The Exodus

We have followed the 'double language' of the Orthodox Church during the last seven centuries in an attempt to critically appreciate its position in history. The Greek Orthodox Church was early taken captive by secular authority; first by Constantine, then by Justinian and his court, by other Byzantine emperors, by the Ottoman sultan and finally by the nation-state of Greece. It has always functioned as a court institution and then as one of the many state apparatuses. Its very structure is that of the Roman and Byzantine court with the later addition of the Ottoman influence. To this day it has maintained the same ceremonial character as can be found in Constantine Porphyro-genitus' famous treatise De ceremoniis (with the theological underpinnings of PseudoDionysius' Celestial Hierarchy); as long as there was a Christian authority, the basileus, such ceremonialism affirmed its sacred character, political purpose and cultural mission. However, during the Ottoman period, this ceremonial mentality was transformed into hierocratic ritualism and led to the further alienation of the faithful from the actual text of the liturgy: although it is called the word of the laos (people), there is no active participation in worship of the faithful themselves, who are mechanically called to receive Holy Communion and then pay their alms to church vicars.

By identifying itself with the state the Church has disregarded the potentially 'sinful' character of power and has withdrawn from a dialogue with society - especially with those affected by such sinful character. Throughout its history within Greece, it allied itself to any government in power even when there was a serious, and obvious, case of constitutional and legal aberration in the country. By becoming public servants in the Greek nation-state, priests simply lost the authority to become moral agents and speak on behalf of the faithful. The Church actively participated in the persecution of political opponents, of whole political parties, and has allied itself to dictatorships. This persecution is not symptomatic and is definitely not circumstantial. The absence of internal democracy has led to complete identification with autocratic and authoritarian languages and epistemic regimes; the Church has remained the prominent antidemocratic force within Greek society because it hasn't accepted the premises of the modern nation-state, which was created under the project of the Enlightenment.

The leadership, prominent theologians and popular preachers of the end of the twentieth century totally reject the Enlightenment, forgetting that the very existence of the Greek Orthodox Church, or indeed of the Greek state, is owed to it. Furthermore, they reject the premises of the Enlightenment and yet they refuse to be reunited with the mother Church of Constantinople, which now they see as an opponent and an enemy. In 2004 there was a major crisis in relations between the two Churches that almost led to a complete schism and virtual excommunication; and this sad development was thwarted only after the political intervention of the Greek state, which now acts as the moderator of the social theatrics of bishops and priests.

The lack of internal democracy has also led to the Church's inability to accept new proposals or ideas; inability to deal with modern challenges has quashed any development of doctrine under contemporary challenges. This is due mainly to the lack of biblical tradition in Greece; an impartial observer might feel that the Bible is a very unwelcome book within the Greek Orthodox tradition, which sees it simply as another liturgical book and not as the profound revelation in time and place of the divine Logos. From fear of Protestant biblicism, the Orthodox Church has surrounded the Bible with moralizing trivialities and obscure allegorizations, which mean nothing and which usually end with a political proclamation against the enemies of the Church.

The Church needs to regain its ecclesiastical character as the ecclesia of the people; it must therefore open up and reach out to the faithful by disavowing the secular power with which it has been invested since imperial Rome and Constantinople, and rediscover its own koinonia of the faithful. It must rediscover the tragic character of human history as a traumatic loss of innocence for every individual - and for such loss there is a collective responsibility. Within the sacramental community of the ecclesia the faithful regain collectively the pristine gaze of prelapsarian humanitas. But within the confines of historical realities the Church must open its own Christian tradition to culture and democracy, distancing itself from Constantinian ecclesiasticism, dogmatism and ungodly hubris.

Instead of being a volkish church based on blood and soil, which is unfortunately what it has become, the Church must rediscover its own ecumenical character, its apostolic and liberating mission. In history, it must also rediscover its middle ground between the global spiritual authority of Roman Catholicism, the religious democracy of Protestant Christianity and the political democracy of the Enlightenment; instead of demonizing each one of them and rejecting their contribution to the development of common humanity and the Christian heritage, it must boldly synthesize them, creating an open ecclesia in which clergy and laity experience their own vulnerability as conscious moments in history in a process of spiritual unfolding. Instead of using the Greek language as the sacrament itself, or the nation as the object of worship in itself, the ecclesia must create a 'socialized individual' within the bonds of a communio sanctorum.

The democratization of the Church will democratize the inner self, the thinking subject, and will liberate the faithful (clergy and laity) from the seductive privileges of state power in which the current Church is completely immersed. Strangely, while a theological storm has been raging throughout the Christian world since World War II, none of this has found any kind of expression in the theological discussions within the Greek Orthodox Church; on the contrary, every new Archbishop of Athens praises his Church for having maintained the 'authentic message' of the 'original church', and dismisses everything and everyone else outside their fold. (On some occasions, even the co-Orthodox Russians have not escaped some extremely derogatory comments, precisely for being Russian Orthodox and not Greek.) No real engagement with the problems raised by secularity and postmodernity has ever been attempted within the Church; no moral reflection, no spiritual discussion or even a reasonable intellectual debate have ever been fostered or promoted by the Church.

On the contrary, as an organization protected by the state, the Greek Orthodox Church reproduces a theological rhetoric which simply justifies its policies and actions. No self-reflective discourse is established because, according to the dominant perception, there are no mistakes to admit to. While the pope was persistently asked to apologise for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, the Greek Orthodox Church cannot contemplate making its own apology to persecuted religious minorities in the country, or recognize the gross errors of its involvement in politics (or even of the slaughtering of all foreigners in Constantinople in 1182). While bishops come and go, all structures remain the same; and their occupants ignore their historical development and the changes they underwent in history.

Since spirituality has been reduced to liturgicalism and koinonia to ecclesiasticism, no real theological questions can arise within the mindset of the Greek Orthodox subjectivity. Ecclesiastical language and life reproduces all aspects of public life in the image of official power, employing the rhetoric of the empire and imposing an impoverished vocabulary of communication which simply limits the ability for self-critical reasoning. It constantly uses a kind of religious Newspeak, tending to attribute all contemporary problems to the addition of the filioque in the Creed. The Greek Orthodox Church has established and imposed a set of mis-naming strategies, which see history as dystopia and historical experience as a constant attack against the true Church of Jesus Christ, i.e., itself, or against the only Truth, which it also enshrines. Within this mentality it defines a way of living with dolce far niente as its dominant motto; by raising the divisive walls that isolated the triumphant Byzantium from Europe, it repeats the same errors and exhibits the same exclusivity even as it purports to be participating in the ecumenical dialogue. The real theological issues of historicity, corporeality, logical rearticulation of the doctrine through natural sciences, and the elaboration of faith through postmodern existential fragmentation and semantic nihilism do not even appear in the mental universe of the hierarchy, or of its closely attached theologians, who see everything in black and white polarities and as constant conspiracies against Orthodoxy.

The Greek Orthodox Church is in need of a new ecclesiology; it must see its tradition within the historical experience of the faithful by discarding the practices of a state-sponsored church, and reintroduce the concept of Christian universalism. In the world of fragmented postmodernity, it must regain its organic unity of a diverse community, fostering debates, dismantling bureaucratic overcentralization and creating social possibilities for a spiritual revival. The current situation is the grossest distortion of the eastern tradition: the Greek Orthodox Church has to be seen as another political party, not as an eschatological community; it is characterized by arrogance, secularism and a marked anti-intellectual mentality which, disguised under the false pretences of defending faith and opposing secularity, impose a mentality of intolerance, sterility and fundamentalism.

In Greece Orthodoxy has evolved into orthodoxism; or more precisely, as two young theologians have remarked about the Church of Greece:

it has become a new atypical institution: we call it 'alternative theocracy'. It is a politically correct version of theocracy, which does not question the current rules of the democratic state, and at the same time it tries to dissociate itself from the similar, utterly autocratic cases of the Western Dark Ages or of contemporary Islam. And yet it never ceases to be bedevilled by the same mentality: the mentality of the primacy of spiritual authority over that of the secular state. (Arkadas and Mpekridakis 2001: 22)

When Jesus said 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's' (Mark 12: 17), the Evangelist states that 'they were all amazed at him'; obviously after many centuries the amazement has not abated in the least.

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