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Leader of Greece's Orthodox Church dies at 69

Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, died Monday at his home of cancer, church officials said. He was 69.
Image: Archbishop Christodoulos
Archbishop Christodoulos, seen in an August 2007 photo.Petros Giannakouris / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, who eased centuries of tension with the Vatican but angered liberal critics who viewed him as an attention-seeking reactionary, died Monday at his home of cancer, church officials said. He was 69.

Regularly named Greece's most popular public figure in opinion polls, Christodoulos headed the church for a decade and reached out to opponents during his illness.

He was first hospitalized in Athens in June before being diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine. He spent 10 weeks in a U.S. hospital in Miami, but an October liver transplant operation was aborted when doctors discovered the cancer had spread.

He refused hospital treatment in the final weeks of his life. Church officials said he died at around 6 a.m. in his home in the Athens suburb of Psyhico.

Christodoulos was elected church leader in 1998 and was credited with reinvorgating the vast institution that represents 97 percent of Greece's native-born population. He helped create church Web sites and radio stations, and frequently issued detailed checklists on how black-clad Orthodox priests should conduct themselves in public.

He made frequent televised appearances to weigh in on a variety of issues — in equal measure delighting the religious right and infuriating liberal and left-wing opponents.

In 2001, Christodoulos received the late John Paul II — the first Roman Catholic pope to visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years. They held the landmark meeting in Athens despite vigorous protests from Orthodox zealots.

The archbishop followed up in 2006 with an historic visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue and stating opposition to abortion and euthanasia.