ATHENS (Reuters)–The head of the Church of Greece on Thursday called neighboring Turks "barbarians" who had no place in the predominantly Christian European Union.
Controversial Archbishop Christodoulos–who has in the past clashed with the Greek government over its improved ties with arch-rival Turkey–said in a sermon in Athens the mainly Muslim nation’s ambition to join the 15-nation bloc was unacceptable.
"They [Turkey] want to join the European Union. No barbarian can come into the family of Christians," he told a packed church in the capital of the overwhelmingly Christian Orthodox nation.
"We cannot live together. It is not out of malice but out of consistency," said Christodoulos–who is widely popular among Greeks. "Diplomacy is good but we cannot forget our history."
He was speaking at a sermon dedicated to Serafim–a Greek who was sanctified after he was killed by the Ottomans four centuries ago for preaching the Orthodox faith.
"He was skewered by them. Now they want to join the European Union," Christodoulos said.
Turkey is eager to join the EU and Brussels has said it will decide on a date for the start of entry negotiations in late 2004–after 10 new–mainly eastern European–members join.
Greece was under Ottoman rule for about 500 years until the late 19th century. Since then the two countries have come to the brink of war several times over territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea and the divided island of Cyprus.
The two NATO allies almost went to war as recently as 1996 over an uninhabited rocky islet in the southeastern Aegean.
But relations have thawed since 1999 when earthquakes hit both countries and Athens has been a key supporter of Ankara’s efforts to join the EU.
Commenting on Christodoulos’ remarks Church spokesman Father Epifanios said: "His views are not unknown. They are the position of the Archbishop–the leader of the Church of Greece."
Christodoulos angered Muslim organizations earlier this year when he unsuccessfully lobbied for a reference on Europe’s Christian origins in the new European draft constitution.