Greek Orthodox Church leader dies

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The leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, who eased centuries of tension with the Vatican but angered liberal critics, has died of cancer, aged 69.

Greece's Interior Ministry announced four days of national mourning and said Archbishop Christodoulos would be buried on Thursday with full state honours. As flags flew at half-mast across the country, the archbishop's coffin was taken to the cathedral in Athens, where his body will lie in state. Hundreds of people began gathering outside to pay their respects. Archbishop Christodoulos, who headed the church for a decade, was first taken to hospital in Athens in June before being diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine.

He was credited with reinvigorating the vast institution that represents 97 per cent of Greece's native-born population. In 2001, Archbishop Christodoulos received John Paul II, the first pope to visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years. He also criticised liberals, accusing them of trying to water down Greece's strong Orthodox heritage.

It is unclear who will succeed him. The Holy Synod must decide on a date for elections within 20 days.