Reuters blog archive
The Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone except the state, employs thousands on the public payroll, has a stake in the nation's biggest bank, but campaigners say its tax payments are derisory. The Church vehemently denies accusations it is one of Greece's biggest tax dodgers and says it is playing a vital social, economic and spiritual role in this time of hardship.
With the third year of recession tormenting Greece's 11 million people, the Church has provided solace, comfort and nourishment but activists say it's now time to dig deep into its coffers to help with the bailout.
The Greek Orthodox Church has long enjoyed a privileged, some would say cosy, status when it comes to taxes in a country where it is responsible for the sole official religion, with one critic calling its complex finances at best opaque. But the sovereign debt crisis that has rocked the Greek state, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and forced painful cuts in salaries, pensions and benefits, has raised fresh questions about the Church's tax position.
Brie Hall felt awkward the first few times she passed the collection basket at her Catholic church without tossing in a donation envelope. But it is more convenient to give her gift to God by direct debit from her checking account.
The tradition of passing the church plate in U.S. churches might become a relic of the past, as a majority of Americans pay bills electronically and move away from using cash or writing checks. Despite concerns about commercializing something so personal, electronic giving to churches is growing.
(Photo: Muslim immigrants pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations in front of Athens university November 16, 2010/Yannis Behrakis)
Dozens of far-right activists and local residents threw eggs and taunted hundreds of Muslim immigrants as they gathered to pray in a central square for Eid al-Adha surrounded by a protective cordon of riot police.
Greece, which has become the main immigrant gateway to the European Union, has a growing Muslim community and tensions between locals and incomers have run high in some Athens areas such as Attiki square, the scene of Tuesday's incident.
(Photo: Andreas Zografos at St Nicholas Church in Heybeliada island near Istanbul October 10, 2010/Osman Orsal)
Andreas Zografos left Turkey in 1974 amid economic and political turmoil to find work in Europe, but he always knew he would return home. "The ties of this land are strong. I was drawn back by the blue of the sea, the colour of the sky," he says.
A Greek Orthodox Christian, Zografos, 63, and his wife today tend to the 19th-century St Nicholas Church, where his grandfather painted vibrant icons, on Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, an island off the Istanbul coast.
An Istanbul seminary closed in 1971 is hosting its first public event in 40 years, raising hopes it may shortly be reopened by Turkey and once again educate priests for the Greek Orthodox community.
The European Union and the United States have pressed EU membership hopeful Turkey to reopen the historic school, which occupies a beautiful and commanding site at the top of the island of Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, off the Istanbul shoreline.
About 1,000 Greek Orthodox gathered in central Turkey this weekend for a pair of emotional liturgies led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the Greek faithful seek to reclaim a cultural and religious link to their ancient homeland.
Elderly women wept as black-clad nuns and monks recited mournful chants on Sunday in the 19th-century St Theodore's Church in Derinkuyu, a sleepy hamlet Greeks once called Malakopi in the popular tourist region of Cappadocia. Most of the worshippers were the descendants of Greeks who were expelled from Turkey almost 90 years ago with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.
from AxisMundi Jerusalem:
The rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.
But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.
The Greek Orthodox Church is gearing up to provide relief supplies and psychological help when the country's financial crisis really hits ordinary people after the summer, a senior churchman has said.
from AxisMundi Jerusalem:
To spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.
For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel's hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.
Police in Cyprus arrested a Romanian man on Sunday on suspicion of desecrating the tombs of three archbishops and possibly taking remains from one of them. Police said the 34-year-old had confessed to removing marble slabs covering the graves of three leaders of the Cypriot Orthodox church from the late 19th and early 20th century.