Church and State: Is it War or a Deliberate Misunderstanding?

Church and State: Is it War or a Deliberate Misunderstanding?

Athens, October 4, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

From the moment SYRIZA, the radical left coalition, came to power it has been met with opposition by some church officials, who considered that the leftist  “atheists” will engage in an effort to separate the Church from the State.

If the truth be told, the separation of Church and State has always been a standard demand of the left. But it is also true to say that many clergy and people who are close to the church are closer to a more conservative way of political life.

Both Alexis Tsipras, and Archbishop Ieronimos demonstrated at the beginning of SYRIZA’s term in office that they did not want war but an honourable compromise instead. The meetings which took place between the two men were on very good terms and a steady relationship based on co-operation and understanding was cultivated.

Article 13 of the Greek Constitution on “Religious Freedom” is clear:

It states the following:

  1. Freedom of religious conscience is inviolable. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties does not depend on the individual’s religious beliefs.
  2. All known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law. The practice of rites of worship is not allowed to offend public order or the good usages. Proselytism is prohibited.
  3. The ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same supervision by the State and to the same obligations towards it as those of the prevailing religion.
  4. No person shall be exempt from discharging his obligations to the State or may refuse to comply with the laws by reason of his religious convictions.
  5. No oath shall be imposed or administered except as specified by law and in the form determined by law.

The freedom of expression as far as religious beliefs are concerned is more affected or obstructed by the dominant religion. And what we mean by dominant religion, in accordance to Article 3 of the Greek Constitution, is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ.

 Article 3 states:

  1. 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.
  2. The ecclesiastical regime existing in certain districts of the State shall not be deemed contrary to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.
  3. The text of the Holy Scripture shall be maintained unaltered. Official translation of the text into any other form of language, without prior sanction by the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited.

As can be seen above, Constitutionally there is no relationship between the dominant religion and the State. Their roles are clear and distinct and it is inappropriate to talk about separation of Church and State.

 It would in fact be more appropriate to talk about splitting the State and the Church Administration. What needs to be investigated is whether the Church and State administration coincide and overlap, in which case they should be split. This is necessary because an identification of Church and State administration inevitably leads to either Papa-Caesarism or Caesaropapism, which developed in the western world and were characterised by theocracy or politocracy.

In some small matters, the truth is that, some further clarification of the roles should be made and this should be achieved through serious dialogue, and by respecting the timeless traditions of the country.

The question is who is to gain from this war that has broken out between members of the Church and the Greek government?

The conservative audience, which the Church has access to, definitely does not want to break the diptych of Fatherland and Religion in any way. A history of interdependence has been built on this, which on the one hand provides for a meaning of existence and conservative choices both in lifestyle and in politics and on the other takes advantage of power.

If a “detox” was to take place between the Church and the State, it would weaken the relations of this social circle with power. This is due to the fact that the end result is not a “heavenly kingdom” but the distribution of power and the power the Church hides as a vestige from the Byzantine Empire and its Administration.

On the other hand, the conflict between the Church and the State, also serves the leftists, who one way or another want to display their “leftiness” without much cost. And of course this area is one easily accessible and open for debate.

The tension which has intensified in recent days, does not have and will not have a tangible result in the financial or everyday life of citizens. This prolonged tension, is causing confusion among citizens and discredits both the State and the Church. It would be desirable that leaders from both the Church and the State put their obsessions aside and proceeded with clarifying their roles in society.