Hellenism Today

    

“Two Hundred Years After the Greek Revolution”: We arrive at the topic of Hellenism today, Hellenism in the modern world and specifically, Hellenism outside the modern day nation-state of Greece. What is the state of Hellenism and Orthodoxy amidst the Hellenism of the diaspora?

During the Turkish oppression of 400 years, the Church was the guardian of what might be termed, “the Eastern Roman conscious identity” of the Greeks. Later, after the Revolution of 1821, the state naturally participated in this effort of ethnic cohesion. Greeks were travelers and explorers from the times of the ancients to our own era. The urge to go forth and explore, colonize, and create new worlds is hymned and lauded in Greek literature from the sixteenth-century Erotokritos to the works of Papadiamántis in the nineteenth century to the songs of our own modern Savvópoulos. Exile. Colonization. These are among the defining characteristics of Hellenism’s essence. Until the time of Nasar and the nationalists in Egypt, Alexandria had a thriving Greek community. My own great-great grandfather made a fortune laying marble in Alexandria. One of my distant ancestors, Photius, became Patriarch of Alexandria in the early twentieth century (where, by the way, he opposed the introduction of the new calendar), and until 1955, when perhaps one in four citizens of Constantinople were Greeks.

Segments of the Greeks began to immigrate abroad—at first to far-off America, Australia and Panama (to build the canal)—but also to places like Italian Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and the Congo in Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. During these decades, a Greek family on average had one quarter of its relations abroad. After the Second World War, the Greeks immigrated to Western Europe—mainly Germany, the Cypriots, to the UK—and Canada, and (once again) to the USA, and yet other far-off places. After the economic crisis of the 2000’s, an unexpected wave of immigration, helped by common EU citizenship, made its way to places—some of them quite unexpected—like Hungary, Czechia, and Poland—countries whose citizens themselves had, during the Communist era, immigrated to Greece as a stepping-stone leading to the wealthier European nations. Now roles were reversed, and, once again, Germany and Austria saw an influx of new Greeks.

The direction taken by the Greek ecclesiastical authorities—the guardians of Hellenic identity in the lands abroad among the diaspora—historically, in the new world, sought maintenance of an ethnic ghetto. There is nothing inherently negative about self-preservation... except to say that, historically, Hellenism has sought to “conquer by influence”. Contact with other civilizations is a sought-after affair, and exchange is encouraged. Hellenism seeks to “graft” others to its world by conversion to Orthodoxy and adoption of its habits, its thinking, and its world-view by other civilizations.

Yet preservation of our faith and culture—while influencing the surrounding culture—were never hallmarks of Constantinopolitan policy. The end results of the policy promoted by the Greek ecclesiastical authorities under Constantinople are: decades of food festivals and dance associations, which promoted what may be termed a “distorted” Hellenism. These have nearly ensured the extinction of Hellenism proper in the New World. The focus on Orthodox Christianity was absent; “Americanization” in such a context was the key. How can we look and act more “normal”? How can we rid our church of things like Byzantine music, vigils, and monasticism and cassock-wearing priests, and fill in with European-style choirs with organs, beardless priests in suits, pews, and hymnals? And today, how exactly do we become more “woke” so as not to offend the militant left? How do we promote moral inclusivity and neo-Marxist movements? How do we dilute everything sacred in our worship—even the age-old practices concerning the Holy Mysteries? Admittedly, certain elements of traditionalism—such as the clergy wearing cassocks and beards—made a comeback. These cannot save the irreparable damage done. These are just musicians playing as the Titanic sinks.

Undoubtedly, the fault also lies with our parents and grandparents, many of whom silently allowed this corruption to occur, and others who even affirmed and promoted it for their own gain and for their own purposes (“respected” positions on parish councils, etc.). While I grew up, for example, traditional Greek Christmas carols were ignored; instead, Christmas carols translated into Greek from English (most of which are originally German) were sung. There’s nothing inherently wrong with western Christian carols. But western messages and values permeated my young being, not the messages and eternal truths of our Orthodoxy heralded in the eternal Byzantine carols of the Greeks. The question became: Why this mania of forsaking anything that strikes as Byzantine? Papadiamantis, Seferis, Elitis—these authors—perhaps the most profound Greeks of the past one hundred years—were never mentioned to us as children. No one ever told us of the Erotokritos or Diogenis Akritas.

I had a question as a child that nagged internally at me: each Saturday I was dragged by my blessed mother to Greek School where I was absolutely forbidden to speak English in class. Yet, on Sunday, perhaps half the Liturgy was celebrated in English. Our priest dressed like a Roman Catholic in a suit. Any sense of traditionalism was scoffed at. My young mind did not understand the contradiction, and, without perhaps the proper articulation on an internal or external level, I asked myself a basic question: “Why is our Greek Orthodox Church not really Greek and not really Orthodox?” As more information on Orthodoxy in the traditional Orthodox nations readily became available with the advent of the internet in my early teens, this question only deepened. This question would lead me, at around fifteen years or age, to the respected and ever-memorable Fr. Mikhail Lubochinsky—a man who became a formative father in Christ. He introduced me to authentic Orthodoxy. Later in my life, as I read and translated Papadiamántis many years after Fr. Mikhail’s unexpected repose in 2014, I began to see in this simple Russian priest living in twentieth century Canada an example of a nineteenth-century Greek priest.

What does this mean? Elegant and yet simple, charitable and sacrificial to all his parishioners, faithful in his celebration of the Divine services and the Holy Liturgy, with an unwavering, other-worldly purpose, the ever memorable Fr. Mikhail sought to initiate his spiritual children into the inner mystery which is the true Christian life. Irrespective of their particular background or ethnic identity, all—Poles, Georgians, Greeks and average Canadians alike—were made to feel as equal children under his pastoral care, with no distinctions, no exceptions. Would our ancestors account such a man as not being a Greek? Fr. Georges Florovsky, the eminent theologian (and by coincidence godfather of the aforementioned Fr. Mikhail from whom I was narrated stories of Fr. Georges’ little-known asceticism and fasting) said: “If a theologian starts thinking that ‘the Greek categories’ are archaic, he automatically will lose the rhythm of Catholicity.1 We must be more Greek to be truly Catholic, to be truly Orthodox.” Broadly speaking, the “Greek” referenced by Fr. Georges is defined as the Hellenism born from the early Church Fathers, such as the Cappadocians, who reconciled Ancient Greek philosophy with Christianity. This has nothing to do with genetics and DNA and who is descended from who—these categories are absolutely irrelevant. As a flower, one could say, or as an organism, Hellenism blossomed then, and is growing still.

Would our ancestors account the modern day Greek bishops as true Greeks? The question—“What would the ancestors say?”—is the fundamental question. Recently, Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto stated: “Let us work together for the glory of God and for our Holy Orthodox Faith in Christ! Only then will we live in peace, unity and love. In doing so, Greeks in Canada will accomplish even greater things! This is what we deserve! This is what we need. Let us all advance as one. Let no one remain behind or forgotten.” And yet, the policy of assimilation within the West promoted by the official Greek Orthodox Church in the past fifty years has failed the Greeks. This policy has ensured that scores—that thousands of Greeks—have become totally Anglicized, and finally, foreigners to the Orthodox Church.

Those who have a conscience know and understand that the official Greek Orthodox Church has absolutely nothing to offer them. It is void of any spirituality, any authenticity, any hint of originality. It has become a parody wherein once a year a food festival occurs, the main goal and focus being the collection of funds—with no absolute existential goal, no ultimate purpose or end beyond the exchange of funds, soulless numbers within a system. We could say it has morphed into a bank with the guise of faith. And reading these words, the Greeks know this message to be true as they see their children apostatizing from Orthodoxy and not speaking Greek, not feeling any particular “tie” to their ancestral homeland—the same homeland Metropolitan Sotirios appeals to to provide Hellenism with “ethical” support. This is not to say anything of the ties the Greeks no longer have with their Byzantine ancestors and the Eastern Roman legacy of Byzantium championed by Fr. Georges Florovsky!

Here is a fact we must all reckon with: The fact that ninety percent of those who identify as Greek Americans are not Orthodox Christians—a fact that the Greek Archdiocese of America ignores. It’s time that we find a new mode of ecclesial existence in order to preserve our faith and identity as Greeks.

Adherence to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the New World has seen a ninety percent apostasy.2 I ask: why should the Greeks continue to adhere to Constantinople? Since when was adherence to the Greek Archdiocese of America or Constantinople the defining characteristic of Hellenism? Are the Greeks who adhere to the other Patriarchates, such as Alexandria or Jerusalem, any less Greek? Are the Antiocheans, who still term themselves and their Patriarchate, “Greek Orthodox”, though today they are all Arabic-speaking, less Greek? If so, then Kottas Hrístou who died for Greece while screaming “Long live Greece!” in Bulgarian as he was hung by the Ottoman authorities also isn’t Greek. When nineteenth-century Orthodox Slavic immigrants to the new world termed their parishes “Greek Catholic”, what did they reference? The Unia? Obviously not.

They were referencing the Ecumenical Hellenism we mentioned, the distinct combination of Orthodoxy and Hellenism on which our common ancestors, the Eastern Romans, built a mighty empire. Whether we are Greeks or Serbs or Romanians or Russians, this legacy is our legacy. We are all co-inheritors of this legacy. We all share in the common duty of preserving it and influencing modern culture with it. In these uncertain times we live in, in this truly “novel” age of history that has dawned, little stability is left in western society. We must look into the past, to the Faith of our ancestors who intercede on our behalf, and we must seek new historical (though not physical) destinations and solutions to the seemingly insolvable problems we face. Despite the fallen men and women of Byzantium, it was a society wherein Christianity and Christ came first. This is what the common goal should be: that the Kingdom of God is reflected within our own earthly kingdom. Do all men and women not share in this goal as common children of the Father? Is our Eastern Orthodox Christianity not the basis of unity for all?

Here in the West, since the Russian Church has given us the opportunity to live the faith purely, there is no “loss of Hellenism” in doing so from within the Russian Church. After all, what is the difference in being a Greek under the Russian Church or a Greek under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? How does an Orthodox jurisdiction—a representative of the Eastern Roman Church—“prove” its Hellenism? Were the Greek Bishops who served the Russian Church historically, such as Evgenios Voulgaris and Nikiphoros Theotokis, both of Kerkyra, not Greeks? Here, in the New World, for us Greeks, the preservation of our language, our customs, and our traditions—but primarily our Orthodox Christianity—can only occur under the freedom provided by the Russian Orthodox Church, since the Greek Archdioceses long ago rejected their true vocation. The Greek Archdiocese claimed that Russians can live their faith within it in the so-called “Slavic” Vicariate, composed of defrocked and disgraced Russian clergy who were unfaithful sons. History will prove that I, and those who follow this example, are the faithful children of the Eastern Roman legacy. We invite those who care about the preservation of Orthodoxy and Hellenism—while ensuring their transmittance to the peoples of this land—to come and work with us.

Comments
Utrecht3/15/2021 1:15 am
It is no surprise on the cradle-born apostatizing when the last decades have also focused on "unity" and equating every faith as a "variant" of the Orthodox Church. See this teaching from GOARCH on every church outside of Orthodox being "peripheral members of the Church"[1]. If every Christian faith is "the same," then every scandal and scandalous person who says they are Christian is the same - you give your children and teens to the wolves of secularism when they have no grounding Faith in the One Church. What happens when they hear and see these things, then the prayers and Creed at Divine Liturgy say otherwise - it all becomes hypocrisy. This is from depending on the new theology of PHDs instead of the Saints and Holy Fathers. Bishops are not infallible and are not popes and you will not find Saints who support strict obedience to a Bishop who contradicts the Gospel or Apostles or Councils.[2] GOARCH promotion of peripheral members of the church - how long did this percolate through seminary and parishes? https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments In principle, the Orthodox church does not see the same fullness in the sacraments performed outside the Church. Yet she does not consider these actions of other Christians as lacking totally in spiritual power and substance. The Sacraments of other Christians are disfigured to the measure that Christ and His teaching have been kept or distorted. These Christians may be considered, in a lesser or greater degree, as peripheral members of the Orthodox Church. This states our martyrs for the faith could have just joined the "peripheral" churches, and that sacraments are only a "disfigurement" of Christ. If sacraments are disfigured, does one presuppose they have a disfigured Eucharist? Christs Body is divided and disfigured? [2] PHD modernists are not above our Holy Fathers and Saints. St. Ephraim the Syrian:​ “True, unlike false, obedience will not listen to seductive Heresy. But true obedience is the likeness of a pure betrothed (maiden), who is not drawn after the voices of strangers; and the ear which turns aside a little from the Truth is like the Adulteress who turns aside from her consort; and the ear which is led to all Teachings is like the harlot who is persuaded by every one who calls her. Let us, therefore, refute that erring obedience which is infected by the words of the liar, which, instead of the name of the true Bridegroom, loves the name of its corrupter. For it has consented that the name of Mani should be proclaimed over it, and not the name of the Messiah.” St. Theodore the Studite​: “For we have an injunction from the Apostle himself: If anyone preaches a doctrine, or urges you to do something, against what you have received, against what is prescribed by the canons of the catholic and local synods held at various times, he is not to be received, or to be reckoned among the number of the faithful. [The Church of God] has not permitted anything to be done or said against the established decrees and laws, although many shepherds have in many ways railed against them when they have called great and very numerous councils, and given themselves to put on a show of concern for the canons, while in truth acting against them... If anyone at all from among our contemporaries or from earlier times, if even Peter and Paul (for the sake of argument I suggest as possible something which is impossible), should come from heaven itself teaching and preaching something other than this faith, we could not receive him into communion, as not adhering to the pure teaching of the faith. And no matter what your authority thinks, Our Humility is ready to resist to death." Search our Saints on clergy and Bishops: Ss. Basil, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Maximos, John of Damascus, Stephen the Younger, Basil the Confessor of Parium, Gennadios Scholarios, Sty Symeon the NEw Theologian, St Ignatius, more.
Theodoros 3/11/2021 6:47 pm
Being of Greek ancestry, there are many things that have troubled me about the crisis in the Church. First and most importantly is the damage done to the unity of the Church and the desecration of the canons by Constantinople's effort to grab complete power at the expense of the conciliar tradition of the Church. A secondary outrage I feel as a Greek is that Patriarch Bartholomew has sought to place the Greek Churches under the influence of the State Department. His collusion with Washington is immoral! His policies have led to persecution of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and have made the Churches of Greece and Alexandria instruments of US foreign policy. Even some of the Monasteries of Mount Athos are doing the bidding of the Phanar-State Department alliance. It is a sad reality that the Greek Churches (with the exception of Jerusalem) are unfree as a result of Patriarch Bartholomew's intrigues. The Church of Cyprus appears somewhat better off than Greece but is in the midst of turmoil because of the actions of Archbishop Chrysostom who clearly recognized the fake bishops of Ukraine under enormous pressure from the Phanariots. The way to begin healing the schism is for the free Orthodox Churches to convene without the unfree Churches. It does not matter if such a gathering occurs under the presidency of Jerusalem, Moscow, or another Church as long as it takes place. The Churches need to address the American factor in the schism. Until the American government stops interfering in the affairs of the Church, this crisis will continue. The Churches need to address and confront the US Government. Only if the US government stops interfering with the Church will the local Churches be able to deal with Patriarch Bartholomew. Patriarch Bartholomew in the end needs to be deposed and completely removed as a force within Orthodoxy. When he is removed, the Ukrainian situation can be rectified and the freedom of the Greek Churches restored.
David3/11/2021 3:14 pm
Alexander, They disagree on the Ukraine issue. They are not "against the EP." There are disagreements in the Church on a number of issues, but we are one Church--not a street gang or sport team.
Alexander Leitner3/11/2021 12:01 pm
Dear David, most ALL Orthodox Churchrs are against the EP. Even many greeks.
David3/11/2021 3:01 am
Father, Bless. I think perhaps you misunderstood my point. I am not equating Greek Orthodoxy with the GOA. I spoke from the context of the GOA because that is the “flagship” so to speak of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, and it is the EP that seems to be the main focus of your criticism. My issue, is that the Moscow Patriarchate is alone in its anti-EP stance. No other Patriarchate or Church has broken Communion or otherwise engaged in polemics against it. Every dissenting Bishop and Church outside of the Moscow Patriarchate respects the EP’s position in the Church, but they have voiced their objections on Ukraine respectfully and peacefully. Why should anyone under the EP leave their parishes or bishops on the say so of one Patriarchate? How is the solution to division, more division? There are Greek Bishops who are preserving the Orthodox Faith today (many of them even commemorate Patriarch Bartholomew). Greek Orthodoxy is not a bureaucracy or run out of the Phanar, you are right. Bishops and Patriarchs come and go. What did the Greeks of Asia Minor do when the EP was a scoundrel and Turkish tool (there were a few who sat on the Ecumenical Throne)? They crossed themselves and prayed that the Lord would enlighten him. What did the Russian faithful do when the Moscow Patriarchate was riddled with the KGB? They prayed for their Bishops all the same, and remained faithful to the faithful clergy they had. Not everyone under the EP agrees with everything that happened in Ukraine, but the answer to schism is not more schism. That is the conclusion that I and the others who "stay" have come to. That is why people are holding fast where they are, and cleaving to the good priests and bishops that they have. The implication of your article is that those who stay are “complicit.” That is what I was referring to when I used the word "attack." What is gained, Father? You left, be at peace with that decision, if it is the will of God. We stay, and we are at peace with that decision, by the Grace of God.
Fr. Ioannis Fortomas3/10/2021 7:22 pm
The problem, David, is that you equate Greek Orthodoxy with an administrative bureaucracy run out of New York or the Phanar. Why do you equate my critique as being an “attack” on the many “good people” - clergy and laity - within the GOA? Anyways, the very fact that for you Greek Orthodoxy = GOA is problematic. It’s true there are good clergy within the GOA and other Greek jurisdictions. That doesn’t equate to holiness, nor speaking the truth in love. Another clarification. I would, in all sincerity, hope that the communities the Greeks worked hard to build would see the logic and reasoning in not remaining under false shepherds. I would hope that they would switch their allegiance to Bishops who preserve the Orthodox Faith.
David3/10/2021 9:15 am
The GOA has many converts as well (more as time goes on), and distinctions can be made between the Northeast "Home base" of the GOA, and the rest of the Metropolises that comprise it (much like the OCA's Alaska nucleus is quite distinct from the lower 48). Sadly, Father Ioannis is painting with very broad brushes and speaking of a GOA that is more and more ceasing to exist (although ethnocentrism remains a problem throughout Orthodoxy, not just "the Greeks"). There are good people in the GOA, laity and clergy. There are even good Bishops within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Why write articles attacking them, and trying to lure people away from communities that they worked hard with the Grace of God to build? You left the Greek Church, why not go in peace? The same thing with others who have left. Why not go in peace? The Greek Church (or any Church) is more than one Bishop or Patriarch. What is gained by articles like this? Certainly not edification.
Paul F MD3/10/2021 6:51 am
I am sixty five years old and also of Greek descent and birth, but educated and living in the USA for sixty years. Although during my early formative years and very early adult years I identified as a "Greek" and sought out my Greek heritage, I presently have no desire to "connect" to my "Greek heritage" because it no longer exists, not even in Greece. Being "Greek" no longer holds any power or attraction whether speaking of God, country or person. I remember as a child being taught by my Greek teachers that love of God came first, followed by love of country and thirdly the love for your parents. These attributes have long lived both in my conscious and subconscious, but without a strong and sovereign home nation that respects God, church and its way of life, these connections and attachment are lost forever. When the "home country" itself no longer respects these ideals, one needs to look elsewhere for strength, sovereignty and a reflection of who we are as creations of God. Fortunately for many Orthodox Christians from many lands and countries, Russia remains this shiny beacon on the hill.
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