They want to create a 'metahuman,' a mutated man, a man who will be like a robot,” he said.
After all that, the Holy Synod said while believing in religion over science that the vaccines being distributed in Greece – the first batches from the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer in tandem with Germany’s BioNTech – didn’t use embryonic cell cultures for their production.
"The Holy Synod reiterates that the choice of vaccination is not a theological or ecclesiastical issue," the church announced in a formal statement.
"It is mainly a medical-scientific issue, as well as a free personal choice of each person in communication with his doctor, and does not constitute a fall from the right faith and life,” it added.
In December 2019, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios became one of the first people to receive one of the vaccines in Greece, which was filmed and as he said people would live longer if they followed suit.
Even while they want their own rules, most Greek Orthodox Bishops seem to be aware of the risks posed by the pandemic, the report adding they have been meeting online and trying to protect themselves after colleagues died.