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from issue no. 11 - 2004

Close-up of Christodoulos

A Wojtylian in Athens

by Gianni Valente

Born in 1939 in Xhánthi to a family of evacuees from eastern Thrace following on the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1924, Christodoulos Paraskevaides studied at the Leonteion high school in Athens, run by the Catholic congregation of the Marian Brothers. He then took a degree in Theology and a doctorate in Canon Law. He became a monk in the early ’sixties and as a young man shared with a group of contemporaries at Barlaam monastery in Meteora in the experience of a missionary monachism alert to social problems. Elected Metropolitan Bishop of Demetrias when only thirty-five, he became known as a forceful preacher, a leader valued by young people, the driving force behind social projects. Since April 1998, when he was elected Archbishop of Athens with considerable backing, he has been making his mark on the public image of the Orthodox Church and his relations with the Greek society through his “dirigiste” style. He makes a continual contribution on matters of public debate, in defense of moral values, often appearing on television, involving himself in clashes and debates with political circles. He has doubled the committees of the Synod, setting up twelve new ones devoted to current issues (bioethics, European affairs, ecology, etc.); he has opened an office of representation of the Greek Church at the European Union in Bruxelles, headed by Bishop Athanasios; he founded the “Solidarity” Organization for co-ordinating the charity initiatives of the Greek Church abroad. Interventions aimed at pushing ahead with tireless energy his strategy to oppose the sidelining of the Church and to re-establish its influence as a driving force in Greek society. A battle fought with modern weapons and tactics, resorting sometimes in the world of young people to slang and crowd-pleasing or to backing pietistic movements and brotherhoods traditionally ill regarded by the hierarchy. A program that in the list of issues treated (for example the insistence on the Christian roots of Europe) and methods used shows interesting affinities with key issues in Wojtyla’s pontificate.
In recent months Christodoulos also showed his mettle in the argument between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenic Patriarchy of Constantinople on the law and modalities of nomination of the bishops of the thirty-six Greek diocese in the “new territories” (Thrace and regions in the north-east), that depends canonically on Constantinople but pastorally and administratively on Athens. The crisis was solved through a procedural compromise last spring, thanks also to the mediation of the Greek government. But the almost-schism risked with the mother Church of Constantinople has fed unease and reservations in the Synod of the Church of Greece towards Christodoulos’ over-visibility. The vote in the Synod that blocked his visit to Rome can also be explained in this way.

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