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A Scandal in Greece

'The gates of hell shall not prevail'.

(Matt. 16,18)

Recently, a leading American Evangelical stated in a forum that he, 'had lived for too long in Greece and Russia to be idealistic about the Orthodox Church, let alone become Orthodox'. I answered him thus: 'I too have lived for too long in Greece, and with Russians, to be idealistic about the human side of the Orthodox Church, but I have also lived with Orthodox for too long not to be Orthodox'. Only an (extra-ecclesial) Protestant could have misunderstood the nature of the (Orthodox) Church to have stated such a thing about the Orthodox Faith.

Today, those who are idealistic about the human side of the Church will have been disillusioned by scandalous affairs which have come out into the open in Greece. Some representatives of the Church of Greece stand accused of corruption in scandals, in which judges appear to have covered up the corrupt dealings of a number of senior Greek clergy. The scandal appears to concern much of the Greek Establishment. Greek conspiracy theorists and secular-minded journalists are having a field day.

Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens has quite rightly called for honesty in this matter, for as the proverb says: 'Honesty is the best policy'. In fact, this scandal concerns only a few senior figures. It is an affair of the corruption of certain individuals by certain individuals. The Church Herself is of course not corrupt and never can be, for the Church is the Body of Christ, transfigured by and filled with the Light of the Resurrection. Those who can be corrupt are merely individual 'members', clergy or laity, who nominally represent the Church - this is not at all the same thing as the Church. That some individuals will have to repent for their misdeeds, either in monasteries or else in prisons, is good. Their corruption, and the repentance therefore due from them, does not mean that the Church Herself is corrupt.

Unfortunately, the secular and anti-clerical Greek media, supported by the foreign and anti-Church mentality of the European Union and the United States, do not want to understand this. They want to destroy the Orthodox Church, as they already tried to do in Eastern Europe under Western-financed Communism, and are now trying to do in Eastern Europe through Western-financed Capitalism. Their most recent attack, in the Ukraine, heavily funded by the EU and Washington, is now being followed up by this attack in Greece.

It is ironic that the problem of clerical corruption in Greece has come about through the penetration of the Western Capitalist mentality among Greeks. This is part of the very same mentality as that of those who are now attacking the Church of Greece in the secular media. Had all Greeks, including members of the clergy, remained faithful to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, no corruption would have occurred. Ever since the tragic 1920s and the Capitalist-enforced change of calendar and liturgical modernism in Greece, then the triumph of Capitalism after the Civil War of the 1940s and the opening of American military bases, and finally the corrupting wash of Western tourism and the entry of Greece into the then European Community, Greece has been profoundly westernized.

The result of this Westernization is corruption, whether among the secular elements in society outside the Church, or among the secular elements who have penetrated into the human side of the Church. The Church is not corrupt, for She is the Body of Christ. But there are individuals who represent the human aspect of the Church who are corrupt. And they have become corrupt, not because of the Church, but despite the Church - because of the secular Western spirit which now prevails in modern Greece.

There are those who think that preserving the Church of Greece as a sort of conservative, nationalist rite is the same as living for the Church. It is not. Christ did not preach Hellenism. The Church is neither conservative nor liberal, both those attitudes are purely secular. Conservatism and liberalism are the two sides of the same secular coin. The Church is above secular attitudes, which are all more or less conservative, or more or less liberal. The Church is of the Tradition, that is to say, of the Holy Spirit, as has been received by the Saints of the Church. The Tradition is living, it is spiritually inspired, it is not mere human customs and inventions, more or less conservative or more or less liberal.

When individuals nominally belonging to the Church are corrupt, it is precisely because they do not follow the Tradition of the Church, but rather the things of men. As the Apostle Paul wrote: 'And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God' (1 Cor 2, 4-5). If you wish to know what the Church is about, do not pick up a nationalist leaflet, or read the gutter press, but read the Lives of the Saints. In the same way, if you wish to live in the Church, do not imitate crude nationalists, or secular-minded journalists, but live as the saints. For the Church exists for this one reason only - to make saints. Any organization which does not do that, even though it may call itself a Church, is not the Church. And any individuals who do not have this as their aim, however weakly they may try to achieve it, do not belong to the Church.

If individuals are corrupt, it is for us all the more to pray for them, not to try to destroy the Church on account of them. When the Anti-Church operates within the Church, as it always has done and always will do, it does not mean that the Church Herself is corrupt. When Judas operated among the Twelve, it is did not mean that Christ and the Eleven were corrupt. Nor did it mean that Judas had to commit suicide. Repentance was always open, as the Apostles Peter and Paul both well understood.

The word 'scandal' is a Greek word: it means a stumbling block. And as the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote a long, long time ago: 'We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, unto the Greeks (Hellenes) foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God' (I Cor 1, 23-24). If today certain senior clergy of the Church of Greece have behaved foolishly - like the pagan Greeks (Hellenes) of old, then the Westernized secular media of Greece seem only to have created stumbling-blocks - like the Jews of old.

Fr Andrew

Feast of the Three Hierarchs
30 January / 12 February 2005

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