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Church of Greece: Country ‘occupied’ by creditors

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With the country insolvent, and streets filled with violent protests, the Church of Greece is now pointing fingers at the country’s political leadership and international “creditors” (who have just ponied up another 2.5 billion euros for the bailout). Yet Greece, the Holy Synod says, is “under occupation” by lenders, who have moved in because the politicians “undermined the real interests of the country and its people.”

Here’s a report from the Athens Now site, which attributed the statement to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.

Our country seems to be no longer free but to be effectively ruled by its creditors,” said the sermon released by the Church’s ruling council for delivery by priests at services on Sunday. Many “expect the Church to talk loudly and clearly on what is happening.”

“What is happening to our fatherland is shocking and unprecedented. Along with the spiritual, social and financial crisis we see all kinds of overturning. It is an effort to destroy and uproot everything that we believed was a given in our country’s way of life … These measures are demanded by our lenders. It’s like we declare that we are a country under foreign occupation and we obey the orders of those in charge, our lenders”.

“The problematic ways of our society and economy that we violently seek to correct today, why haven’t we corrected in time? Why did it have to come to this? The political leadership has been the same for decades. How come they used to calculate the political cost of their acts and now feel like they don’t have to, since they follow orders?” the Holy Synod adds.

The Church says that the country’s leadership “in practice has undermined the real interests of the country and its people. And on the other hand, the people behaved irresponsibly and indulged in easy wealth, good life, easy profit and deception. We didn’t take stock of the truth of things.”

I haven’t seen the full text of the sermon/statement in English, but I hope the Church — officially the established church of the nation — accepts some responsibility itself. After all, it admits that the problem is, at its root, a spiritual crisis (see following report). True, and which institution is charged with the cultivation of the spirit? What’s more, the crisis didn’t happen overnight. Will the Synod now republish all of those statements it issued in years past warning its flock, as it is now saying, that “as a people we acted irresponsibly, giving ourselves over to affluence, comfortable living, easy profit and deception”? And did Church leaders truly practice the asceticism that they are now demanding of those in the pews?

What’s more, the Church has its own credibility issues, in light of past financial monkey business and involvement in government corruption. Maybe if it hadn’t resisted all efforts over the years at disestablishment, in whole or part, it could have enjoyed the freedom to not merely acquiesce to the problems but attack them with a prophetic witness. Harder to do when you’re on the government payroll. (see this list for other state churches).

The AFP article below references several scandals in which the Church has embroiled itself of late. For an excellent view into how the country’s corrupt business and government culture has over time infected the Church, specifically the scandal surrounding land deals by monks at the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos (technically under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople), see Michael Lewis’ “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” on Vanity Fair. A Greek Orthodox group in Chicago has also compiled a number of news articles on the Vatopedi scandal.

Church of Greece bemoans country’s ‘occupation’ by creditors

Greece is under “occupation” by foreign creditors after giving itself over to “false opulence” and easy profit, the Church of Greece said in a sermon made public on Friday.

The influential Orthodox church, which has accumulated its own share of scandals over the years, also criticised Greek politicians for doing nothing to prevent the debt crisis that nearly bankrupted the country this year before a tough loan rescue from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

[ … ]

“The question that arises is whether their demands only concern matters of finance and social insurance, or whether this extends to our country’s spiritual and cultural profile,” the four-page text added.

Deemed the custodian of Greek heritage after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and through nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, the Orthodox Church is part of the state and plays an active role in lay affairs. It commands significant political clout in a country where some 90 percent of the population are baptised into the Orthodox faith, using its power in the past to hold off state efforts to increase taxes on its considerable wealth.

“The economic crisis that troubles our country is just the tip of the iceberg, it is the consequence of a spiritual crisis,” the sermon said. “As a people we acted irresponsibly, giving ourselves over to affluence, comfortable living, easy profit and deception.”

“We chose a false opulence and lost our personal freedom, the freedom of our country,” it said, arguing that “the antidote for consumerism … is asceticism.”

The Church of Greece suffered a series of image setbacks earlier this decade after the bishop of Athens was convicted of embezzling funds from a nunnery, while another cleric was implicated in a racket that bribed judges to secure lenient sentences for convicts. Another scandal involving a series of controversial land swaps between the state and a powerful monastery in northern Greece contributed to bringing down the previous Greek government a year ago.

Source: Agence France-Presse, Updated: 12/17/2010

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Hmmmm!

    Greece is occupied by creditors? Really? I must have missed the CNN report that showed the NATO tanks rolling in and the US Special Forces parachute drops. I’ve got to get cable.

    All kidding aside, and as you point out, the fault here lies at least partially with the Church of Greece. Yes, secularism and materialism are problems, and yes, asceticism is the answer. But asceticism is only attractive to those who have heard and accepted the Gospel. And, to borrow from St Paul, how can they hear unless we preach?

    Forgive me but the Church in Greece, and I fear the Church in Russia as well, is at least as concerned with its social position as it is preaching the Gospel. Unfortunately to be as concerned about the preaching the Gospel as your place in society is, in the final analysis, to forsake preaching in favor of social acceptance and power.

    Forgive me for sounding harsh, and I’m aware of how much work needs to be done by the Orthodox Church here in America, but the complaints of the Church of Greece ring hollow to my no doubt tin ear and fail to resonant in my no doubt stony heart.

    In Christ,


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  • James the Brother


    1. My observation from my experience with the national churhes is that they somehow believe that Orthodoxy is synonomus with Christianity. To be able to effectively and liturgically practice Orthodoxy does not guarantee the ability to effectively and practically practice Christianity.

    2. It will be the American converts that will ultimately become the anchcor for Orthodoxy and will ultimately demonstrate the meshing of Orthodoxy and Christianity in fullness.

  • Nikos Konstandaras writing in today’s Kathimerini:

    The longer we take to start creating, the longer we sit waiting for the next cuts to our income and don’t look for new ways to nurture our economy, the longer we will remain trapped in our feelings of humiliation and incompetence. The longer we continue to pretend that we are the victims of evil foreigners who had been waiting for an opportunity to terrify us with bankruptcy and then forced us to borrow more money from them in exchange for our national sovereignty, the longer we put off the day that we stand on our own two feet and take our rightful place in the community of nations. We will achieve this when we carry out a serious assessment of where we are, who we are and what we are capable of achieving.

    [ … ]

    We know the obstacles that prohibit development. The most important of these is the fatalism born of the fixed system of clientelism, which finds its most authentic expression in a huge and incompetent public sector crammed with political party appointees. Those who can, enter this system, which destroys all ambition and productivity; those who cannot, know that whatever they try to do in the private sector will be obstructed by the public administration. As has been noted many times, if the public administration does not change to become more efficient and supportive of private initiative, all efforts to revive the country are doomed to failure.

    [ … ]

    When we exhaust our rage at the evil that has befallen us, when we abandon fear, we will start building our future.

  • More “economic analysis” from the episcopal masterminds in Greece.

    Leading priest blames Jews for Greece’s problems
    December 21, 2010

    ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — A high-level priest on the morning show of the largest television station in Greece blamed world Jewry for Greece’s financial problems.

    The Metropolite of Piraeus Seraphim also blamed world Jewry for other ills in the country during his appearance on Mega TV.

    Mixing Freemasons with Jewish bankers such as Baron Rothschild and world Zionism, the Metropolite said that there is a conspiracy to enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy. He also accused international Zionism of trying to destroy the family unit by promoting one-parent families and same-sex marriages.

    Thirteen minutes into the program the Greek host asked the Metropolite, “Why do you disagree with Hitler’s policies? If they are doing all this, wasn’t he right in burning them?”

    The Metropolite answered, “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.”

    Jews such as “Rockefeller, Rothschild and Soros control the international banking system that controls globalization,” the Metropolite also said.

    The Metropolite of Piraeus Seraphim is not the only Greek priest with such extreme ideas, as Salonika’s Metropolite Anthimos also has preached similar ideas from his pulpit.

    “Watching and listening to the program, I felt disgust hearing the Metropolite of Piraeus expressing himself like that against world Zionism, and shamelessly saying that Hitler with the help of Jewish bankers did what he did,” said Benjamin Albala, president of the Athens Jewish community.

  • A reader sends this in, which I gratefully post:

    As a Greek Orthodox,I too find Anti-Semitism repugnant. However, this Bishop is not typical of Greeks in Greece or the Church of Greece. I have family and friends in Greece, and I spend time there every year.

    For the record, there are four Bishops of the Church of Greece that have been recognized as “righteous among the nations” by the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the support they gave to the Jewish community of Greece during the Holocaust.

    It is a fact that the only public letter made by a religious leader in all Europe denouncing the Holocaust was that of Orthodox Archbishop of Athens Damaskinos.

    One of the most moving stories in occupied Greece was on the island of Zakynthos where the Bishop and the Mayor were responsible for encouraging the Christians to support the whole Jewish population on that island (all 300 Jews on the island survived).

    See the following article

    In addition, the following quote from Nora Levin’s The Holocaust,

    “In contrast with the Pope’s decision to give the Bishops liberty of action, the Orthodox Church adopted a different policy. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople wrote to all of his Bishops in the Balkans and in central Europe, urging them to help Jews and to announce in their Churches that concealing Jews was a sacred duty. This might explain the fact that in Slovakia, an essentially Catholic Country, more Jews were temporarily able to escape deportation by “conversion” to the Orthodox Church than to Roman Catholicism.”

    And the following article about the Archbishop of Greece during the occupation and also mentions 650 Greek Orthodox priests who arrested for hiding Greek Jews.

    The late Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece (1998-2008)condemned anti-semitism on several occasions and attended Holocaust memorials.

    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has also condemned anti-Semitism and had been honored by the Holocaust Memorial in Washington. He has condemned Anti-Semitism in his book “Encountering the Mystery”, and has presided over memorials for the Jewish community of Greece in Thessaloniki in past years.

    For anyone with an interest in Greece’s behaviour during the Holocaust and the anger that Nazi officials Adolf Eichmann expressed because the Greek Orthodox rejected Nazi racism, please read historian Mark Mazower’s “Inside Hitler’s Greece”.

    Please do not stigmatize Greece or the Greek Church owing to the comments of one individual.

  • Theodore Andromidas

    Finally someone in the leadership of Greece has stood up to the ECB and its backers. It is most appropriate that it be the Church. Christ drove the money changers from the temple and now his representatives today are trying to do the same.

    What he hell is the matter with John Couretas and those who support his view? Did the working people of Greece, or all of Europe for that matter, cause this crisis? The ECB and Federal Reserve demand billions in cuts from poor and working people to bail out the banks that caused this crisis, giving them billions, yes billions, in bonuses. During this time of Christmas why doesn’t Couretas and his friends quote from their intellectual fore father:

    ‘Are there no prisons?’ asked Scrooge…‘And the Union workhouses.’…‘Are they still in operation?’…

    ‘I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. ‘Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’

    ‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’

    ‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides-excuse me-I don’t know that.’

    Shame on you.

  • From “The miraculous story of the Jews of Zakynthos” by Leora Goldberg on The Jerusalem Post:

    Through the locked gate I saw two statues. Judging by their long beards, they looked to me like rabbis. The writing on the wall proved me wrong: “This plaque commemorates the gratitude of the Jews of Zakynthos to Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos.” What was the acknowledgment about? Who were these people? Why the statues? What happened here?