ATHENS (National Post) – Close links between the Greek state and the Orthodox Church are turning from a blessing for the clergy into a curse as the debt-laden government struggles to fund the ancient institution, just as impoverished Greeks need its charitable work most.Complete article here.
Starved of money as the state makes huge spending cuts, the deeply conservative church which grew from one of the earliest centres of Christianity is seeking new sources of funds.
But despite a new spirit of enterprise, such as at one monastery which wants to build a solar energy farm, numbers of priests are dwindling, those that remain are suffering pay cuts, and the church is fighting to keep soup kitchens open as unemployment soars and poverty deepens.
“The tills are empty and the system is collapsing,” said Ignatios Stavropoulos, a modernizing priest who has his own page on LinkedIn, a social website for professionals.
Under a 60-year-old treaty, the state agreed to pay priests’ salaries in exchange for large amount of church property, including land. But this means more than 10,000 priests are now on the government payroll, putting a 190 million euro (US$250-million) annual burden on the country’s overstretched budget.
Under the terms of an international bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy, the government is cutting pay which for a typical parish priest is about 1,000 euros a month. Athens will also fund only one new priest to replace every 10 who retire or die, causing shortages in remote parishes during a deep recession when the flock most needs help.
In the cities, the church has stripped operations to the bone to save money for the soup kitchens and charities it runs for the growing army of the homeless and the unemployed.
Unlike in some European nations to the north where the influence of religion is dwindling, the church plays a leading role in the life of the Greece.
Long-bearded priests, dressed in flowing black robes, are a common sight on the country’s streets and the Orthodox faith is recognized by the constitution as the official religion. When a new government was sworn in last year, the Archbishop of Athens blessed the prime minister and cabinet in a colourful ceremony...