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Church-State Relations in Greece

  • First Semester of 2019

In Greece, many people expected that the agreement between Prime Minister Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus on the payroll of the 10,000 Orthodox priests would bring an end to the status of the clerics as civil servants, and would also bring changes to the Church-State relations. Moreover, there was a first step was taken for the creation of a fund that would be established by the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Greek State to administer the land property, the ownership status of which has been under dispute between the State and the Church. Overall, this deal is viewed as a first step for the separation of Church and State in Greece, in relation to the constitutional revision currently under discussion. The article 3 of the Greek constitution refers to the Eastern Orthodox Church as the “prevailing religion in Greece”. Syriza administration proposed the reformation of article 3 by establishing the following clause, “The term ‘prevailing religion’ does not recognize an official state religion”. However, the meeting of the entire hierarchy of the Church of Greece rejected the Tsipras-Hieronymus deal and the Holy Synod decided to continue the State-Church dialogue.

Changing the status of the Orthodox priest workers still remains a red line for the Orthodox Church. Moreover, the hierarchy wishes to continue the dialogue on ecclesiastical property in a different manner: namely, the Church believes that it has not been fully compensated for its properties expropriated in the past. The Orthodox Church of Greece also wishes to continue the dialogue on the status of priests as civil servants, as well as to increase the number of clerics.

Finally, the Orthodox Church expresses opposition to the constitutional proposals of the Government on religious neutrality. The Minister of Education did not promise that the government would proceed unilaterally to file a bill. On the other hand, he attacked the Holy clergy association which suggested that the choices of the Syriza government would affect the vote of the clergy in the forthcoming national elections.

Another issue worth mentioning is that of cremation in Greece. Archbishop Hieronymos stated that the Church has a duty to safeguard the Orthodox faith and assured that burials still will be held. Cremation was legalised in Greece in 2006. More than 10 years later, though, not a single cremation has taken place in Greece, because no crematoriums have been built yet. However, despite opposition from the Church of Greece, Thessaloniki’s first crematorium is well under construction at the first municipal cemetery in Thermi (Thessaloniki).

Finally, changes in the penal code created a new conflict between Church and State in Greece, even though the Minister of Justice Michalis Kalogirou insisted that the draft codes are not final texts. The semi-autonomous Church of Crete expressed its strong opposition to the changes, especially to the proposed abolition of articles 198, 199 [200] and 201. Article 198 refers to malicious blasphemy. It stipulates in paragraph 1 that “everyone who publicly and maliciously, by any means, blasphemes God, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Moreover, according to article 199, “one who publicly and maliciously, by any means, blasphemes the Eastern Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Article 200 stipulates in paragraph 1 that “one who maliciously attempts to obstruct or intentionally disrupts a religious assembly for service or ceremony permitted […] shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Finally, Article 201 on the desecration of corpses says that “one who wilfully removes a corpse, parts of a corpse or the ashes of the dead from those who have lawful custody thereof, or one who commits an offence against a corpse or acts blasphemously and improperly towards a grave shall be punished by imprisonment of not more than two years”.

- Hellenic Parliament, Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs, Proceedings (2019).
- Statements of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece (2019).
- Statements of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Church of Crete (2019).

D 3 June 2019    AEmmanouil Chalkiadakis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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