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Citing constitution, Archbishop insists on mandatory religious education

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Alexis Tsipras' SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government is in the midst of its first clash with the powerful Orthodox Church of Greece over plans announced by Deputy Education Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou to make religious instruction optional and not mandatory as it is now.

Archbishop Ieronymos is scheduled to meet the newly appointed education minister, Nikos Filis, on Tuesday September 29.

Filis, who as most in SYRIZA is a proponent of the separation of church and state, had drawn the ire of some bishops when he complained months ago that the church is profiting financially from the trade in the veneration of saints' relics.

Until now, Ieronymos and Tsipras have had extremely cordial relations, and both sides have stressed the importance of church-state cooperation on crucial charitable efforts like soup kitchens and other initiatives to relieve the poor.

Ieronymos already revealed his anger in televised remarks while on a trip to Sidirokastro, in northern Greece.

"This is not an act of the ministry, but of a certain lady who has certain ideas in her mind," Ieronymos said of Anagnostopoulou, essentially implying that the deputy education minister lacks the authority to abolish the mandatory nature of religious instruction.

Ieronymos' main argument is that mandatory religious instruction in state schools is protected by the constitution. "Only the constitution is the competent authority on this matter, and Greeks must at long last become serious and not listen to silly things from one person or another," he said.

"The constitution determines what is the path of this state, and the constitution says that our educational system must provide national, Christian, Hellenic Christian education. People cannot say whatever they like. If we want to change these things, one must first amend the constitution, but it will not happen with merely a word – it has to pass first in our hearts and in the hearts of the Greek people," Ieronymos declared calmly.

"If they do not want priests and bishops – if they don't want all of this culture from our history, the Greek people will decide, and if they decide on revising the constitution in this way, then we can talk about it," Ieronymos said.