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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 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