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The Orthodox Church of Greece

In 1821 the Greeks revolted against Ottoman rule. After European intervention, Turkey recognized a small independent Greek state in 1832. The Orthodox Church had played a prominent role in the revolution and paid a heavy price for it: the Patriarch of Constantinople Gregorios V and a number of Metropolitans had been hanged by the Turks as traitors soon after the revolt broke out.

In spite of strong allegiances to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Greek government did not want the new nation’s church to remain linked to a Patriarch who remained in Ottoman territory. For this reason in 1833 the government declared the Church of Greece to be autocephalous, and placed it under the authority of a permanent five-member Synod of Bishops and the King, who was made head of the church. The new status for the Church of Greece was not recognized by other Orthodox churches until 1850, when Constantinople issued a Patriarchal Tomos that recognized the autocephaly of the Greek Church and specified that the Archbishop of Athens should be the permanent head of the Holy Synod.

As additional territory was incorporated into Greece at the expense of the Ottomans, new Orthodox dioceses were incorporated as well. The Orthodox in areas conquered from Turkey in 1912 (now in northern Greece) remained directly under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until 1928, when by agreement the 36 diocese in the region were “provisionally” placed under the administration of the Church of Greece.

State control over the Greek church has been gradually reduced with the implementation of subsequent ecclesiastical regulations. Article 3 of the 1975 Greek constitution states, however, that “The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and synodal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928. ”

This structure explicitly respects the provisions of the 1850 Tomos of autocephaly. The Constitution also recognizes the right of other religions to worship without interference, but the worship of non-Orthodox must not disturb public order, and all proselytism is forbidden. As opposed to earlier constitutions, the President of Greece no longer must be an Orthodox Christian, and he is no longer required to swear to protect the predominant religion in the country. Today the Permanent Holy Synod is made up of the Archbishop of Athens, who presides over it, and 12 other bishops. In view of a projected revision of the Greek constitution, in 1995 the church and state initiated a dialogue about possible further changes in their relationship. But in May 1996 the government announced that the constitutional provisions already in place would not be changed. The church of Greece operates under a Charter that was promulgated by the Greek Parliament in 1977.

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