Separation of Greek state and Church? Not yet

A landmark agreement for some, a historic compromise for others. Nonetheless, a new era begins for the Greek state and the Orthodox Church, who have been in a close relationship -- or even a tight embrace -- for almost two centuries.

Dialekti Angeli
Dialekti Angeli NewsMavens, Greece
Separation of Greek state and Church? Not yet - NewsMavens
Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, head of the Church of Greece in Athens, on May 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / PETROS GIANNAKOURIS

Why this story matters:

Last week, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, made a joint announcement with Archbishop, Ieronymos that ended the status of priests as civil servants. The legislative -- and deeply political -- bond between the Greek state and the Orthodox Church is so strong that no government so far had been able to undermine it, despite attempts to 'revise' or 'redefine' the relationship.

Alexis Tsipras and Ieronymos agreed that some 10,000 Church employees will come off the state payroll. State subsidies will amount to €200m, regardless of the number of priests. The Church also formally agreed not to oppose the government’s efforts to create a 'religion neutral' state, and to drop any claim to properties taken over by the state. The agreement stipulates that the two sides are to set up a joint fund to manage and develop disputed sites, and that the revenues and expenses would be split in half.

Not everyone is satisfied. For example, the former education minister -- who was removed under pressure from the archbishop -- complained that the agreed subsidy would still secure work for 10,000 priests while the government scaled back the number of medical doctors because of bailout-era austerity measures. At the same time, the Association of Greek Clerics complained that losing their civil servant status could lead to violation of their rights.

This deal is a step towards the separation of Church and State, but Greece is still miles away from becoming a secular country.

The Church remains omnipresent and greatly affects everyday social life. The school day still starts with a prayer, and religion is taught throughout the 12-year mandatory education. Religious icons hang over classrooms, courts and public offices. Every new government is blessed by the country's top clergy during the cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony, and the Greek Constitution still begins with "in the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Invisible Trinity." 

Details from the story:

  • The agreement will have to be approved by Church leaders as well as the government and MPs.
  • The relationship of the Greek State and the Orthodox Church started conventionally in 1833, when the Church broke away the Ecumenical Patriarchate and came under the authority of the Kingdom of Greece with a royal decree.
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