Greek Church Elects New Leader
By DEREK GATOPOUOLOS � 1 hour ago
ATHENS, Greece (AP) � Senior clergy elected Metropolitan Bishop Ieronymos of Thebes as the new leader of Greece's powerful Orthodox Church on Thursday to succeed the late Archbishop Christodoulos, the church announced.
Church bells rang out and the lights outside Athens Cathedral, where 74 bishops had gathered for the vote, came on to announce the election of a successor to the popular Christodoulos, who died of cancer last month.
Ieronymos, 70, won 45 votes after two rounds in an election that began Thursday morning. Four bishops of the 78-member Holy Synod, the church's governing body, were absent, the church said in announcing the results.
"I accept this high office and honor to uphold the holy traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church," Ieronymos said in accepting the post.
He was one of the main contenders for the church leadership in the previous election in 1998, when Christodoulos eventually triumphed over him after three rounds of voting. He is considered a reformer like his predecessor and a capable administrator, but has been much more low-key than the outspoken and often combative Christodoulos.
Christodoulos frequently criticized government decisions � a break in church tradition � and accused political liberals of attempting to erode Greece's religious heritage.
"The successors are called upon to build on the archbishop's positive work and avoid the pointless friction," the top-selling daily Ta Nea commented.
Although there were no official candidacies, four top bishops had expressed interest in succeeding Christodoulos, who was credited with building historic ties with the Vatican and reinvigorating the Greek church during his 10-year leadership.
The second top contender for the church's leadership had been the 68-year-old Bishop Efstathios of Sparta, another senior figure of the church's vast administration. The other two were Bishop Ignatios of Dimitriada, the youngest at 52, and Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki, the eldest at 74.
The succession was closely watched in Greece, where Orthodox Christianity is recognized as the "prevailing religion" in the constitution and is the faith of some 97 percent of the country's native-born population.
Tens of thousands of people visited Athens Cathedral when Christodoulos' body lay in state for three days before his funeral on Jan. 31.
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