"The Greek American" - May 2, 1998

Greek Orthodox Church Elects New Archbishop

ATHENS, April 28 (AP, The GreekAmerican) - Greece's top Orthodox clerics elected a prelate Tuesday considered forward-thinking and able to lead the Church at a time of internal turmoil and shrinking congregations. The new archbishop, Metropolitan Christodoulos, may also help heal the rifts with the Roman Catholic Church and other Orthodox faiths opened by his mercurial predecessor, Archbishop Serapheim, who died April 9 at age 84 and who led the Church for 24 years.

Christodoulos, 59, thanked the assembled clerics for entrusting the Church "to those that are younger," and promised to bring about "modernization, renewal, and meritocracy." Promising to use "the trustworthy word of our Church help the average Greek deal with the problems he is facing," he pledged to reorganize the Church to make it "more dynamic."

"I want to assure you that we will make the necessary openings to our people," said the black-robed Christodoulos, wearing a gold-and-purple cape and holding his scepter of office.

Hundreds of priests and lay people waiting for 10 hours in front of the marble and granite building in the city center chanted "axios, axios" (worthy, worthy).

Metropolitan Christodoulos received 49 votes from the 76 senior clerics gathered behind closed doors at Athens' main cathedral. He was elected in a third round after the assembled metropolitans, or bishops, failed to agree the first and second time around. He will be called upon to help restore unity to a Church that has been snubbed by many younger people as strong consumerism replaces the values of family and faith that traditionally anchored Greek society. The Church itself is in disarray over allegations of fiscal mismanagement and embezzlement. Clerics are also at odds with the state over property rights for the Church's vast land holdings.

Fluent in English, German, French, Italian, and Russian, Christodoulos has a law degree from Athens' Pandeios University, a theology degree from Athens University, and doctorate in canonic law from the University of Thessaloniki.

He was born Christodoulos Paraskevaidis in the northern province of Xanthi in 1939. Ordained a deacon in 1961 and a priest in 1965, he was elevated to metropolitan in 1974. Unlike Serapheim, Christodoulos is considered broad minded and more attuned to the needs of youth facing increasing pressures including rising unemployment, drug use, AIDS, and a dissolution of the tight nuclear family. Broader problems include a formal separation of Church from state and relations with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual head of the world's 350 million Orthodox.
Both the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Spyridon of America welcomed the results of the election. "We are particularly close with the new archbishop, we are friends," said Patriarch Bartholomew, stressing their "strong spiritual link."

In a written statement, Archbishop Spyridon expressed that he looks "forward to a close personal relationship with the new archbishop, and assure him of the prayers and heartfelt warm wishes of the Holy Eparchial Synod, the devout clergy, and the faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America."

Although Greece is formally secular, the Orthodox faith is the constitutionally recognized state religion. All of Greece's nearly 15,000 clerics are civil servants, and efforts are under way to amend the constitution early next century to officially sever those ties. More than 90% of Greece's 10.2 million people are baptized into the Church and at least 5 million more live abroad.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  May 2, 1998 ]