Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the head of the influential Autocephalous Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, on Tuesday announced a more-or-less unexpected agreement, which both men called "historic", to revise church-state relations in the country, where the Eastern Orthodox Church is the dominant faith and intricately woven into society and national heritage.
According to statements after a meeting between the two men at the Maximos Mansion government house, the Church's clergymen will cease receiving a monthly civil servants-like salary, whereas the state assume an obligation to pay the Church an annual "subsidy". The subsidy, in this case, will equal the current annual payroll costs allocated for Orthodox clergymen in the country and also take into account future cost-of-living rates - with the first criticism of the proposal referring to "accounting semantics".
Taking clergymen off the state's payroll, and instead giving the powerful Church of Greece an annual sum, comes with the recognition, on the state's part, that a portion of the latter's extensive estate and holddings were appropriated by the Greek state in 1939 at below market values.
Other Church assets will be jointly exploited by an investment and management fund to be set up for the purpose, and with equal rights by both sides in selecting the the fund's five board members.
In another compromise, the Tsipras government's constitutional revision proposal to declare the state's "neutrality" vis-a-vis religion, in article III, was accompanied by a pledge by Tsipras that the revised language in the constitutional article, if ratified by Parliament, will not in any way clash with the "age-old traditions of our people".
"After 79 years the issue of the Church's estate is resolved ... the state recognizes that it assumed the clergy's payroll in exchange for the (Church) estates that it acquired (in 1939)," Tsipras said afterwards.
"We thank you because you were a factor of change at this historic moment, in this great event for which the Church feels not that it is becoming wealthier, it's not interested in this, but that it becomes more functional in fulfilling its visions," Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos said with the Greek premier by his side.