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Saturday, May 9, 1998 Published at 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK


New Greek Orthodox archbishop enthroned
image: [ Priests watch the enthronement speech of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens on a video wall ]
Priests watch the enthronement speech of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens on a video wall

The newly elected leader of the Greek Orthodox Church has been officially enthroned in an elaborate ceremony full of Byzantine pomp and circumstance. The new archbishop promised to make the improvement of relations with other churches within the Orthodox communion a top priority. Thousands of Greeks lined the streets outside Athens cathedral to listen to their first democratically elected spiritual leader - even though Greece's head of state and prime minister chose to stay away. Helena Smith reports from Athens:

[ image: Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens prepares to give his enthronement address]
Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens prepares to give his enthronement address
Orthodox patriarchs from around the world packed the Greek capital's ornate cathedral to watch Archbishop Christodoulos being officially enthroned. In a ceremony high on Byzantine tradition, each and every one of them praised the bearded leader amid rapturous applause and the pealing of church bells across Athens.

At age 59, Christodoulos is the youngest archbishop to head the Greek Church, one of the most powerful in the Orthodox canon. He is also the first cleric to be democratically elected to the post, following the death of Archbishop Seraphim last month.

In a long and impassioned speech, the new leader wasted no time in displaying his reformist zeal, saying he would not only seek to modernise the Church, but improve often strained relations with its Orthodox counterparts.

The archbishop also expressed his concern about growing racism in Greece and warned against the discrimination of non-Orthodox religious minorities in the country.

Since his election, human rights groups in Athens have been quick to criticise Christodoulos's nationalist stance towards Catholics, Jews, Muslims and other minorities in Greece.

The prelate has also been fiercely attacked for his outspoken views on Europe, not least his criticism of the Socialist government's desire to adhere to European Union directives.

In recent weeks, numerous members of the governing Pasok Party have said the state should loosen its historically close ties with the Church if it is to keep abreast with the times.

In a clear reflection of those tensions, both President Konstandinos Stephanopoulos and Prime Minister Konstandinos Simitis stayed away from the Archbishop's investiture, igniting yet more controversy in the process.

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