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Athens News Agency: News in English, 08-01-28

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Archbishop Chistodoulos passes away

  • [01] Archbishop Chistodoulos passes away

    Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos passed away on Monday at 5:15 a.m. (3:15 GMT) after battling cancer for the past seven months. Earlier, his attending physicians, close associates and numerous clerics hastily assembled at the Archbishop's official residence in the upscale Athens district of Paleo Psyhico, as Christodoulos had declined to leave his home for a hospital in his last days.

    His body will lie in state for a period of three days at the Athens Metropolitan Cathedral, while a funeral with head of state honors will follow after three days of national mourning.

    The first session of the Greek Church's Holy Synod in the wake of Christodoulos' death took place at 2 p.m. local time on Monday.

    In a statement issued shortly after news of Christodoulos' death was announced, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said the Orthodox Church leader's "candour, simplicity, tenacity and love for Greece offer valuable lessons for our Church's faithful".

    Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos was born in the northeastern city of Xanthi in 1939 and baptised as Christos Paraskevaidis. He studied law and theology, obtaining a doctorate in theology, in fact, along with degrees in French and English. A young Christodoulos was ordained as a deacon in 1961 and as a presbyter (senior priest) in 1965.

    He served as a homilist (preacher) at an influential parish in southern Athens (Paleo Faliro) for nine years, before holding the important position of Holy Synod secretary for seven years.

    At the age of 35 in 1974 Christodoulos was elected as the Metropolitan of Dimitriada, the bishopric based in the central Greece port city of Volos, where he served until his election, in 1998, as the head of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece. He was also the youngest ever primate of the Greek Orthodox Church.

    Christodoulos was a prolific writer and columnist, penning numerous scholarly articles in both church publications and periodicals around Greece and abroad. His best-known works include "Hellenism Proselytised: The Passage from Antiquity to Christianity", "The Soul of Europe", and his opus "Historical and Canonical Consideration of the Old Calendarist Issue During its Emergence and Development in Greece", which was his doctoral dissertation. He also participated in missionary work overseas.

    Christodoulos' presence in the predominately Greek Orthodox nation of 11 million was immediate, as his rhetorical skills and amiable personality were employed as potent communication tools to reinvigorate the Greek Church's venerated but often uninspiring role in the country, and especially its emphasis to reach out to younger generations.

    The influential Christodoulos' call towards teenagers to "come as you are, even with your earring" and his frequent visits to schools caused his popularity to soar in his first years on the Archbishop's throne. Along with an emphasis on reaching out to younger people, Christodoulos was also credited with establishing and further strengthening Church-affiliated charities, including ones aiding people on society's fringes, such as drug addicts, unwed mothers and battered women. The culmination of heightened philanthropic efforts under Christodoulos' tenure came with the establishment of the Greek Church NGO "Allileggii" (Solidarity), which quickly engaged in humanitarian relief efforts on a global scale.

    As the "cyber era" exploded throughout most of the world in the late 1990s, Christodoulos cast aside the Church's usual cautiousness vis-?-vis modernity to eagerly embrace new communication technologies, promoting the establishment of the Church's first-ever website, a digital library available in nine languages that includes art and music archives, as well as a portal for cultural news in Greek and English.

    Heading towards the dawn of the new millennium, Christodoulos became even more outspoken in his views - whether from the pulpit or in statements at well-attended events -- regarding the Church and its relations with the state and society, with reactions ranging from jubilant enthusiasm, by the Orthodox faithful, to cries of obscurantism by his secular critics in the country.

    Two major clashes punctuated Christodoulos' tenure as head of the Greek Church: his quarrel, often taking on a personal tone, with the Simitis government, shortly after the general election in 2000, over the issue of a religious affiliation listing on police-issued ID cards; and, in 2004, a "chill" in relations between the Autocephalous Church of Greece and its spiritual elder, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, the world's most ancient Orthodox Church. The latter dispute was ostensibly over canonical jurisdiction in a number of northern Greece bishoprics.

    The socialist government more-or-less ignored heated Church protests and proceeded with the removal of the religious affiliation from ID cards and essentially ended the controversy, whereas a full rapprochement between the "sister Churches" of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate was achieved in late 2004, following mediation by the education and religious affairs minister at the time, Marietta Yiannakou.

    A milestone in Christodoulos' tenure came with the unprecedented official visit of late Pope John Paul II to Athens in 2001, a visit that had appeared unthinkable decades before.

    The Archbishop brushed aside heated protests from within the Church's more zealous quarters and lent his support for the pontifical visit, personally taking the podium at a Holy Synod session to win over the Greek Church's sceptical bishops.

    With a gracious Christodoulos at his side, John Paul II expressed the Roman Catholic Church's historic apology for past wrongs, a defining moment in recent ecclesiastical history, and one that essentially allowed for a genuine thaw in 21st century relations between the Churches of East and West. Christodoulos reciprocated in 2006 with an official visit to the Vatican and an audience with new Pope Benedict XVI.

    The Archbishop's life was forever changed on a sunny Saturday, the 9th of June, 2006. Christodoulos fell ill while preparing for a visit to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Immediate medical tests revealed that he suffered from advanced cancer in the large intestine and an unrelated malignant growth in the liver.

    A first operation to remove the intestinal cancer was deemed successful, while consultations amongst his attending physicians finally led to a decision to seek treatment in the United States, and specifically at an internationally acclaimed clinic in Miami, Florida.

    Initial despair with the news of the cancer turned into guarded optimism after the first operation and quickly manifested into a strong conviction amongst the public opinion and Christodoulos' close associates that the Archbishop was on the road to a full recovery with a pending a liver transplant in America.

    Christodoulos departed Greece on Aug. 18 aboard a state executive jet, headed for Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Greek-American transplant specialist Andreas Jackis waited.

    Fifty days later Christodoulos is quickly prepared for surgery when a donor match is found, only to be whisked from the operating theatre without the hoped-for procedure taking place - a dejected Jackis merely announces to waiting cameras that the liver cancer has spread, making the transplant impossible.

    The inevitable occurs on the last Monday of January 2008, a chilly morning in the Greek capital and several months after the initial diagnosis.

    Holy Synod sets date for electing new Archbishop

    In a related development, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece held a lengthy meeting on Monday following the death of Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos earlier in the morning, as a date for electing a new Archbishop was given.

    The session, which ended late in the afternoon, discussed details of the four-day mourning period. The funeral will be held on Thursday at 10 a.m.

    Christodoulos will be buried at the Athens 1st Cemetery immediately after the funeral procession, while the Holy Synod requested that those wanting to send a wreath instead make a donation to a charity of their choice.

    Thessaloniki Metropolitan Anthimos announced that the election of a new Archbishop will be held on Feb. 7 at the Athens Metropolitan Cathedral.

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