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Orthodox Church split with Greece

InternationalThe spiritual leader of the world\'s Orthodox Christians has suspended relations with the head of Greece\'s Orthodox Church -- a move that could lead to severed ties between the two churches.

The decision by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I followed a dispute over control of dioceses in northern Greece with Greek church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos.

The patriarch made the announcement after a meeting of 41 international bishops -- including Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America -- to assert his authority.

\"We have exhausted all our efforts for peace and unity,\" Bartholomew said. \"So today we have taken this unanimous decision with pain in our souls.\"

Bartholomew, a Turkish citizen, is the spiritual leader of about 300 million Orthodox Christians.

He directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

He is also considered the head of 14 autonomous Orthodox churches, including those of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Russia and Serbia.

Christodoulos has disputed Bartholomew\'s control over more than 30 dioceses in northern Greece and on Aegean Sea islands.

The spat flared this week when Christodoulos appointed three metropolitan bishops without Bartholomew\'s approval.

Bartholomew can\'t dismiss the archbishop, but can attempt to isolate him abroad and within the Greek church.

In Greece, a shaken Christodoulos described the patriarch\'s move as an \"unjust decision.\"

\"Our actions have been in accordance with 75 years of peaceful practice -- nothing more, nothing less,\" he said with a shaky voice.

\"Depite my personal bitterness ... the Church of Greece will continue to support the Ecumenical Patriarchate just as it always has.\"

Christodoulos did not make clear if he would give in to Bartholomew, who threatened Friday to scrap a 1928 agreement with Greece and the Greek church, and take direct control of the disputed diocese.

The warning was seen in Athens as a threat to effectively break off ties between the two churches.

\"We cannot communicate with a brother who only in words respects the mother church,\" he said.

\"The mother church gave the Church of Greece ... its house to look after, and now (Christodoulos) says the house should belong to him because many years have passed.\"

A lengthy statement read out after Friday\'s meeting said Bartholomew did not recognize the election of the three bishops and called on them not to take up their new positions.

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