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Greece threatened with Russia lifting “guarantees of non-occupation” for recognizing Ukrainian Church

Ierōnymos II, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. Source:
Greece threatened with Russia lifting “guarantees of non-occupation” for recognizing Ukrainian Church
Edited by: Vidan Clube
On 10 December 2019, president of the right-wing populist Independent Greeks party (ANEL) and former Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, slammed the hierarchy of the Church of Greece, led by Archbishop Ierōnymos II. He described them as “criminals” for their decision to recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) which he labels as “illegal.”

Moreover, Kammenos publicly admitted that he exerted pressure on the Greek Church, threatening church leaders that “Russia would terminate the guarantees on non-occupation of any Greek island,” in the event they recognize the OCU.

The Standing Synod (Council) of the Church of Greece, consisting of 12 bishops under the presidency of the archbishop, recognized the autocephaly or independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, at the end of August 2019. Six weeks later, on 12 October, the decision was approved by the extraordinary convocation of the Holy Synod of Bishops — the assembly representing all 81 Greek ecclesiastical districts or eparchies.

Read also: Greek Orthodox Church becomes first to affirm newly-independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine

Such threats by the former defense minister once again show that issues involving the Orthodox church go far beyond the field of religion — Russia clearly regards the church as one of its geopolitical levers.

Greek islands in the Aegean Sea

On 10 December, speaking at an event on geopolitical developments in the eastern Mediterranean region organized by the “National Reconstruction” Institute for Geopolitical Studies, Kammenos made extremely controversial statements, as recorded by the Greek news agency Romfea and the Orthodox Times:

“Russia would terminate the guarantees on non-occupation of any Greek island [in the Aegean Sea by Türkiye] based on the accords concluded with Russia.” Kammenos did not stop there.

“If anything happens in the next few months, the Holy Synod [of the Greek Orthodox Church] will hold all responsibility for the termination of guarantees granted by Russia, due to the recognition of the illegal Church of Ukraine.”

The decision made to be liked by the Phanar and to give in to the pressure from some American circles has put Russia against us. So they hold full responsibility for whatever happens from now on because everyone has been warned, and I wanted to take it publicly because I cannot hide this fact from the Greek people.”

The Phanar is the place of residence of “first among equals,” Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. He decreed on 5 January 2019 to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was finally supported by the Church of Greece a year later, on 12 November 2019.

In 2013, Greek public opinion favored Russia, with 63% of respondents seeing it positive and only 33% not positive (Pew Research Center survey.) In 2018 — four years into the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine — according to another Pew poll, the public support of Russia had dropped. However, it continued to hold a majority, with 52% against a negative view and 43% for. In both polls, Greece was the only country among 10-11 of polled EU members, where the positive attitude toward Russia prevailed. In effect, according to respondents, Greeks regard Russia as an ally.

Pressure on the church

Kammenos did not just threaten a Turkish invasion of the Greek Aegean islands, as a result of the church opposing the demands of Russia. He also admitted, on the eve of the October 2019 Synod that he exerted pressure on the Greek Church leadership. According to the Orthodox Times, online news outlet, he “personally warned the Archbishop.” The outlet has suggested that this was the first time a Greek politician outwardly acknowledged his attempt to influence the decisions of the Holy Synod.

Meanwhile, during the debate of the Greek Church’s Holy Synod of Bishops on the issue of the recognition of the OCU, more than 35 Metropolitans (high-level ecclesiastical leaders) declared that the Russian Orthodox Church pressured them to vote against the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church.

What is the threat about?

Discovering the agreements between Russia and Greece, Euromaidan Press was unable to find any security guarantees for Greece that had been openly declared by Russia.

However, the Cerkvarium project, run by the Ukrainian NGO Religious Security Center, states that the former Defense Minister of Greece has de-facto acknowledged that Russia included the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Russia’s secure package of geopolitical arrangements with Greece. Thus, Greece’s failure to comply with this “church” clause could lead to Russia’s direct pressure on Türkiye to open a corridor for Syrian refugees to Europe through Greece.

The flow of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern and Asian countries to Europe moves via Türkiye, with Greece lying along the way. In 2016, the EU and Türkiye reached an agreement aimed at stopping the influx of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. Under the agreement, all new refugees arriving from Türkiye to the Greek islands should be returned to Türkiye, while the EU disburses €6 billion ($6.7 billion) for the Facility for Refugees in Türkiye.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly issued his threat to “open the gates” to Europe for the refugees, if the EU doesn’t provide additional support for them. Türkiye hosts about 3.6 million registered Syrian nationals.

Moreover, Türkiye does not recognize Greek sovereignty over a number of small islets in the Aegean Sea.

Recognition of the Ukrainian church

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine was instituted at the Unification Council in Kyiv on 15 December 2018 — uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, as well as a segment of the Ukrainian branch of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) (also known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate).

The OCU has been recognized by two of four ancient patriarchates — the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and by the  Church of Greece.

Read also: A short history of the Ukrainian Church: infographic

Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church claims Ukraine to be its exceptional canonical territory. Thus, two of five so-called junior patriarchates — the Russian and the ROC’s ally Serbian — have not recognized the OCU’s autocephaly.

Most of the other 11 autocephalous Orthodox churches are still considering the recognition of the Church of Ukraine. Some of them have postponed their decision for the future.

Read more:

Edited by: Vidan Clube
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