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Historical survey

Independence of the Church of Greece

Georg Ludwig von Maurer, the Regent of the newly founded Greek Kingdom, with the co-operation of Theoclitos Pharmakides, an intellectual and leading figure of the Church, declared the (...)

Georg Ludwig von Maurer, the Regent of the newly founded Greek Kingdom, with the co-operation of Theoclitos Pharmakides, an intellectual and leading figure of the Church, declared the independence of the Church of Greece from the Patriarchate of Constantinople (1833), contrary to the Orthodox canonical tradition. The background for the creation of the Greek Church was the modernist ideology of nationalism: the idea that each nation-state should have its own national Church, out of the administrative control of any other institution that might be influenced by a foreign power. From a realist political perspective, this decision was considered unavoidable in order to prevent the perceived ottoman ‘enemy’ from interfering in the domestic affairs of the country through the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Taking into account the strong symbolic capital of religion in the collective conscience as well as its special role in the political operation, the government could not take the risk of not fully controlling the ecclesiastical affairs of the state. The newly formed ecclesiastical institution was considered schismatic, because it had been created without the necessary canonical approval of the legitimate ecclesiastical authority, the Ecumenical Patriarch, under whose jurisdiction it had always functioned; thus, communion between them was terminated. The relations between the two institutions were restored in 1850.

November 2013

D 18 September 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

Status of the Church of Greece

The Church of Greece was established by the State with the status of a legal entity under public law. From then onwards, the relations between state and Church have been generally governed by the (...)

The Church of Greece was established by the State with the status of a legal entity under public law. From then onwards, the relations between state and Church have been generally governed by the so-called system of ‘state-law rule’, according to which the Church has the status of a state agency. The Ordinance of 1833 stipulated that the King was the administrative head of the Church. In particular, King Otto was the supreme leader of the Church, having the power to appoint all the members of its synod. Furthermore, all Synodal decisions had to be approved by him, or else they would be considered null and void. The subordination of the Church to the state resulted in the ‘institutional’ identification between the two spheres. On the other hand, this interplay has given to the Church the opportunity to reproduce its social power and escape –at least partially– from the effects of the secularization process.
The main characteristics, the ‘ideal type’, of the ‘state-law rule’ system, various forms of which have been in effect to this day in Greece, are in principle the following: a) the state has the upper hand as concerns the religious affairs. The two spheres are not on an equal footing, the Church being subordinated to the political power; b) Orthodoxy is recognized in Greece as the ‘prevailing’ religion of the state, i.e. the official religion; c) the Church is a legal person under public law; d) the Orthodox Church enjoys a privileged legal and financial position compared to the other cults; and e) the state guarantees, however, the right of religious freedom to all its citizens.

As provided by the Constitution of 1975, the Church is under the authority of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, while the Greek Parliament is the competent body to legislate on the various religious affairs (art. 72, par. 1). According to art. 3, the Orthodox faith is the ‘prevailing’ religion of the state. Art. 13 protects the rights to freedom of religious conscience as well as that of religious expression. Conversion through violent means is prohibited.

D 20 September 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

Organisation of the Church of Greece

The Greek territory is divided in 5 distinct ecclesiastical jurisdictions: a) the Autocephalous Church of Greece (the Metropolitanates in Central Greece, the Peloponnesus, the Cyclades islands, (...)

The Greek territory is divided in 5 distinct ecclesiastical jurisdictions: a) the Autocephalous Church of Greece (the Metropolitanates in Central Greece, the Peloponnesus, the Cyclades islands, the Ionian islands and Thessaly); b) the so-called Church of the ‘New Lands’ (the Metropolitanates in Macedonia, Epirus and Thrace), which are under the administrative jurisdiction of the Church of Greece, but spiritually depend from the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch; c) the Church of the Dodecanese islands, which is entirely under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch; d) the semi-autonomous Church of Crete; and e) the self-governed monastic community of Mount Athos.

November 2013

D 21 September 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

Important events marking State-Church relations after 1974

1) 1982: Legal recognition of civil marriage as equally valid to religious marriage. 2) 1987: The draft legislation concerning the partial expropriation of the monastic real estate property as (...)

1) 1982: Legal recognition of civil marriage as equally valid to religious marriage.
2) 1987: The draft legislation concerning the partial expropriation of the monastic real estate property as well as the proposed innovations concerning the internal administration and the judicial system of the Church triggered a major crisis between the two powers. The outcome was actually at the detriment of the government, which had to withdraw the relevant draft bills and not put into effect its project, under the threat of the political cost.
3) 1992: The European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for violating the right of religious freedom in a case of imprisonment of three Jehovah’s Witnesses.
4) 1998: The election of Christodoulos as Archbishop of Greece signified a ’fundamentalist’ turning point in the contemporary history of the Greek Church. Pivotal elements of the religious discourse: nationalism, populism, rigorism.
5) 2000-2001: the so-called ‘identity cards’ crisis. The socialist government eliminated the mention of religious affiliation which until then appeared on Greek identity cards, but this was not without a strong reaction from the Church and a significant portion of the Greek population. The tension began in 1997, when a law according to which religious affiliation would no longer appear on national identity cards was introduced. Archbishop Christodoulos organised a protest campaign calling for a referendum to gather signatures demanding the optional mention of religion on identity cards, in the hopes of forcing the government into changing the law. The Greek president confirmed that, according to the law and constitution of Greece, carrying out a referendum or changing the legislation that eliminated religious mention on identity cards was out of the question.
6) 2005: various scandals affected in a negative way the public image of Archbishop Christodoulos.
7) 2008: election of Archbishop Hieronymus. Transition of the religious discourse towards a more conciliatory direction. Acceptance of minor legal reforms concerning religious education, marriage, or Church finances and taxation, without however substantially altering the institutional status of the Church, which is called the "controlled compromise" thesis.

D 22 September 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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