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Greeks flock to mourn church head
People pay their last respects to Archbishop Christodoulos in Athens' cathedral on 29 January
Archbishop Christodoulos was a popular public figure in Greece
Thousands of mourners have lined the streets of Athens for the funeral of Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The archbishop died on Monday, aged 69, after suffering from cancer.

The funeral, with full state honours, comes after four days of official mourning across the country.

Thousands of people have already paid their last respects to the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, whose body lay in state at Athens' cathedral.

Guard of honour

The spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, led the funeral service at Athens' main cathedral.

He safeguarded our faith and our Greekness
Spyridon Georgantis, mourner

It was also attended by other senior Orthodox officials, Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. A delegation from the Vatican was also present.

Outside the cathedral, thousands of mourners waited as the funeral cortege wound its way to Athens' cemetery.

The archbishop's open coffin was carried on a gun carriage, accompanied by priests, government officials and a large military guard of honour.

"I cried when he died and I am crying today, mourning the loss of our spiritual father," Spyridon Georgantis was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"He safeguarded our faith and our Greekness," he said.

Schools, courts and public services were closed on Thursday.

Aborted surgery

Archbishop Christodoulos was a colourful and controversial figure, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Greece.

Archbishop Christodoulos and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2006
Archbishop Christodoulos paid a historic visit to the Vatican in 2006

He defended the Church's pre-eminent role in the state and upheld Hellenism - the national character and culture of Greece, our correspondent says.

But critics said that under Archbishop Christodoulos, Greece remained a country which discriminated against those who were not Orthodox, including Catholics and worshippers of other branches of Christianity.

The archbishop was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine in 2007.

He was treated in the US for 10 weeks, but a liver transplant operation last October was aborted as the cancer had spread.

He died at his Athens home on Monday morning. Church officials said he had refused hospital treatment in the final weeks of his life.

The Holy Synod, the church's top decision-making body, has now less than 20 days in which to elect the archbishop's successor.

Controversial remarks

Elected as church leader in 1998, Archbishop Christodoulos was known as a fierce and outspoken defender of Greece and the role of the Orthodox Church within it, our correspondent says.

The archbishop once said that when ancient Greeks were creating the lights of civilisation, Europeans were living in trees.

He said Greeks lived in paradise compared to other Europeans because they had a strong faith, built churches, followed traditions and resisted globalisation.

Archbishop Christodoulos opposed Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, describing the Turks as barbarians.

The archbishop clashed with the Greek government when the authorities wanted to remove religious status from identity cards.

"They are trying to take away our society's Christian and Orthodox identity, using various groundless arguments, because they hate God and want to marginalise the Church," he said.

SEE ALSO
Greek Orthodox church head dies
28 Jan 08 |  Europe

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