Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens has his hand kissed by a soldier 'protecting' Greece's borders from refugees

Opinion/analysis: Greek Orthodoxy is not open enough to lend a hand to refugees

Last week demonstrations by the Far Left took place in Athens and other cities of Greece. Their demand was the abolition of borders and the unconditional entry of refugees and immigrants into Greece.

Those people who sometimes enthrall youths do not represent the majority of Greeks. Neither do the westernized professors and intellectuals, nor the ultra-nationalists who form makeshift patrols in order to guard the border with Turkey.

I think the attitude of the average Greek can be summed up by what the barber of my neighborhood once told me: “We are not racist but we want to be left in peace”.

Most people are not idealistic enough to be motivated by visions of universal brotherhood of Christian or humanistic inspiration. They will not leave their modest comfort – the majority of Greeks own some property; we are a nation of small property-holders – to help those more needy than themselves.

This prudence prevents them from buying the pseudo-heroic trappings of ultranationalism but also stops them from being fervent internationalists.

The “We” of average Greeks is not wide enough to include refugees and migrants.

Some might say that this attitude may lead to fascism. The Greeks will not actively support fascism, nationalism and patriarchy, but they will not die to prevent them either.

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There is considerable hypocrisy, inner antagonism and pharisaic religiosity within the ranks of the various tribes constituting the national middle class.

I think that an article by a Greek professor which appeared in a very popular website and invoked the rule of law against the extremes of leftism and nationalism captured the general mood.

Of course this view is not as neutral as it sounds. It is actually centre-right. I remember the words of the English Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh in an interview: “I do not think that the interests of Britain are contrary to the interests of other states but in such a case I would prefer Britain to prosper rather than its rivals”.

You can apply this idea to the silent majority of my compatriots. The words of the [Orthodox] Archbishop [of Athens] adopt this pragmatic approach interspersed with patriotic and religious imagery that means something to older generations since the educational system was programmed to produce Greeks and Orthodox Christians, not human beings with universal horizons.

The Greek is attached to the Church of his village not to the universal Church or to humanity conceived as a Church.

The Venetians had a saying: “Primum Veneziani deinde Christiani” (“Venetians first, Christians second”), which means that Christian charity does not precede the interests arising from national affiliation.

The same with Greeks: the majority consider themselves Christian but their Christianity is not powerful enough to make them overcome local, national or class affiliations in order to lend a hand to the refugees and migrants in need, to the “others”.

That of course makes them guilty by the criteria of the parable of the Last Judgement which a popular if controversial journalist copied verbatim in her column for a mass-circulation Greek daily newspaper and an acquaintance of mine, a doctor of theology, posted on his Facebook account.

But Orthodox Christianity for Greeks is mostly about identity, culture and ritual rather than a call to charity, love and communion of goods.

Neither they are ultranationalist because even that would require some form of commitment although misguided.

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In the liberal west where people are better educated and more affluent than in our Balkan Greece people, especially young people may have a rosier image of human nature.

Next on Novena:

Also by Novena Athens contributor George Karpouzas: Greek Orthodox Church takes very different perspective on Turkey refugees… here’s why

German Churches criticise “disgraceful” EU response to Greece-Turkey migrant crisis

More by Karpouzas on Novena:

What do French Catholics fear the most? The far right

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

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George Karpouzas

George Karpouzas is a Greek lawyer and journalist who lives in Athens. A contributor to the internet and print editions of The Books’ Journal (TBJ) – a monthly magazine covering political, social and literary topics in modern Greece – Karpouzas has a keen interest in the political and social aspects of organised religion, Church-State relations and news.
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