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  • October 2023: The new identity cards debate

The decision of the Greek government to initiate the process of introducing the new identity cards (European Regulation 2019/1157) in September 2023 caused heated debates and reactions from Orthodox priests, monks, theologians and lay people.
The main argument was that it was thought that the new identity cards would contain an ‘anti-Christian technology’ in order to monitor people who would lose their privacy, while some argued that it wound contain the number of the Anti-Christ (the number of the beast). This issue appeared in the media and the Internet for a period of at least two months. During this time, the Orthodox Church of Greece was the only religious group which asked the government to provide details and clarifications about the new identities.
In July 2023, the Minister of Citizen Protection and the Chief of Police visited the Metropolitan of Piraeus and had an online meeting with another Metropolitan in order to “analytically inform and reassure them that the new identity cards do not contain data which put in danger Greek people’s freedom or in any way offend the Orthodox Christian faith”. In August, the new Minister repeated this affirmation through the media. However, in September, Orthodox groups organised demonstrations against the new identity cards in Athens and Thessaloniki, holding Christian crosses and holy icons. At the same time, the religious right-wing political party Niki (Victory) firmly opposed the new identities and produced a 13-page document to analytically present its official position. Another political party of the extreme-right, Elliniki Lyssi (Hellenic Solution), submitted a non-government bill to the Parliament including religious affiliation as an option in the new identity cards for those among the citizens who want to state it openly. This proposal was rejected by the relative Ministries. In September, the Holy Synod of the Church, after its assembly, announced that the issue of the new identity cards is a state matter and that the Greek courts have decided that the new identity cards are constitutional.

  • June 2023: The electoral success of a religious political party

In May and June 2023, Greece had two elections in a row. In the first elections of May the 21st, a relatively newly formed political party, The Patriotic Democratic Movement – Victory (Niki, in Greek) came very close to entering the Greek Parliament, just a few thousand votes below the 3% threshold. However, in the second elections of June the 25th, Niki succeeded with 3.7% and elected 10 MPs, receiving 193,124 votes. Although Niki has been described as an extreme-right-wing political party by political analysts, it is probably more accurate to argue that it is the first religious fundamentalist political party in Greece which managed to enter the Greek Parliament. Initially founded in 2019, it started to attract a lot of attention only during the last months before the May elections. The leader of the party is a Greek Orthodox theologian and school teacher, while a large number of the party’s candidates hold a theological Bachelor or Master’s and were theologians in secondary education. Moreover, from the 28 members of the party board, four are theologians, one is an Orthodox catechist (Sunday school teacher) and another five of them have very close relations with their local parishes as Byzantine music teachers, church board members, authors of Saints’ biographies, etc. As it has been argued, the party has very close and strong connections with Greek Orthodox priests, local parishes, and monasteries. Moreover, in their public appearances, the party members use religious discourse (references to God, Christ, the sign of the cross, faith, Orthodoxy, etc.) and the same applies to the party’s political declaration and theses. For example, as is mentioned in the party’s theses, “Orthodoxy exists in our cultural DNA” and that “the legislation and social ethics of the State should respect the basic Christian values”, related to family, marriage, pregnancy, children’s upbringing, education. The party holds open anti-abortion positions, has been very critical -if not totally against- the restrictive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has explicitly or implicitly expressed anti-vaccination attitudes. Niki has indeed achieved a significant breakthrough in the Greek political system and is a social phenomenon that has started to attract public interest.

  • May 2023: Changes in the funding of the Orthodox church

By the presidential decree 14 of February 15, 2023 (Governmental Gazette A 30), the government has now accepted the long-standing Orthodox Church’s demand to increase the number of Orthodox priests. Under a 1945 law which organised the Church-State relations in financial matters, the number of priests was set at 6,000. In due course, this number was increased to over 8,000 but without any legal provision, these additional places were at risk. The decree set the number of priests at 8 311, which satisfies the Orthodox Church. It was also decided that vacancies caused by death, retirement or resignation could be filled by other priests. Until now, in such cases, the surplus of 2,311 places remained vacant. Finally, it was decided that if the Orthodox Church wished to hire more priests to cover its needs, this could be done through Church funding, without the State taking over their salaries.
This is the first time that the exact number of priests and their positions have been fixed by a presidential decree.
In total, the number of priests in Greece is 9,543, since in addition to the 8,311 priests mentioned above, there are 955 priests of the Church of Crete and 277 of the Dodecanese, who are mentioned separately because of their canonical link with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

D 24 October 2023    AAlexandros Sakellariou

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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