A Greek priest who allegedly used drugs and hid cocaine beneath his cassock is accused of flinging acid in the faces of bishops during a disciplinary hearing for drug abuse in Athens.

The priest had allegedly been found to have been in possession of 1.8 grams of cocaine that he had hidden under his cassock “in the area of his genitals”, according to Greek press reports.

The 37-year-old cleric, who has been named by local media as Theofylaktos Komvos, was on Wednesday hauled before a panel of bishops from the Greek Orthodox Church. 

They reportedly told him that he was to be defrocked for possession of cocaine in an incident which dates back to 2018.

But he allegedly pulled out a plastic bottle and hurled acid in their faces. He was arrested and detained for questioning.

Seven bishops were injured by the acid, as well a police officer and two lawyers who were at the hearing. They were treated for burns to their faces and hands.

Police officers at the entrance to Petraki Monastery after the alleged acid attack

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Three of the bishops were in a serious condition, according to the Greek health minister. At least one might need to undergo plastic surgery and others have damage to their eyes.

Photographs of the scene of the attack, shown on Greek television, showed bloodstains and acid burns on the walls of the room where the hearing was held and on desks where the bishops had been seated.

Black robes that the bishops had thrown off also had bloodstains and burn holes.

The clergymen who were injured were identified by police as bishops Antonios of Glyfada, Kyrillos of Kifissia, Kallinikos of Arta, Nikodimos of Kassandra, Dionysios IV of Zakynthos, Dimitrios of Goumenissis, and Andreas of Dryinoupolis.     

Bishop Antonios of Glyfada said they initially thought the liquid being thrown at them was water or possibly olive oil.

“But then we felt our faces burning and I felt a burning sensation in my throat. I realised it was something caustic. We ran to pour water on our faces. No one expected such a thing.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister, said he was shocked by the attack. He promised that the government “will offer all possible medical assistance for the victims’ speedy recovery”.

The attack was condemned by Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Greece’s president. “I express my abhorrence at this unprecedented event," she wrote on Twitter.

Acid marks on benches inside the chamber of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Athens

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Archbishop Ieronymos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, said he was "deeply saddened" by the attack but relieved that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The priest had been making vague threats on Facebook for several weeks, one Greek newspaper said.

He had written “I will not speak with words but with deeds” and warned that “the whole church will be shaken” by what he intended to do, according to Dimokratia.

The priest was undergoing psychiatric evaluation on Thursday while police considered what charges to bring against him.

“The suspect … is a psychiatric patient who is taking strong medication,” said Andreas Theodoropoulos, his lawyer.

“He did not fully comprehend the consequences of his action … but was responding to a perceived injustice.”

Orthodox priests in Petraki Monastery in Athens after the attack

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The priest reportedly told the police that he had bought the acid online. He had served as priest in the town of Veria in northern Greece, where he was reported to have threatened the clergyman who replaced him.

The attack happened in Petraki Monastery in Athens, which is the headquarters of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church.