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Greek bishops reprimanded over resistance to Covid vaccinations

10 September 2021


An Orthodox anti-vaccine protest outside the parliament building in Athens, at the end of last month

An Orthodox anti-vaccine protest outside the parliament building in Athens, at the end of last month

THE Greek Orthodox Church has reprimanded two of its bishops for inciting resistance to Covid vaccinations, as a government official said that jabs could soon be made compulsory for all clergy.

“These hierarchs were asked to explain their letters and actions, which showed disobedience and disrespect for unanimous decisions by our Church’s collective governing body,” the Athens-based Holy Synod said in a statement.

“Their explanations were considered insufficient; so they were asked to update the promises made during their episcopal ordinations and provide assurances about their compliance.”

Greek media reported that measures had been taken against Metropolitans Cosmas Papachristos of Aitolia and Seraphim Stergioulas of Kythira for criticising and violating Covid-19 safety rules ordered by the government of the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Metropolitan Papachristos had condemned the wearing of face coverings during services, saying that God would never allow Christians to become infected in church. His counterpart in Kythira had also urged citizens not to accept vaccines, and was held in custody last year after contravening lockdown orders on the holding of services.

Metropolitan Seraphim, 70, defended his actions, however, and insisted that regulations by the government had “blatantly violated” the constitutional right to “unfettered divine worship”.

“My pastoral duty is to keep my flock responsibly informed to avoid scandals of conscience,” Metropolitan Seraphim said in a statement at the weekend.

“I had no intention of showing disobedience to our Church’s synodal administration, or undermining health authority efforts. But it is hard for a high priest of God to sign up a priori to a lifelong absolute compliance with all synodal decisions without distinction.”

Orthodox churches in Europe have faced particular difficulties with lockdown restrictions because of a traditional emphasis on eucharistic community. There has been widespread resistance to the ban on summoning the faithful to the liturgy.

In July, the Greek Synod said that hopes had risen for a return to “unhindered participation in the Church’s divine mysteries” if “appropriate solutions” were observed, and urged Christians to ignore social-media posts “lacking scientificity and ecclesiastical spirit”.

The government’s spokesman, Giannis Oikonomou, praised the Church’s “valuable contribution to rational thinking” about Covid-19 in a TV interview on Tuesday, but said that consideration was now being given to making vaccination obligatory for priests and teachers.

“The Church has stood up to challenges and issues posed by the pandemic in a very responsible way,” Mr Oikonomou said. “Its leaders have already played a catalytic role in ensuring the overwhelming majority of priests and church officials are vaccinated.”

In an interview on the Orthodox website Romfea on Sunday, Metropolitan Ignatios Georgakopoulos of Demetrias said that he preferred “persuasion to compulsion”, and was against “any external authority imposing vaccinations”, but believed that “the right to refuse the vaccine stops when everyone else’s right to health and life begins.”

Speaking last week, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, praised Orthodox leaders for “dealing with problems arising from the law without deviating from the established faith”, but said that it was also “ultimately for the legal order to make critical decisions on necessary measures for dealing with the pandemic. . .

“We are confronted with interpretations, teachings and proclamations by certain clergy and laity, who have not faced this crisis with sobriety, wisdom and knowledge. It’s with great sadness that we see the crisis being exploited for demagogic populism, conspiracy theories, religious and metaphysical tendencies, creating great problems for the flock.”

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