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Important events marking State-Church relations after 1974

1979: Introduction by the state of automatic divorce despite the strong disagreement of the Orthodox Church voiced through official statements and encyclical letters.
1982: Legal recognition of civil marriage as equally valid to religious marriage despite the Orthodox Church’s huge reactions through official statements and encyclical letters.
1986: Legalisation of abortion despite the reactions of the Orthodox Church through official statements and encyclical letters.
1987: Draft legislation concerning the partial expropriation of the monastic real estate as well as proposed innovations to the internal administration and judicial system of the Church triggered a major crisis between the State and the Orthodox Church. The outcome was at the detriment of the government, which had to withdraw the relevant draft bills and could not implement its project, under the threat of its political cost. After the government’s retreat, the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs was forced to resign.
1992: The European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for violating the right to religious freedom in a case involving the imprisonment of three Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since then, Greece has been condemned for a number of violations of religious freedom, placing the country at the top of the list of EU countries concerned by the Court.
1998: The election of Metropolitan Christodoulos as Archbishop of the Orthodox Church signified a ’fundamentalist’ turning point in the contemporary history of the Church. Pivotal elements of the religious discourse during the decade of his leadership were: nationalism, populism, and rigorism.
2000-2001: The so-called ‘identity cards’ crisis. The origins of the tension can be found already in 1992-93, when the government initiated the inclusion of religious affiliation on the identity cards on an optional basis. Following the Holy Synod’s reactions, this initiative was withdrawn. In 2000, the government decided, on the basis of a European directive on the protection of personal data, to delete religious affiliation from Greek identity cards, which again provoked a very strong reaction from the Church. Archbishop Christodoulos and the Holy Synod reacted vigorously, organising a campaign to gather signatures calling for a referendum and two major rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki attended by millions of people, demanding at least the optional inclusion of religion on identity cards. The government persisted and the President of the Republic confirmed that, in accordance with the Constitution of Greece and EU legislation, carrying out a referendum or including the religious affiliation in the identity cards was not possible. This is one of the very few cases where the state managed to impose its political decision on the Orthodox Church, despite the strong reactions.
2005: A number of financial, sexual and judicial scandals affected in a very negative way the public image of Archbishop Christodoulos and the Orthodox Church.
2008: Election of Archbishop Hieronymus. The Church’s public discourse became less politicised, more conciliatory and with limited interventions on issues of international relations.
2018: An agreement has been announced between the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus, towards a new and more ‘secular’ type of relations between the Church and State. However, it was rejected by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church and organisations of lower rank priests, and it was never implemented.
2020-2021: At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the Orthodox Church was reluctant to close down all the churches and the government had to strictly impose their closure. While on the whole collaboration between the State and the Church prevailed during the pandemic, the Church, through the Holy Synod or individual Metropolitans and priests, in several cases disobeyed the governmental measures, opened the temples and practiced rituals, which caused heated debates in the public sphere.

D 12 December 2023    AKonstantinos Papastathis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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