For two hours Educations and Religious Affairs Minister Costas Gavroglou was briefing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul about the recent agreement between the government and the Greek Orthodox Church of Greece.
I twas the second time within two days, the Ecumenical Patriarch was receiving a briefing by Greek officials on the issue.
The Patriarch has every reason to be concerned about the agreement and that he was not informed in advance.
The government and the Church of Greece had been negotiating for three years about the Joint Fund for the Exploitation of the Church Properties as wells as about removing 10,000 protest from the state payroll.
The Ecumenical Patriarch does not only feel excluded by the negotiations on such an important issue, he also worries about several dioceses in Greece, the so-called canonical territory of “New Lands” territories that became part of Greek state after the Balkan Wars.
The “New Lands” are located in northern Greece and major islands in the north and northeast Aegean Sea. Most of these dioceses are de facto administered as part of the Church of Greece for practical reasons (except the Dodecanese), under an agreement between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the New Lands.
The “New Lands” have been a point of conflict between the churches of Athens and Constantinople, a meeting between the two spiritual leaders was recently cancelled for disagreements on this issue and in one case, the two churches will let the courts take the decision.
The Joint Agreement between Greece’s political and spiritual leaders come in times when the Patriarchate is reportedly seeking a change to Article 3 of the Greek Constitution in order to fully place the Metropolises of Northern Greece under its control.
It is obvious that the Ecumenical Patriarch would like to know whether the “New Lands” are included in the Tsipras – Ieronymos agreement.
Minister Gavroglou had apparently not much to say – or he didn’t want to say.
When asked by reporters about the “New Lands”, the minister said “these are issues that we will see in the details as well as many other issues, but it remains the basic principle that we have to deal with a historical, literally historical, agreement with the Church of Greece.”