Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias and Athens University Medical School Professor of Epidemiology Sotiris Tsiodras met today with the 12-member Permanent Holy Synod to persuade the Orthodox Church of Greece to join the state’s massive vaccination push to build a wall of immunity by the end of August.

A statement issued by the Church after the meeting underlined that the Holy Synod (hierarchy of bishops) is exclusively responsible for determining the position of the church, a thinly veiled reference to the anti-vaccine and anti-mask position of a relatively small number of bishops and priests around the country.

It was decided at today’s meeting that the sole scientifically proven way [to contain the epidemic] is to freely be vaccinated and that all Metropolitan bishops and priests nationwide must read a statement (Synodal Encyclical) during Sunday services urging that all the faithful be vaccinated of their own volition.

It was also decided that only the spokesman of the Permanent Holy Synod, Metropolitan Athenagoras of Ilion, is authorised to speak on behalf of the Church.

Notably, informational pamphlets with questions and answers about COVID-19 and vaccines will be distributed in churches around the country.

Tsiodras: Constructive meeting

Professor Tsiodras, who is close to the Church as he serves as cantor an Athens area parish, described the meeting as constructive at a moment of rapid transmission of COVID-19 in society. He said it was useful to seek a supportive message from the hierarchy of bishops to the faithful, “with whom we are fellow-travelers in the quest for truth, and we hope through vaccination to return to normalcy”.

It is unclear whether opposed or reluctant clerics around the country will comply with the Synodal decision.

Archbishop Ieronymos: »A crucial meeting

Archbishop Ieronymos, who does not have direct authority over the country’s bishops as authority in the Orthodox Church is decentralised and bishops are masters in their own dioceses, said the Holy Synod’s meeting with Kikilias and Tsiodras was useful and crucial.

“We devoted some time to discuss these issues and arrive at decisions, both by our visitors and by the members of the Permanent Holy Synod, so as help in promoting the good of the people,” Ieronymos said after the meeting.

The archbishop, who was hospitalised with COVID-19 months ago and recovered, has supported vaccination almost from the start.
“The minister spoke to us about practical issues and shared his thoughts about the future course of and problems that arise from the pandemic. There were questions and answers and many positions were aired. The conclusion is that we all want the effort [to persuade people to be vaccinated] to continue as much as we can,” he noted.

It should be noted, however, that there was no mention, at least publicly, of compulsory vaccination of clerics.

“The Church is making these efforts through spiritual procedures, in a paternal manner and in line with the teaching of the Church Fathers, with the sole objective of managing all the bad results and problems posed by the pandemic.

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