It is being reported by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras intends to begin the process of officially separating the Greek Orthodox Church from the Greek state and revising the relevant article of the Greek constitution, reports OrthoChristian.com.
At least 90 percent of the Greek population belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is accorded the status of “prevailing religion” by the state constitution. Salaries and pensions for Church clergy are covered by the Greek state at rates comparable to teachers.
Tsipras, no stranger to controversy and animosity with the venerable Church, and his advisers are of course aware that such an initiative is likely to bring strong negative reactions from the Church’s bishops, clergy, and faithful, but he believes he will be able to manage the situation, just as he did with the Macedonia situation!
The move is not likely to get the general population’s approval either.
According to a 2016 ProRata survey, 46 percent of the Greek public wants the government to stay tied to the Greek Orthodox Church and 38% wants to keep the existing status where they are aligned unofficially. 42 percent said that the state should continue to take care of priests’ salaries and pensions, although 40 percent responded otherwise, the poll showed, as reported by the National Herald.
Nevertheless, it is reported that Tsipras will present his plan for revising the constitution and separating the Church and state within the next month, ahead of the proposal expected from SYRIZA in October.
The revision of the constitution and the agreement reached between Greece and Macedonia to change the latter’s name are the two main points of contention between the leftist SYRIZA and the center-right New Democracy party in the run-up to the European Parliament elections next spring, and the expected early elections for the Greek Parliament, which may occur much earlier than the scheduled date of next autumn.
It is believed that Tsipras is merely trying to score political points here against his rival, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who opposes the separation of the Church from the state.
The initiative will be presented as “progressive,” which Tsipras hopes will draw the support of the centrist Movement for Change (“Kinima Allagis“) party.
Furthermore, Tsipras, an atheist, is not worried about a confrontation with the Church. He is fairly regularly called out for his damaging, liberal politics by the fiery hierarchs of the ancient Greek Orthodox Church.
In late 2016, Metropolitan Ambrose of Kalavryta wrote an open letter to Tsipras, condemning him for comparing the 1821 Greek Revolution with the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which he called a national crime and shame, simultaneously criticizing the extravagance of the Prime Minister’s “unnecessary” trip to Cuba for Fidel Castro’s funeral, as OrthoChristian.com reports.
The same metropolitan slammed him not long after for his “goal of destroying the Greek Orthodox Church,” as evidenced by government policies such as legalized same-sex unions. He also calls him out for shameful behavior at Orthodox services.
In September 2017, the monks of Mt. Athos, a semi-autonomous monastic republic in Greece and the spiritual center of the Orthodox Church behind Jerusalem, protested Tsipras’ planned visit, calling him an “antichrist.”
However, Tsipras reasons that the government has formed an operational relationship with Church leadership, as evidenced by the adoption of the deal concerning the naming of Macedonia.
SYRIZA’s own project on the separation of Church and state was published about a year ago. he project provides:
- That Church and state discretion are fully established with full respect for the Orthodox Church and its historical role;
- The explicit fixing of the religious neutrality of the state, recognizing Orthodoxy as an historical religion;
- The obligation to guarantee a single political oath for president, prime minister, legislators, judges, and other public officials.
The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, also spoke out against plans to separate the Church and state in 2016, reports the Union of Orthodox Journalists.
The archbishop stated at a meeting of the hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church that such a decision cannot be made by any one political party, but rather by the parliament as a whole: “Any amendment to the constitution is the prerogative of the Parliament, so the Church will not conduct a dialogue with the government, but with the Parliamentary Commission which will include representatives of all the parties the people voted for.”
Moreover, he affirmed that the Church will not make such an initiative, and will never separate itself from its beloved children: “The Church cannot on its own initiative ask for separation from its people, as is now being sought. The Church has always been, is, and will be the mother of the Greek people.”