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Le statut de l’Église orthodoxe de Grèce

The Orthodox Church of Greece was established by the State with the status of a legal entity under public law. From then onwards, the relations between state and Church have been generally governed by the so-called system of ‘state-law rule’, according to which the Church has the status of a state agency. The Ordinance of 1833 stipulated that the King was the administrative head of the Church. In particular, King Otto was the supreme leader of the Church, having the power to appoint all the members of its synod. Furthermore, all Synodal decisions had to be approved by him, or else they would be considered null and void. The subordination of the Church to the state resulted in the ‘institutional’ identification between the two spheres. On the other hand, this interplay has given to the Church the opportunity to reproduce its social power and escape -at least partially– from the effects of the secularisation process. The main characteristics, the ‘ideal type’, of the ‘state-law rule’ system, various forms of which have been in effect to this day in Greece, are in principle the following : a) the state has the upper hand as concerns the religious affairs. The two spheres are not on an equal footing, the Church being typically subordinated to the political power ; b) Orthodox Christianity is recognised in Greece as the ‘prevailing’ religion of the state, i.e. the official religion ; c) the Church is a legal person under public law ; d) the Orthodox Church enjoys a privileged legal and financial position compared to the other cults ; and e) the state guarantees, however, the right of religious freedom to all its citizens.

After the establishment of the Greek state in 1830, the Orthodox Church proclaimed itself as the national Church in 1833, aligning closely with the state’s ideological framework and reinforcing national identity. This led to a symbiotic relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Greek state, characterised by collaboration and minimal conflict. The state viewed the Church as the ’mother of the nation,’ while the Church supported the state’s national policies and ideology, including wartime efforts and the promotion of Helleno-Christianism.

Throughout the 20th century, particularly with the rise of socialist and communist ideologies in Greek society, the Church assumed an increasingly vital role as a bulwark against communism. It played a key part in shaping and perpetuating the ideology of Helleno-Christianism or Helleno-Orthodoxy, which merges ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Modern Greek identities. This ideology asserts the uniqueness of the Greek nation, divinely blessed, with an emphasis on historical and biological continuity. It propagates the notion that a true Greek identity necessitates adherence to Orthodoxy, thereby intertwining religion and nationalism.

The Church’s discourse often critiques Western values such as Enlightenment ideals, modernity, individualism, and human rights, while extolling the virtues of the East, particularly the Byzantine Empire and Orthodox Christianity.

Article 3 of the Constitution (1975, revised in 2019) designates Eastern Orthodoxy as the prevailing religion in Greece, emphasising its doctrinal unity with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and other churches adhering to the same beliefs. Additionally, the Greek Parliament holds legislative authority over religious matters (Article 72, paragraph 1). The specifics of state-Church relations are outlined in Law 590/1977 (Official Government Gazette A’ 146), which mandates cooperation between the Church and state on matters of mutual interest including youth education, military religious services, support for marriage and family, preservation of religious relics and monuments, establishment of new religious holidays, and protection against religious insults.

Despite a decline in followers and waning public trust in recent decades, the Orthodox Church remains influential in shaping both societal norms and political discourse, maintaining a significant role in Greek society.

D 14 juin 2024    AAlexandros Sakellariou AKonstantinos Papastathis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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