Greek Orthodox Church takes very different approach to Turkey refugee crisis

Novena reader feedback: Greek Orthodox Church takes very different perspective on Turkey refugee crisis… here’s why

Novena reader and contributor from Athens George Karpouzas has written to us on Facebook regarding an article published on this website March 4 and entitled “Greek Church deplores migrant pincer on Turkey border as Catholic support for refugees floods in from Europe”.

Karpouzas writes:

Congratulations to Novena News for this interesting report. I have to point out though that those are the opinions of the Catholic Church of Greece.

The Greek Orthodox Church, which enjoys the constitutional status of the dominant religion and the adherence of the vast majority of the Greek population, has adopted a rather more patriotic – some may even say nationalistic – outlook.

The four Greek Orthodox bishops of Thrace – the administrative region of Greece which has a border with Turkey – in a common declaration have stressed national unity more than compassion towards the refugees.

The Greek Orthodox archbishop has visited the frontier to bestow his blessings to those that guard it.

This has to do with the intricacies of Greek national history. The Orthodox Church considers itself as the guardian of the Greek identity and continuity, especially when Greece was an Ottoman province living under Muslim overlords.

Thus the Greek Orthodox Church prioritizes the protection of national identity and unity over Christian solidarity. It is much less internationalized than the Catholic Church and has a much more parochial outlook. It also fears the Turks for historical as well as for contemporary reasons.

The above may sound outlandish to other Europeans such as Cardinal Hollerich who, as a citizen of Luxembourg, is unable to understand the worries of a small to medium-sized country which has a frontier with an aggressive and powerful neighbor.

The first question of most Greeks is how to protect themselves from refugees: an attitude which the Cardinal may deplore, perhaps correctly from a strictly Christian point of view, but which can be explained by historical and current conjectures.

Intellectuals and big city bourgeois may have a more internationalized outlook and a greater sensitivity for human rights but the average provincial Greek is more attached to notions of loyalty to his local community and a particularist conception of Church and State that leaves little room for refugees with a different and for some an inimical faith.

Of course, material considerations are the most important since many think that refugee and migrant populations are a burden for local communities. I am not making a value judgment here: I am just describing and explaining a political and moral atmosphere in which the Christian and human rights considerations of metropolitan religious, intellectual and political elites are perceived as hypocritical and grandiose by the average citizens on the street.

The Greek Orthodox Church is pragmatic and very much intertwined with the national interests of the Greek State rather narrowly perceived. The Catholic Church is much more internationalized and attuned to the original ancient Greek meaning of the word “catholic”, that is, universal.

Thank you Novena News for the reportage and the hospitable space you provide for the expression of opinion. There is no disagreement in principle, just a description of the local climate.

Novena editor Cameron Doody responds

Thank you very much, George, for these very perceptive and insightful observations.

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In the first place, you’re absolutely correct to critique my use of the phrase “Greek Church” in the title of the article without specifying that indeed, I was referring to the Greek Catholic Church.

That kind of arrogation of the label “Church” in general to the Catholic Church in particular hardly serves the purposes of journalistic clarity, in the specific case of this story, let alone the goals of ecumenism and Christian unity, for which reason I thank you for picking me up on that.

I note, furthermore, that precisely the kinds of difficulties you articulate in “Western” Europeans getting inside the “Orthodox mind” is precisely why we at Novena don’t devote more time and space to covering Orthodox issues, though indeed, they form a very important part of European identities.

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For that reason, too, I will limit myself here to sharing with our readers some background to the blessing you quite rightly point out that the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens offered March 4 to soldiers, police and firefighters currently on duty protecting Greece’s borders.

In Petalo in the Evros Delta, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and all Greece told the Greek security forces to which he also handed out bibles that “I am moved and proud”, as the Orthodox Times reports.

” I feel sorry for these people who are pushed here because they become tools in the hands of others”, Ieronymos continued.

“We who are at the European borders must be demanding, saying that Europe cannot close its eyes to such phenomena.

“Our people love you [the army] very much and feel proud these days, even watching these tragic scenes, which are circulating in order to create impressions many times.

“We felt that something great was happening in this area and our army was the one to take the lead, and we were boasting and praying”.

At the church of St. George in Kastanies, Ieronymos later lamented the people who “waged wars, are in pain and under perverse guidance; they are people who have souls and we empathize with them”.

“They are people who are being exploited right now, live in a quest, are being mocked, ridiculed and humiliated”, the Orthodox archbishop said, referring to the refugees amassing on the Greek-Turkish border.

“We have no problem with these people, we are not against them, we sympathize with them […] we do not hate them, we feel sorry for them, but we are not the ones who must tolerate anything, at the expense of our homeland”, Ieronymos continued.

Speaking once again to the security forces deployed along the border, the Orthodox archbishop said: “Here is the border not only of Greece but also of Europe, and at this time they should be at that border too, it shouldn’t be just you; our European friends, our partners and allies should also be here, because together we had to support our border”.

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“They are sacred, they have been watered with blood, so we must arm ourselves for their sake.

“The [Greek] state is making its own efforts, but what worries us is what is Europe doing?”, Ieronymos asked.

“It worries us. We don’t want money. It is good to help in difficult times, but what we want is Europe to defend the causes that have created her, the values that she should support and honor”.

If you’d like to see your comment featured here, please let us know on Twitter or Facebook or write to us at newsroom@novenanews.com.

Novena’s coverage of the Turkey-Greece migrant crisis:

Church groups plead for “united Europe of humanity” in face of refugee tragedy on Greek land, sea borders

Church groups, NGOs warn EU over Turkey-Greece migrant crisis: “This game, played by the powerful, is putting human lives at risk”

Greek Church deplores migrant pincer on Turkey border as Catholic support for refugees floods in from Europe

Jesuit Refugee Service denounces “wicked” EU refugee deal with Turkey “has condemned millions to misery, despair and death”

Angelus 1/3: Pope Francis “saddened… so many chased away by war” as Greece blocks at border 10,000 Syrian refugees

More on Novena from Athens contributor George Karpouzas:

What do French Catholics fear the most? The far right

‘La Manif pour tous’: the coming-out of French conservatism

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.