Church of Greece: Country ‘occupied’ by creditors
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Church of Greece: Country ‘occupied’ by creditors

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

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.