Relations between the Greek Orthodox Church and the state are becoming more precarious after the former decided on Tuesday evening to change the venue for the celebration of the Feast of Orthodoxy from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, where it has been traditionally hosted, to Petraki Monastery, a move considered by many as a reaction by the Church to the recent approval by the Greek Parliament of the same-sex marriage bill.

The change of venue to the Monastery of Petraki effectively means politicians, including the President of the Greek Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who had traditionally taken part in one of the Greek Orthodox Church’s most revered feasts and co-recited the Creed of Faith with the Archbishop, would be unable to attend.

Although the Permanent Holy Synod did not explicitly divulge the reasons behind the decision, it announced that the celebration would not take place at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, according to convention, but at the Church of the Holy Monastery of Asomaton Petraki, also in Athens, thus “blocking” the attendance of political leadership, as the liturgy at the Monastery is not subject to protocol, and the Permanent Holy Synod would not send out invitations to state and political leadership.

Despite the decision by the Permanent Holy Synod, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou responded by issuing a statement stressing that the Hierarchy of the Church was always welcomed at the Presidential Palace for a customary dinner on the occasion of the Feast of Orthodoxy, adding, however, that it was at their discretion to attend or not, and their decision would be respected.

As announced by the presidency of the Republic, “The President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou sent invitations yesterday, March 4, to the President of the Permanent Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Ieronymos II, and the Members of the Synod, for the customary meal she hosts in their honor at the Presidential Palace, on the occasion of the Celebration of Orthodoxy. The President and the Members of the Permanent Holy Synod are always welcome at the Presidential Palace; however, their decision regarding whether to accept the invitation is respected.”

The Feast of Orthodoxy or “Sunday of Orthodoxy”, celebrated on March 24 this year, is the first Sunday of Great Lent. The theme of the celebration since 843 AD has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, this Sunday has been commemorated as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

The co-celebration has been considered a longstanding show of harmonious relations between the political and religious leadership of the country.