ATHENS, Greece, JAN. 11, 2002 ( Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek-Orthodox Church, declined a papal invitation to visit the Vatican -- a chance to reciprocate for John Paul II´s trip to Greece last May.

The decision to decline the invitation, communicated informally to the nuncio in Greece in December, was formally made Wednesday by the Holy Synod, the collegial body that directs the Greek Church, a source in Greece explained.

The metropolitans decided that, "despite the improvement of the climate" with the Vatican following John Paul II´s visit last May, such a trip would be "premature," the source said.

For his part, Archbishop Christodoulos, who is in favor of visiting Rome, has bowed to the synod´s decision.

The Greek Church, among the most conservative in the Orthodox world, had moderated its traditional anti-papal attitude following John Paul II´s striking request for forgiveness in Athens for Rome´s faults against the Orthodox.

Given the Orthodox hierarchy´s resistance, John Paul II, who was invited by Costis Stephanopoulos, the head of state, stayed in Greece only 24 hours as a "simple pilgrim."