Greece is bankrupt, on its economic knees, humiliated before the IMF default, now begging the ECB/Germany for palliative compassion. The Greeks are in turmoil; some queuing patiently to withdraw their rationed euros from the sinking banks; others rioting and looting to put daily daktyla on the table. From Athens to Thessaloniki, from Philippi to Corinth, the people are marching against austerity, oppression and perpetual poverty. St Paul’s mission was no more desperate and no less zealous. National salvation is still and all.
You might think, as the Greeks wallow in their misery, that the State Church would side with the unemployed, homeless, sick and dispossessed, and urge people to vote ‘Oxi’ against austerity. After all, that’s the position of the State Church in England, not to mention the Roman Catholic Church, whose bishops are ecumenically ranged against the fanatical Iain Duncan Smith and his ideological crusade to kill off as many benefit claimants as possible just to reduce the deficit. But no, when it comes to ‘Europe’, the Greek Orthodox Church stands foursquare with the episcopal hierarchies of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church – namely that the EU is essential, and the euro indispensable. The cultic ideology of euro-nationalism trumps worklessness, heart attacks and starvation.
Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki preached to the assembled congregation at the Church St Paul in Thessaloniki that they had every right to vote as they wished (which was a gracious admission), but that he personally would “vote for Europe”.
“Vote whatever you like, that is your absolute right, but this time I too have the right to make a confession: I will vote for Europe.”
Of course, when God’s representative on earth tells the faithful that they are free to vote ‘No’ but that he (in all his holiness and discernment of divinity) will vote ‘Yes’, there is the very subtle (or not so subtle) inference that those who vote ‘No’ are supping with the devil of ‘right-wing xenophobia’. Unsurprisingly, the congregation was divided on the matter: some applauded the sermon, while others were aghast that the Lord’s Orthodox shepherd would sacrifice his Greek lambs on the altar of Euro-Mammon. Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki was forced to abandon his sermon and pray that God’s will be done (ie that the people will follow his pious example and “vote for Europe”).
Meanwhile in Athens, Archbishop Ieronymos II also called for a ‘Yes’ vote. In an official statement, he wrote:
We have to promise our children a Greece of growth and progress. A Greece that will move on with self confidence and safety, flesh of the flesh of the hard core of the common European family.
..The times we are living in are maybe the most crucial ones for our Nation since after World War Two. It’s a time of responsibility for everyone. For every institution in the country, for the political parties, the church, for each and every Greek. We are all united by the love for our country. The anxiety for its present and its future. Nothing separates us. That is why we must not allow the poison of division contaminate our souls. It will be a crime burdening the next generations.
Does it not occur to Their Beatitudes and Eminences that the “hard core of the common European family” may be divided reasonably and justly along economic lines just as they are along ecclesial histories and theological traditions? If the churches of England, Rome and Greece may righteously fracture around questions of spiritual authority and fragment upon disputations of eternal salvation, why do church hierarchies obdurately buttress the political and economic union of Europe?
What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens?
University lecturer Dr Elizabeth Prodromou told HuffPost: “The Church of Greece sees Orthodoxy as part of the European fabric and history and understands Greece to be an important part of the European project.” As does the Church of England. As does the Church of Rome. Grexit is therefore as unthinkable to the Church as Brexit (though the former relates only to the euro; the latter to the whole EU project). What a shame that Church leaders appear incapable of discerning the difference between Europe and the EU. They are not synonymous: God made Europe and set historical nations apart; man made the European Union with a teleological trajectory toward political union. The Greek people – the demos – are irrelevant, almost expendable. For the oligarchs of Brussels, their demands for liberty are ‘extreme’, ‘xenophobic’ and ultimately invalid. These ‘little Greekers’ (has that yet been coined?) don’t know what’s good for them. They joined ‘Europe’ to end an interminable cycle of civil war, factionalism and economic dysentery.
Metropolitan Anthimos and Archbishop Ieronymos II know that the people are suffering – some 3,000 are estimated to have committed suicide as a result of this economic crisis – but still the Greek Orthodox Church wants more austerity. They could, of course, sell all their possessions and
pay back the IMF give it to the poor. According to the Greek Reporter:
The Church of Greece owns about 1,300,000 acres in land property, according to figures given by the Ministry of Agriculture in the past. It includes small islands and islets. The individual wealth of 2,500 monasteries cannot be measured. The Church also owns about 800 commercial buildings, such as hotels, office buildings and malls. Its liquidity is estimated at hundreds of millions of euros. It has also set up two limited liability corporations. The Church of Greece is also major shareholder in two Greek banks and in the past has lent to the Greek state at a 6 percent interest rate.
But no, it’s easier to believe that ‘Europe’ reconciles and the euro heals. God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth‘ (Acts 17:26). We can conveniently forget the bit about ‘the bounds of their habitation‘.