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2019

Tsipras - Hieronymus Agreement on the payroll of the Orthodox priests

In case of implementation, the draft agreement between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus of the Orthodox Church of Greece (OCG) will bring an end to the status of the (...)

In case of implementation, the draft agreement between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus of the Orthodox Church of Greece (OCG) will bring an end to the status of the clerics as civil servants, and will bring changes to the Church-State relations in Greece. In particular, almost 10,000 Orthodox priests and 100 metropolitans and bishops will not be considered public servants anymore. However, the Greek State will continue to pay indirectly the salary of the clergy, in accord with a 1939 agreement. This is interpreted as stipulating that the Greek State remunerated the Church for expropriating its property. On the other hand, the State will be able to hire the said number of employees in various offices, covering the important needs of the administration in human capital, while reducing the heavy unemployment rates. According to the draft agreement, priests would be paid from a fund of 200 million euros, which the OCG would annually receive from the Greek State. The Church of Greece will be responsible for the distribution of wages. In short, the State will continue subsiding the wages for 10,000 clergyman, but the clergy will not be officially anymore in the state payroll with the status of civil servants. Moreover, a new fund will be established by the OCG and the Greek State to administer the landed property, the ownership status of which has been under dispute between the State and the OCG. This fund was supposed to be governed by a five member board (two appointed by OCG, two by the State and one in consultation).
Overall, this deal is viewed as a first step for the separation of Church and State in Greece, being related 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 3via 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. In particular, an important segment of the hierarchy put forward its objections, based on the perception that some of the clerics won’t be paid anymore by the state, and reject the participation of the State in the fund which will utilize the alleged Church’s property. It has been suggested that the stance of some of the opposing prelates was politically driven.
The main problem of the Tsipras-Hieronymus agreement is that it ignores the special ecclesiastical status of the Orthodox Church in Greece, because Archbishop Hieronymus is not the only representative of the Orthodox Church in the Greek State. There are several dioceses in Greece, in territories that became part of the Greek State after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), known as “New Lands”. Most of these dioceses are administered as part of the Church of Greece for practical reasons, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over these “New Lands”. In general, Crete (semi-autonomous Church, since 1900), Dodecanese, Mount Athos and the dioceses of Northern Greece are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was concerned about the agreement, since he was not informed about it in advance.
Currently, the Syriza administration continues the dialogue with the interested parts, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The main issues under discussion are:
1. The inclusion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Crete in the agreement, i.e. the way of subsiding the wages of the clergy under their jurisdiction.
2. The management of the created fund and the establishment of a regulatory framework that would guarantee the payment of the clergy, while blocking the possibility of maladministration by the upper hierarchy.
3. The management of the property fund, i.e. its regulatory framework, the properties under its supervision, etc.
The accomplishment of a final agreement, at least in the near future, is an open question. This is mainly because the general elections are due for 2019, and it is highly improbable whether the Syriza administration would choose to set the electoral agenda on a question, which is considered to be a ‘signature issue’ of the conservative right-wing party of New Democracy.

11 February 2019

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 (...)

  • 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”.

Sources:
- 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).

3 June 2019