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General overview

Structure and Administration of the Orthodox Church in Greece

The Greek territory is divided in 5 distinct ecclesiastical jurisdictions: a) the Autocephalous Church of Greece; b) the so-called Church of the New Lands; c) the Church of Dodecanese islands; d) (...)

The Greek territory is divided in 5 distinct ecclesiastical jurisdictions: a) the Autocephalous Church of Greece; b) the so-called Church of the New Lands; c) the Church of Dodecanese islands; d) the Church of Crete; and e) the monastic community of Mount Athos [Agion Oros // the Holy Mountain].

a) The Autocephalous Church of Greece comprises of the various ecclesiastical provinces located in Central Greece, Peloponnesus, Cyclades Islands, Ionian Islands and the major part of Thessaly.
The Autocephalous Church of Greece was established in 1833 as the competent religious authority within the newly formed state of Greece. However, the Ecumenical Patriarch, under whose juridiction were the respective ecclesiastical provinces, did not recognize this legislative ordinance, considering it to be an anti-canonical act and an ecclesiastical coup d’etat. As such, therefore, the new religious organization acquired the status of a schismatic church. The deadlock came to an end in 1850, when the Patriarchate of Constantinople published the Synodal Tome, according to which the Church of Greece was given the status of ‘Autocephalia’ ex nunc. After the incorporation of the regions of Ionian Islands and Thessaly in Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to cede also the canonical jurisdiction over the said districts to the Greek Church, via the Patriarchal Acts of 1866 and 1882 respectively.

b) The so-called Church of the ‘New Lands’ refers to the geographical districts of southern Macedonia, south Epirus and western Thrace, which were incorporated in Greece after the Balkan Wars and the First World War. The New Lands are administratively under the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece, but spiritually under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch. However, this canonical framework of church operation has or might have a temporary character, because the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the competence to withdraw it and change the jurisdictional status of the New Lands. In other words, the Patriarchate can theoretically undertake at any given time the direct administration of the said ecclesiastical provinces. This state of affairs is defined by the Patriarchal and Synodal Act of 1928. According to its main provisions:
1) The Autocephalous Church of Greece takes the responsibility of administering the New Lands.
2) The New Lands remain at the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
3) This state of affairs is temporary.
4) The synod of the Greek Church elects the bishops of the New Lands.
5) The Patriarch should approve all the nominees for the vacant sees. He can also erase from or add candidates to the catalogue of nominees.
6) The transfer of bishop from one ecclesiastical province to another is forbidden.

The Autocephalous Church of Greece and the so-called Church of the New Lands constitute the Church of Greece. Their unity is only administrative. As far as the spiritual jurisdiction is concerned, the Church of the New Lands is still under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The governing bodies of the Church of Greece are two:
1) The Holy Synod, in which participate all the metropolitans from the Autocephalous Church and the Church of the New Lands. The Holy Synod has an annual assembly every October under the presidency of the Archbishop of Athens.
2) The Permanent Holy Synod is made up of 12 members of the Holy Synod (six from the Autocephalous Church and six from the Church of the New Lands). The members of the Permanent Synod change every year, except for the Archbishop, who is its thirteenth member and presides over the assemblies. The Permanent Synod is responsible for the daily administration of the institution.

c) The Church of Dodecanese Islands is under the jurisdiction, both administrative and spiritual, of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

d) The semi-autonomous Church of Crete was established in 1900 after the Ottoman Empire granted Crete an autonomous political status (1898). Since then, Crete has been under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As far as administration is concerned, Crete has been semi-autonomous, namely it is governed by the Synod of its Bishops under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

e) The monastic community of Mount Athos maintained its age- old privileged status, after the incorporation of the peninsula to Greece. On the one hand, it is under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. On the other hand, it enjoys an independent, self-governing, status as far as its administrative affairs are concerned. The Assembly of the Representatives of the twenty Monasteries forms the supreme administrative authority of the monastic community.

D 13 December 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

Church-State Relations

Greece is a ’fully established’ religious market, regulated according to the ’State-law rule’ system. In particular, the Constitution defines the Parliament as the competent authority to regulate to (...)

Greece is a ’fully established’ religious market, regulated according to the ’State-law rule’ system. In particular, the Constitution defines the Parliament as the competent authority to regulate to a certain degree the administrative affairs of the Orthodox Church (art. 72), i.e. the principle of the State’s primacy. The Eastern Orthodox Church is recognized as the ’prevailing’ religion (art. 3). Two views have been suggested with regard to the interpretation of the term ’prevailing’. On the one hand, Nicos Alivizatos has argued that it means ’the overwhelming majority of the Greek people’ ("A New Role for the Greek Church?", Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 17, 1999, p. 23-40). On the other hand, it has been suggested by Charalampos Papastathis that art. 3 in conjunction to art. 72 actually establish the Church as a State agency, i.e. a State Church ("State and Church in Greece", in: Gerhard Robbers (ed.), State and Church in the European Union, 2005, Nomos Verlag, Baden-Baden, p. 115-138). The Constitutional Charter of the Church of Greece was recognized by the Parliament as state law (590/1977). The prevailing status of the Church in Greece is historically founded on the identification of Eastern Orthodoxy with national belonging, and is linked to the country’s mono-confessional composition, as well as to the social norms pertained in the Orthodox community at large.

The Orthodox Church, as well as the Jewish and Muslim community of Thrace, are recognized as having legal personality under public law. The customary law, which in practical terms many identify with Sharia law although this remains debated, is implemented as regards personal status and family relations of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace. This legal status is regulated by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) between Greece and Turkey. Many voices have been raised against its maintenance, claiming it collides with the Human Rights values framework. The Constitution defines the development of ’religious consciousness’ (art. 16) as the State’s mission. The State protects the right to freedom of conscience (which includes the freedom not to believe), and the right to freedom of worship (art. 13). Several Churches (Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Anglican and others) that do not enjoy legal personality under public law, have lately been recognized as having a ’religious personality’ under private law (L. 4301/2014). The Muslim immigrant community (like in Athens) used to face, until recently, certain limitations with regard to worship. Overall, since the 1990s, the State has gradually softened the restrictive framework over minority religious practices and institutions, as a result of the European Court of Human Rights rulings against Greece for violating art. 9 (freedom of religion) of the Convention (Dia Anagnostou, "Does European Human Rights Law Matter? Implementation and Domestic Impact of Strasbourg Court Judgements on Minority-Related Policies", The International Journal of Human Rights, 14/5, 2010, p. 721-743).

Voir PAPADOPOULOU Lina, "State and Church in Greece", in ROBBERS Gerhard (ed.), State and Church in the European Union, Third ed., Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2019, p. 171-194.

D 7 October 2016    AKonstantinos Papastathis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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