---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Adrian <david.adrian@...
Date: Jan 28, 2008 7:57 AM
Subject: "Head of Greece's Orthodox Church Dies"
To: David Adrian <david.adrian@...
The New York Times
Head of Greece's Orthodox Church Dies
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 28, 2008
Filed at 5:45 a.m. ET
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The leader of Greece's powerful Orthodox Church,
Archbishop Christodoulos, who eased centuries of tension with the Vatican
but was viewed as reactionary by his liberal critics, died Monday. He was
Christodoulos, who headed the church for a decade, was first hospitalized in
Athens in June before being diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large
He spent 10 weeks in a hospital in Miami but an October liver transplant
operation was canceled when doctors discovered the cancer had spread. He
refused hospital treatment in the final weeks of his life. He died at his
home in the Athens suburb of Psyhico, church officials said.
The Interior Ministry announced four days of national mourning and said
Christodoulos would be buried on Thursday with full state honors. Across the
country flags flew at half-staff, including atop the ancient Acropolis and
on the parliament building.
The archbishop's flag-draped coffin was taken to the cathedral in Athens,
where his body will lie in state until his funeral. Hundreds of people began
gathering outside to pay their respects.
Christodoulos was elected church leader in 1998 and is credited with
reinvigorating the vast institution that represents 97 percent of Greece's
native born population.
He was one of several leaders of national Orthodox churches across the
world. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the spiritual
leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.
Christodoulos helped create church Web sites and radio stations, and
frequently issued detailed checklists on how black-clad Orthodox priests
should conduct themselves in public.
In 2001, Christodoulos received the late John Paul II -- the first pope to
visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years. They held the landmark meeting in Athens
despite vigorous protests from Orthodox zealots.
The archbishop followed up in 2006 with an historic visit to the Vatican,
where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for
inter-religious dialogue and stating opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis paid tribute to the bravery the archbishop
showed during his sickness in a statement released Monday. Describing him as
an ''enlightened'' cleric, Karamanlis praised Christodoulos as a ''religious
leader who reinforced the role of Orthodoxy in the world,'' and for bringing
the church closer to the public.
President Karolos Papoulias expressed his sadness at news of the
archbishop's death and lauded him for his ''rich and multifaceted
contribution'' in fighting for the church.
The Patriarchate in Istanbul also issued a statement expressing its sadness
at the death.
Christodoulos was born Christos Paraskevaidis in 1939 in the northeastern
Greek city of Xanthi, one of two sons of a wholesale food importer and
devoutly religious mother.
He grew up in Athens where was drawn to the priesthood from a young age. He
was ordained at 22, and obtained degrees in law and theology from the
University of Athens. His skills were soon spotted by members of the church
He was appointed secretary to the Church's governing Holy Synod during the
1967-74 military dictatorship. The coup leaders had installed their own
church leadership under the late Archbishop Ieronymos to help realize their
strictly conservative social agenda.
In a television interview years later, Christodoulos famously asserted he
had been unaware of widespread abuses carried out during the dictatorship
because of his demanding religious studies.
After the junta collapsed, he was elected metropolitan bishop of a diocese
based in the central city of Volos, where he remained until he was elected
archbishop on April 28, 1998.
Church elders turned to Christodoulos in the hopes that he could remedy
years of administrative disorder under the leadership of the long-ailing
Archbishop Seraphim, who had rarely appeared in public in the years leading
up to his death in 1998.
In contrast to his predecessor, Christodoulos appeared on television daily,
touring schools and churches, and watched his approval rating rise to 75
percent in opinion polls. He frequently weighed in on a variety of issues --
in equal measure delighting the religious right and infuriating liberal and
In one of his most vociferous campaigns, Christodoulos led a petition drive
against the introduction of new state identity cards that would end the
practice of listing the bearer's religion. The church gathered some 3
million signatures, more than a quarter of the population.
''They are trying to take away our society's Christian and Orthodox
identity, using various groundless arguments, because they hate God and want
to marginalize the church,'' Christodoulos had said during the dispute,
claiming he was fighting the ''forces of evil.''
The campaign ultimately failed, and Greeks' identity cards dropped the
He was regularly named Greece's most popular public figure in opinion polls,
but his abrasive tactics also made him enemies in the church and the media,
who openly called for his resignation when several senior clerics were
accused of embezzling funds, involvement in sexual scandals, and even
trial-fixing in 2005.
Christodoulos publicly apologized for failing to contain the scandal and
defeated a no-confidence motion in the Holy Synod by 67-1 votes.
During his tenure, the leader also drew criticism from politicians who
accused him of meddling in their affairs, angered by his vocal opposition to
everything from homosexuality and globalization to Turkey's efforts to join
the European Union.
''Clergymen are above kings, prime ministers and presidents,'' Christodoulos
He lashed out at liberals, accusing them of trying to water down Greece's
strong Orthodox heritage. He proposed a Greek alternative to Valentine's Day
and urged his supporters to buy Christmas cards with religious icons instead
of Santa Claus and Christmas trees.
But public criticism of the church leader quickly faded after news of
Christodoulos' illness spread, and prominent left-wingers visited him in the
It is unclear who will succeed Christodoulos as head of Greece's Orthodox
Church. A meeting of the Holy Synod, the church's top decision-making body,
was called for Monday afternoon. A decision on when elections will be held
to chose a successor must be made within 20 days, Metropolitan Chrysostomos
of Zakinthos said on Greek television.
Christodoulos is survived by one brother.
Associated Press writer Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.
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