The Word and Role of Orthodoxy in the European Union

by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece

“The foundation is laid already, and no one can lay another, for it is Jesus Christ himself” (I Cor.3: 11).

Each hour of History, just as each hour in the life of a person, has its own worth and particularity. However there are nuclear hours, axis hours, hours when, as our people say, “the sky is open”, because during those hours great and historical events of world-wide significance, real mysteries of life become an ultimatum. Of course that was the kind of hour that the Holy Spirit prevented the Apostle Paul, the man who He had chosen to “make the name” of the Lord Jesus Christ “known to Gentiles and Kings” (Acts, 9:15), from continuing his mission to Asia, and sent him to Troas to the threshold of Europe.

It wasn’t simply a coincidence; the entrance of Paul into Greek Macedonia was not by chance. The special vision that he was honoured to live and the invitation by the young Macedonian who begged him to “come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts, 16:9) was a command of God to pass the threshold and to go to the opposite side, to go into the Greek, European territory. It was a vision that revealed the new reality, a vision that determines up to today, our fate, a vision that changed the course of Christianity and gave new responsibility and strength to the Greek spirit. So for the first time 1,950 years ago the presence of Paul on European land outlined the meaning that the Christian faith would have on Europe and its civilization. And at the same time, he positioned the dimensions and the framework that Christian martyria would take on our aged Continent.

The Apostle of Jesus came to Greece, stopping first at Samothrace, a place of mysterious worship, at that time, of paganism of the Greek spirit. This was not by chance, since when he had just passed over to Philippi his first action was to remove from a young girl the “spirit of the python” (Acts, 16:16) which she had; that is, to eliminate from her the spirit of clairvoyance. With this miraculous intrusion, Jesus Christ revealed then for the first time the new role of Hellenism, its new mission. Thereafter during the messages of the Delphi oracle in Greece “Foivos no longer has a place to live, nor a laurel crown, and furthermore the crowing water has been quenched”. The shrine of Apollo is abolished, the oracle is silent, and the Hellenes will serve the word of God. Today at the start of the third millennium, those Greeks and that Word in the form of Orthodoxy are called to confirm their presence within a United Europe attesting that Orthodoxy has both a role and a word in our common European being.

When the Apostle Paul came to Greece, he began to preach first to the Jews of Greece in preparation for the great hour of the spirit – for his speech to the Greeks. When it was time for him to speak to the Athenians, he did not only go to the Synagogue. The text of Acts is revealing: “He felt compelled to discuss the matter with the Jews in the Synagogue… and in the open market place with the passers-by” (Acts, 17:16). And it was finally the Athenians who guided him to the speaker’s podium, asking that he speak and explain to them. “So Paul got to his feet in the middle of the Areopagus” (Acts, 17:22), and he opened up immediately the horizons of the Greek spirit without unnecessary rhetoric. He took the Greek spirit from the altar of human philosophy, which according to St. Gregory of Nyssa is “always suffering the pains of childbirth and never giving birth by that”, and the ignorance about God, and threw it into the baptismal font, baptizing it with the kingdom of light of true religious knowledge. The results of that significant hour appeared then to be very meagre. Only a small group of people believed him, “including Dionysius a member of the Areopagus, a woman by the name Damaris, and some others as well” (Acts, 17:34). But the true result did not take long to appear. Not only the Greek people, but through them, all the Romans will hear the word of the Apostle of the Nations, and will be led to the faith of true God. The passing from Troas to Greece led to the Christianization of Europe. Consequently, with the speech of Paul at the Areopagus the entire European civilization came about.

It is necessary, however, for us to reflect on the question, what is Europe and who is a European. From the answers given up to today none have been as concise and simple, but also exact, as that given by Paul Valéry, when he spoke to students at the University of Zurich. He explained that "the European person is not determined by his race, language, or nationality, since Europe is the motherland of many languages, nationalities, and traditions. The European, he added, is whoever belongs to a people that has embraced the Roman rule of justice, comprehends well Greek education and has accepted and assimilated Christian teaching”. In other words, Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem consist of the three-part foundation of Europe’s spiritual life, with emphasis on Christianity, which was the greatest in size than the others. But also the well-known English philosopher of History, Christopher Dawson expresses the same affirmation with other words. He writes: “If Europe owes its political existence to the Roman Empire, if it owes its strength and direction of its culture to Greek education, then it owes to Christianity its spiritual entity”. He adds, “It is difficult for one to imagine that an unvarying European consciousness can exist, with all those nations and races, with all those languages and customs, if a continuous presence of the Christian Church did not exist”.

Certain neo-Greek intellectuals think that a United Europe is a judicial region, where Christianity is forbidden or is a miasma. In reality the European Union is a creation of Christian spirituality and cannot be understood except as an expression of the holy Christian teaching. Others again, patrons of anti-orthodox myths, believe that the European Union was exclusively the offspring of Roman Catholicism. They either ignore or they do not want to realize that for many centuries the Church was one, united, and even after the Schism, the Orthodox East continued for many centuries to spiritually irrigate the West. It contributed with its scholars to the European Renaissance, and so the decision of the Roman Catholic Church was right to proclaim as the Patron saints of Europe on one hand, Saint Benedict, the Hellenistic reformer of western monasticism, who has been acknowledged as “the corner-stone of the European Union’s structure”, and on the other, the two missionaries from Thessalonica, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who struggled “as Greek representatives of Latin to the Slavs against the Franks”, to prevent the penetration and estrangement by the Franks, and with their missionary work they planted the seed of Christian and Orthodox teaching in all of Europe and in that way, became the deacons and apostles of European consciousness. Just as in the Byzantine Empire, in the West also the Christian world always had as its cause a unified European country, a Christian state. That cause was an inseparable part of the social teachings of the Church.

Unfortunately, it is true that at that time, Orthodoxy could not have the completely vital role that it wanted and should have in the building of the European consciousness as a community of nations, languages and traditions. We well know that after the Schism, but also before it, its dogmatic difference from the Roman Catholic Church was the main barrier in the development of that contribution. And of course, it is incorrect that following the Schism, the Orthodox Church was totally cutoff from Western Europe. Up to the 12th century, schoolbooks translated from the corresponding Byzantine were taught in the schools. Knowledge of Greek on the other hand, remained a firm value in the educational horizon of the West, while at the same time, many Eastern Orthodox, anonymous teachers of literature and art collected in the West long before the Fall of Constantinople. Despite this, an obstacle existed that sufficiently restrained the attempt as well as the intention of Hellenism and Orthodoxy for a clear and strong participation in the building of spiritual foundations in the European Union.

Unfortunately, Orthodoxy could not proceed completely on the shaping of Western Europe because of negative propaganda and prejudice of the European person, who looked at Orthodoxy as an odd irresolution. On the one hand, he admired the ancient Greek civilization and on the other, with contempt, he ignored Byzantium. Moreover, western Christianity was identified with the Enlightenment, which today drains its limitations leading to an impasse on its path. The north-eastern Europeans also felt incredulity and suspicion for the Greeks. The adventures of the saint Maximus the Greek are characteristic. And even though he was acknowledged as “the man who for the Russian national consciousness has the same role that Luther has for the German”, and the Russians considered him equal to the great Fathers of the Church, he died in suffering martyrdom.

However, we must confess that also in Greece, our education orientated from the time of our liberation into western Enlightenment, received at the same time, the seeds of doubt of the spiritual factor in general, and of our Orthodox Church in particular, in the formation of our cultural being, a fact that was the basic reason for the spiritual confusion that prevailed and prevails in our country. The Neo Greek learned to boast about his ancient ancestors, but he was unable to connect them with the immediate past, or with his present. In school he learned that Hellenism is classic Hellenism, but in his daily life, that began with stories by his grandmother, and passed within the Byzantine icon and the ceremonies of the Church, to arrive up to the folk song and the yearning of living in a foreign land and of death; he lived in another world. That “other world” was his natural Greekness. The world of education was of Hellenism that was artificial, intellectual and lacking important roots. So, he came into the European Union bringing with him a division that dominates in Hellenism of the Neo Greek, that is, to his own identity (see Metropolitan Pergamou Ioannis, “European Spirit and Greek Orthodoxy”, Anaplasis, 315/87, p. 29).

For many years our people patiently received the attack of a native system, which was based on building life far from the influence of Orthodox spirituality. Despite this, the people remained to a large majority, attached to its Orthodox and Greek roots, and managed to overcome the division of his personality and to keep intact the substantial spiritual values of his tradition. He developed the ecclesiastical character of his faith and received its revitalizing breath. Orthodoxy offers to the Orthodox a new distinct ethos, which transubstantiates into manifestations of a behaviour that is marked by the grace of the Spirit.

Today Europe is living a transitional period, since indications of a deep crisis in the unity of its peoples have begun to appear. The declaration of the 4th Pillar, which is civilization as a spiritual dimension, and is called to be the uniting substance of the European people, testifies to the troubled search of a common place that would secure a substantial European unity, something that up to now, neither economical nor political unification accomplished. The anticipation of a contribution on behalf of heterodox Churches for a significant thrust on the way toward unity, appears to have dysfunctions and lacks trustworthiness; since also the secularization of Church life and alienation on one hand, and the rationalization of faith on the other, are obstacles for the realization of the deepest secret desires and needs of man, despite all their generous attempts.

Under the light of those facts the question, somewhat altered now, is asked again. What is Europe for our Orthodox Church? And further, what is the role of our Church in it (Europe)? Do we have a special mission, or perhaps we simply co-exist any, which way, not having the possibility to offer something positive and significant?

For the Church, the European Union is not only an economic and political cooperation of certain countries, nor not even an inter-country community with economic and political aims. If that, or something like that were Europe, the Church would not have any reason to follow or defend them, precisely because the Church does not engage in politics. For the Church, Europe is the spiritual stature of Christianity, since for the Roman heritage, as well as for Greek education, Christianity embraced them and taught them both during the middle ages as well as in later times. That is exactly why the support of the European Union for the Church is not a political act, but a spiritual responsibility. A responsibility to protect the area and the way of life as does an advising Confessor, by preventing it from stooping to a level of simple political-economical events.

In order for that goal to be attained, first priority is the protection of the spiritual identity of each country and the respect for its distinctiveness. Jacques Delors had said in his speech on March 9, 1992: “If in order for us to have the Union, we must vanish the distinctiveness of it’s nations, then the Union will cease to be European”. And recently in Berlin, the French President expressed his preference for a Europe, where “all the peoples will maintain their strength and their identity” (To Vima, 27-6-2000).

Today those considerations occupy the entire spiritual leadership of Europe, which watches with distress the advancing disappearance of the ethnic languages and the uselessness of their literature; it observes the abandonment of the ethnic traditions and the complete withdrawal of the European spirit. This intense problematic and distress even includes a large portion of the political leadership of Europe. Recently (10-2-2000), Vivian Redding, EU Committee Member of Culture said: “The European soul will be destroyed if it is led to becoming pulp. It is our responsibility to reinforce, to project and keep vital that diversity. I being from Luxembourg participate in the identity of my nation, and as a European respect, love and defend the identity of other Europeans”.

Only here, in our country, the concern for the salvation of our distinctiveness is considered as anti-European, nationalistic, pessimistic, conservatist, and many times criticized as being behind the times, or even a fascist plot. Nevertheless, here in our country the meaning of nation is all-powerful and has the strength to survive. However it is said that we will survive only if we realize our visions, as long as we map out our directions and form our ideas. Let’s take a look though around us. Originally, how many multi-ethnic countries existed in the past that consisted of immigrants. In those countries the immigrants realized their visions; they mapped out their directions; they formed ideas, which did not prevent their total assimilation and the total disappearance of their national identity. On the contrary, there are nations that were saved and now create, even though they remained for centuries without a country, without a mother country, and even under slavery regime. That kind of example is also our nation. How did it survive? How did it keep intact its distinctiveness? Our nation preferred deprivation, hunger, and to be stripped even of property and ideas, in order to keep its faith, its language alive and its historical memory always present. He is totally mistaken, if he considers as being “behind the times” the decision of a nation to stay alive and not let the tide of history and globalization sweep it away; as is he who interprets the wholesome concern for self preservation and for the armouring of the nation’s distinctiveness as a vain and fruitless policy. However, this has always been the way, especially during periods of crisis. When those periods do not exist, when the nation functions, as today here in Greece, under the protective shadow of a free country, is there any reason for it to be put on emergency alert and for an appeal to be made that played and can play again their beneficial role for its survival, as if it were again in danger?

Consequently, our Orthodox Church today has a double mission. From within, it is obligated to stress and strengthen the faith of our peoples in the super-substantial values of Greek Christianity, which are a vital assiduous-ness of our nation, especially today when the trust of our people toward its Church rises to high percentages of trustworthiness and acceptance. That Church, with everything it represents and expresses, suggests the big surprise, the great hope for our people. As members of our European family today, more than at any other time, we are in need of our spiritual protective covering, which grants and saves our self-consciousness. If this was proven to be effective and nourishing in the past, then today it is more than necessary. The eminent Steven Ransiman, the brilliant Byzantine historian, stresses: “The Greeks have a heritage for which they can be proud. A heritage that should not be lost within interchangeable material circumstances. In the darkest centuries of Greek history, it was the Church that despite all the difficulties, the many disappointments and even humiliations, was able not only to offer spiritual relief, but also to sustain the traditions of Hellenism. Modernists have often lessened its role, emphasizing the vacuum, the chasm that exists between the ancient world and the Christian world. But the chasm was not unbridgeable. The Great Fathers of the Church saved many things from the most beautiful that Greek thinking and the ancient Greek spirit had and granted them to the Church, which it still has up to this day. Nationalism can become a bad thing. However, a feeling of national identity not based on ambitious chauvinism, but on a long tradition of cultural values is a matter for permissible boasting and pride”.

Our Church is obliged to broaden its attempts for the evangelism of its peoples, support in difficult times, and to offer them internal peace and serenity. The spirit of Orthodoxy is renewable, contemporary, and innovative; a spirit of strength and wisdom. Today’s man is in need of all of that; especially the young person who is struck every day by injustice, incompetence, crime, corruption and sin.

And abroad, to the European Union, our Church has both a role and a word. Overcoming the barrier of the historical past, the negative memories and the emotional burdens, it is necessary to approach Europe with concern for life, convincing it that it is not only an organic piece of it, but it is actually its heart. Of course, the memories must not be forgotten; they must be fixed guides on our course, but must not poison forever our human relations within our common Oekos, Europe. Our Church has an obligation to not remain simply a bystander in the building of the European being, but to first advocate in the enrolment of other European countries, in order not to have the same phenomenon as we do today of the relations of the European world to “inside” and “outside”. It is obligated to support every attempt to protect diversification, the spreading of discrimination, of xenophobia and violence in any form. It is obligated to present its unblemished faith, its grand worship, its incomparable fatherly teachings, its ascetic ethos, its loyalty to tradition, its social choices, the unreserved acknowledgement of the other, respect for creation, the society of persons, the sense of the falling and repentance, the meaning of death, and the hope in the Resurrection. It is necessary for orthodoxy to answer the question of Jesus Christ, “whom do men say that I am?” With the answer that Peter gave him then and which perhaps has been more or less modified in the Christian societies of consumerism. “You are the Son of the living God”, just as that answer is experienced for centuries unchanged, undisputed, with integrity, in the Orthodox ecclesiastic life. It is obligated to sound the trumpet toward Europe, which searches for its unity, that “The foundation is laid already, and no one can lay another, for it is Jesus Christ himself” (I Cor. 3:11). Orthodoxy is called upon also to recognize in the West, in the most practical way possible, the ethos of the Orthodox, in a time where everything can be sold and bought, and where opportunists dominate and suffocate the truth. It is necessary to repeat to the “civilized” people of Europe, what the poet proclaimed using other words: “Incompetent is he who cannot in an earthquake, in the ruins, fortress his opinion, and endures and says. I’ll wait and see. And even incompetent is the wise man, who does not light a fire even with his small oil lamp, when pitilessly the Need arises and protects. Incompetent is he who hesitates” (K. Palamas). The Orthodox ethos does not approve of that incompetence, that self-assurance, and that opportunism.

Educated Europeans today feel imperative the necessity to receive from Orthodox Greeks, messages of an ecclesiastical, social, and community ethos, that will teach and be problematic. The European community has arrived at the impasse of death. As an ark of our race, the Church must struggle to develop and protect the spirituality of the Greeks in Europe. It is not necessary for us to become teachers to foreigners. It is enough for us to show with our way of life and our behaviour how we are influenced by the principles of our faith. They appear by themselves, without our pursuit. Its role (Church) is not and must not be in competition with the State. Preserving our national identity, the Church helps our State in self-understanding that is a factor of strength and spontaneity. The European Union, if it wants to survive, must broaden its previous efforts to find a spiritual pedestal for the unity of its peoples. Only Christian faith by priority can secure that kind of base, and moreover by its most genuine and pure expression, that is Orthodoxy. Its longing today in Europe is sensed and the obligation of the Orthodox is to place our treasure, our common property, without conceit and vanity, and without fanaticisms and intolerance. The Greek Oikoumene (world) did not exist only as a vision of life; it existed as the “immortal water” of the continuous essential presence and our contribution to civilization and humanity. And now is the time to prove it again.

The Apostle Paul one more time today announces to everyone the word of truth. It preaches to the people the need for the return to God, to their roots. “God has overlooked the days of ignorance, he now commands all men everywhere to repent.” And to us the shepherds, he says, “Take care of all your flock as yourself”. Today both of those commands seem more than ever to be current and beneficial: for us and for our region, for Greece and Europe, for the entire world.

Source: http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/14/41.aspx#3


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