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Vice-President of the Clergy Association of the Church of Greece Speaks to TNH

BOSTON – Fr. Georgios Vamkakidis, Vice-president of the Clergy Association of Greece, which has a membership more than nine thousand priests, presented the positions of the Clergy Association on the latest developments regarding the vital issue of priest salaries in Greece.

For background it is noted on this issue that Archbishop Ieonymos of Athens and All Greece was engaged in three years of secret talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras about which neither priests nor the hierarchy were aware.

Fr. Vamvakidis, who is a priest of the Metropolis of Zihni and Nevrokopi in Northern Greece, is married with three grown up children. He said that “the government wanted the salary issue to be included in the Church-State dialogue and suggested some changes in the text. However, the Church Committee had been authorized by the Hierarchy to discuss only the subject of the revision of the Constitution and ecclesiastical property. The payroll was a red-line issue and no change would be acceptable.”

He also said, “we are now awaiting the decision of the Permanent Holy Synod that will be convened on March 5, which will either provide guidance to the Committee on how to proceed, or a meeting of the hierarchy will be convened to make a decision.”

According to Fr. Georgios, “the priests on Greek State payroll currently number around 9,500, including those of the Diaspora who serve in other ecclesiastical jurisdictions and are on loan either to parishes in Europe, in Africa, or somewhere else – but their official permanent appointments are in the Church of Greece.”

He raised objections to the handling of the issue by the leadership of the Church of Greece, emphasizing that the joint preliminary agreement between Archbishop Ieronymos and Prime Minister Tsipras took everyone “by surprise.”

Asked to comment on the joint televised appearance and announcement of Ieronymos and Tsipras about the preliminary agreement, he said, “this is what bothered us most, not only us, the ordinary priests, but also the hierarchy, because what was announced on television was completely unknown to us and also to the members of the Holy Synod. Not even the members of Small Holy Synod which meets every month knew anything about it. The venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate was also ignored, even though it has ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Greece, specifically the Metropolises of the New Lands, the Semi-Autonomous Church of Crete, and the Metropolises of Dodecanese.”

TNH asked if he or other clergy confronted Archbishop Ieronymos to learn about what was going on, and why he joined with an atheist Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, to make decisions that would so strongly impact their lives. Fr. Georgios said that, “the Board of Directors of our Association had meetings with the leaders of political parties and at last we met with the Archbishop, to whom we voiced our objections and disagreements with everything that had occurred. As a matter of fact, a priest asked him how it was possible for him to agree and to include in the preliminary agreement jurisdictions which don’t belong to the Church of Greece, but to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He told us that he wouldn’t leave us up in the air.”

Regarding the serious ecclesiological and canonical problem that arose from the secret meetings and dealings with Tsipras which occurred without the knowledge and consent of the hierarchy and the clergy, Fr. Georgios said that “this what we all told the Archbishop, that he didn’t have any authorization.”

According to Fr. Georgios, a newly ordained priest who is a married graduate of a university level school of theology “gets a monthly salary of 780 euros and if he has children then each child gets 50 euros a month.” To the question how can a family live on 780 euros a month, Fr. Georgios said “here in Greece it is considered a lot of money given the crisis and the poverty that exists because of the politicians and the governments. The priests are helping our people in any way possible.”

When we sked him if he agrees with the opinion of many that at this point Archbishop Ieronymos, with his secret meetings and dealings with Tsipras and his refusal to accept the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, should resign, Fr. Georgios said, “you know better that we the clergy don’t have any say. It is an issue of the hierarchy. The Archbishop should accept his responsibility and the consequences for his actions and decide accordingly. We don’t care about the persons; we care about the Church and its synodic structure.”

Fr. Georgios praised the Greek-American Community, emphasizing that “you are a part of our lives; we are one and the same.”

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