FaithWorld

Athens debt crisis taxes cosy ties between state and Greek Orthodox Church

(Greek orthodox priests hold a Greek flag in a protest in front of the parliament house during a rally in Athens, February 6, 2011/John Kolesidis )

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.

More than 100,000 people have joined a Greek Facebook page “Tax The Church”, and 29,000 have so far signed an online petition urging the state to harness “the huge fortune of churches” to reduce Greece’s crushing budget deficit. “The Church must pay its share of the tax burden,” said former finance minister Yannos Papantoniou. “It is totally unreasonable in this situation that they contribute so little.”

Church collection plates may go empty in U.S. as electronic giving rises

collectionBrie 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: Rev. Grainger Browning prays with offering donations at his feet during a Sunday service at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, March 28, 2010/Jonathan Ernst)

“You just kind of get over it … because you know you’ve donated,” said Hall, a communications manager for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. At the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, about half of the 1,600 congregants who give regular donations do so electronically, up from 20 percent four years ago.

Mob in Athens abuses Muslims as they celebrate Eid

athens 1 (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.

athens 2 (Photo: A Greek Orthodox priest (with beard in rear) sits outside a cafe with other Greek neighbours as Muslim immigrants pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Attiki square in Athens November 16, 2010/Yannis Behrakis)

Athens’ Muslim community is without an official mosque and prayers are usually held at cultural centres or community halls or private apartments around the city. The Muslim community in Greece is estimated at about 1 million, in a country where most people are Greek Orthodox Christians.

Turkey’s dwindling Christians fear end is approaching

turkey christian (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.

Heybeliada was home to a few thousand ethnic Greeks when he left, Zografos says. About 25 remain, part of a dwindling community of 2,500 Greeks in Istanbul, capital of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Art show in historic Istanbul Orthodox seminary stirs hope of reopening

halkiAn 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. (Photo: Empty classroom at Halki seminary, September 18, 2006/Tom Heneghan)

“Tracing Istanbul,” an exhibition of works by Greek artists inspired by the city, has filled the school’s evocative, abandoned classrooms with paintings and brought life back to the corridors.

Greek faithful return to pray in ancient Turkish homeland

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew leads prayers at St Theodore in central Turkey on June 27/Photo by Simon Johns

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. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at St Theodore’s Church in Turkey, 27 June 2010/Simon Johns)

Bartholomew of Constantinople faced the altar flanked by three crowns: Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece and Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations. Hilarion has been a key player in a rapprochement between the Churches of Moscow and Istanbul. Bartholomew said Hilarion came on a pilgrimage to Cappadocia.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Giving no quarter, Jerusalem’s Armenians keep flame alive

armenianThe 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.

For a look at the issues, you can read our story and the accompanying factbox.

The Church itself, proud of a tradition that it was an Armenian king in 301 who first adopted Christianity as a state religion (some years before the Roman Empire), is  a solid fixture of Christian Jerusalem. The small ethnic Armenian lay community around it feels less sure of its future.

Greek Orthodox Church gears up to provide relief for crisis victims

greek protest

Trade union members march in Athens during a nationwide strike in Greece, May 5, 2010Yiorgos Karahalis

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.

Greece plans draconian budget cuts to tackle a debt crisis threatening to spread across Europe. Some 50,000 Greeks marched against the austerity programme in Athens on Wednesday in a protest that saw three people killed in a fire-bombed bank.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo 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.

But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.

Vandal desecrates Cypriot bishops’ tombs

graves

Cyprus police look for clues after a vandalism attack on the tombs of three archbishops in Nicosia 21 March 2010/Andreas Manolis

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.

They also said skeletal remains had disappeared from one of the tombs, but that the remains from another, briefly thought to have been taken, had in fact been re-buried elsewhere years ago.  The suspect, who had not been charged, was arrested after turning up at a police station with a bag of human excrement, which he threw at police officers. He denied removing any human remains from the tombs.