They Are Leaving Their Home

March 17, 2024
Analysis by Theodore Kalmoukos

The recent decision of the Permanent Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, on March 5, 2024, to relocate the celebration of the great feast of Orthodox Sunday from the Metropolis Cathedral of Athens to the Monastery of Asomaton Petraki, seems to have been made thoughtlessly and erroneously.

Reading the official announcement, I immediately understood the intention of the maneuvering. Its purpose was to exclude political officials from the celebration, starting with the President of the Republic, who, on the night the law was passed to legalize same-sex marriage, celebrated with supporters of the said legislation at clubs in Athens.

The statement follows:

“The Permanent Holy Synod decided that this year’s celebration of Orthodox Sunday, on the First Sunday of Lent, March 24, will take place at the Catholic Church [i.e. Greek Orthodox Church] of the Holy Monastery of Asomaton Petraki, officiated by the Most Reverend Synodal Metropolitans of Nicopolis and Preveza, Mr. Chrysostom; Hierissos, Mount Athos, and Ardameria, Mr. Theoklitos; and Maroneia and Komotini, Mr. Panteleimon. The celebratory speech of the day, as already appointed, will be delivered by the Most Reverend Synodal Metropolitan of Aetolia and Acarnania, Mr. Damaskinos.”

While being respectful to the person of the President of the Holy Synod, Archbishop Ieronymos, and its members, I must say that it would be a mistake for them to leave their home, the Cathedral of Athens, for the sake of Mrs. Sakellaropoulou and other supporters of the bill. They should have continued the tradition of the celebration, but with President Sakellaropoulou not reciting the Creed – the Archbishop should instead do that, along with the synodal co-celebrants. Furthermore, they should have declined the invitation to the meal at the Presidential Palace, rather, the Archbishop should have said he would send only the Secretary-General of the Synod, and the others could go for lunch at a restaurant.

Of course, from what we have learned from sources inside the Archdiocese of Athens, eight out of the twelve synodal hierarchs expressed the opinion that the celebration should not be relocated from the Metropolis, while four were in favor, including Archbishop, who generally demonstrates wisdom and prudence in such situations.

Certainly, it was a misstep for the President of the Republic to openly align with the faction of winners and champions of the passed law because it is understood that her role should be non-partisan and unifying, even if essentially decorative, as was the case with the late Andreas Papandreou when he chose Christos Sartzetakis to be President of the Republic.

Nevertheless, she remains a high symbol to which everyone owes honor and respect, but the President herself should also respect the presidency, although it should be noted that she holds this position as a result of a selection made by the Parliament upon the proposal of the governing party and not by direct election by the people. This is one of the many toxic pathologies of the Greek state that must eventually be corrected.

Furthermore, the Church Hierarchy as the institutional representation of the Church loudly expressed opposition and reaction before and after the passage of the law on same-sex marriage, reflecting the feelings and beliefs of a large portion of the flock. On the other hand, the State legislated even amidst disagreements, abstentions, and negative reactions from a large number of members of the governing party, indicating many internal and other issues. It would be a mistake, I believe, to give the impression within and especially outside Greece that a Theocratic mentality exists in Greece, however.

There is also another interpretation: perhaps these official actions of the Hierarchy, as well as sporadic actions of some hierarchs, which have reached the point of excluding from church ceremonies and national events government officials and legislators who voted in favor of the law, signify the beginning of a complete rupture of the bonds between the institutional representation of the Church, namely the Hierarchy, and consequently the clergy, with the State, which contributes financially to their salaries and other benefits.

Pay attention: I did not use the phrase separation of Church and State, but ‘institutional representation’, because the hierarchs and priests are not a ‘supra-Church’ beyond the Church – they are also members of it, although they are distinguished from the mass membership by their charismatic priesthood and their roles in the Eucharist and administration of the Church derived from the Eucharist because the administration of the Church is actually an extension of the Eucharist.

On the other hand, it would be a terrible mistake to overlook the spiritual, pastoral, cohesive, unifying, philanthropic, and loving role of the Church, as there are bonds of blood and spirit between the Church and the Nation.

Of course, extremism and exaggeration do not solve problems, nor do they contribute to a serious and prudent approach to them.


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