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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • The twentieth century, Greeks and Arabs
      • The Church of Greece
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The Church of Greece

continues to occupy a central place in the life of the country as a whole.

Writing in the early 1950s, a sympathetic Anglican observer remarked: .Hellas, when all is said

as to the spread of secularism and indifference, remains a Christian nation in a sense of which we

in the west can have but little conception. (Hammond, The Waters of Marah, p. 25). In the 1951 census,

out of a total population of 7,632,806, the Orthodox numbered 7,472,559 other Christians no

more than 41,107; in addition there were 112,665 Mohammedans, 6,325 Jews, 29 persons of

other religions, and 121 atheists. Today there is much more indifference than in the 1950s, and

the Socialist government elected in 1981 began to take steps towards a separation of Church and

State; but the Church remains deeply influential.

  Greek dioceses of today, as in the primitive Church, are small: there are 78 (contrast Russia

before 1917, with 67 dioceses for 100 million faithful) and in north Greece many dioceses con-

tain less than 100 parishes. In ideal and often in reality, the Greek bishop is not merely a distant

administrator, but an accessible figure with whom his flock  can have personal contact, and in

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whom the poor and simple freely confide, calling daily in large numbers for practical as well as

spiritual advice. The Greek bishop delegates far less to his parish clergy  than a bishop in the

west, and in particular he still reserves to himself much of the task of preaching, though he is as-

sisted in this by a small staff of monks or educated laymen, working under his direction.

  Thus by no means all the married parish clergy of Greece in the past preached sermons; nor

is this surprising, since few had received  a regular theological training.  In pre-Revolutionary

Russia  all  parish  priests  had  passed  through  a  theological  seminary,  but  in  Greece  in  the  year

1920, of 4,500 married  clergy, less than 1,000 had received more than an ordinary elementary

school education. Hitherto the priest of the Greek countryside has been closely integrated with

the local community: usually he is a native of the village which he serves; after ordination, as

well as being priest, he still continues with his previous work, whatever that may be . carpen-

try, shoemaking, or more commonly farming; he is not a man of higher learning than the laity

round him; very possibly he has never attended a seminary. This system has had certain undeni-

able advantages, and in particular it has meant that the Greek Church has avoided a cultural gulf

between pastor and people, such as has existed in England for several centuries. But with the rise

in educational standards in Greece during recent years, a change in this system has become nec-

essary: today priests clearly need a more specialized training, and it seems likely that hencefor-

ward most, if not all, Greek ordinands will be sent to study in a seminary.

  The two older universities of Greece, at Athens and Thessalonica, both contain Faculties of

Theology. Non-Orthodox are often surprised to find that the great majority of professors in both

faculties are laymen, and that most of the students have no intention of being ordained; but Or-

thodox consider it entirely natural that the laity as well as the clergy should take an interest in

theology. Many students afterwards teach religion in secondary schools, and it is usually the lo-

cal schoolmasters whom the bishops choose as their lay preachers. Only a few of these students

become parish clergy; a few others are professed as monks, though it is likely that only a minor-

ity of these graduate monks will live as resident members of a monastery: in most cases they will

work on the bishop.s staff, or perhaps become preachers.

  The theological professors of Greece have produced a considerable body of important work

during the past half century: one thinks at once of Chrestos Androutsos, author of a famous

Dogmatic Theology first published in 1907, and more recently of men such as P. N. Trembelas,

P. I. Bratsiotis, I. N. Karmiris, B. Ioannides, and Ieronymos Kotsonis, the recent Archbishop of

Athens, an expert on Canon Law. But  while fully  acknowledging the notable achievements of

modern Greek theology, one cannot deny that it possesses certain shortcomings. Many Greek

theological writings, particularly if compared with work by members of the Russian emigration,

seem a little arid and academic in tone. The situation mentioned in an earlier chapter has contin-

ued to the present century, and most Greek theologians have studied for a time at a foreign uni-

versity, usually in Germany; and sometimes German religious thought seems to have influenced

their work at the expense of their own Orthodox tradition. Theology in Greece today suffers from

the divorce between the monasteries and the intellectual life of the Church: it is a theology of the

university lecture room, but not a mystical theology, as in the days of Byzantium when theologi-

cal scholarship flourished in the monastic cell as well as in the university. Nevertheless in Greece

at the present time there are encouraging signs of a more flexible approach to theology, and of a

living recovery of the spirit of the Fathers.

  What of the monastic life? In male communities, the shortage of young monks is as alarm-

ing on the mainland of Greece as it was on Athos until recently, and many houses are in danger

of  being  closed  altogether.  There  are  very  few  educated  men  in  the  communities.  But  this

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gloomy prospect is relieved by striking exceptions, such as the  recently  founded monastery  of

the Paraclete  at Oropos  (Attica). Some older communities still attract novices .  for  example,

Saint John the Evangelist on the island of Patmos (under the Ecumenical Patriarch). In Meteora

some notable efforts to revive the monastic life were made by the late Metropolitan Dionysius of

Trikkala. Here there are a series of monastic houses, perched on rocky pinnacles in a remote part

of Thessaly, which were partially repopulated in the 1960s by young and well-educated monks.

But the constant flow of tourists rendered monastic life impossible, and in the 1970s almost all

the monks moved to Mount Athos.

  But while the situation of male communities is often critical, the female communities are in

a far more lively condition, and the number of nuns is rapidly increasing. Some of the most ac-

tive convents are of quite recent origin, such as the Convent of the Holy Trinity on Aegina, dat-

ing from 1904, whose founder, Nektarios (Kephalas), Metropolitan of Pentapolis (1846-1920),

has already been canonized; or the Convent of Our Lady of Help at Chios, established in 1928,

which now has fifty members. The Convent of the Annunciation at Patmos, started in 1936 by

Father Amphilochios (died 1970; perhaps the greatest pnevmatikos or spiritual father in post-war

Greece), already has two daughter houses, at Rhodes and Kalymnos. (In this connection one must also

mention the impressive Old Calendarist Convent of Our Lady at Keratea in Attica, founded in 1925, which now has

between two and three hundred nuns. On the Old Calendarists, see p. 309).

  In the past twenty years a surprising number of classic works of monastic spirituality have

been reprinted in Greece, including a new edition of the Philokalia. It seems that there is a re-

vived interest in the ascetic and spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy,  a development which bodes

well for the future of the monasteries.

  Religious art in Greece is undergoing a most welcome transformation. The debased

westernized style, universal at the beginning of the present century, has largely been abandoned

in favor of the older Byzantine tradition. A number of churches at Athens and elsewhere have

recently been decorated with a full scheme of icons and frescoes, executed in strict conformity

with the traditional rules. The leader of this artistic renewal, Photius Kontoglou (1896-1965),

was noted  for his uncompromising advocacy  of Byzantine  art. Typical of his outlook is his

comment on the art of the Italian Renaissance: .Those who see in a secular way say that it pro-

gressed, but those who see in a religious way say that it declined. (C. Cavarnos, Byzantine Sacred Art:

Selected Writings of the contemporary Greek icon painter Fotis Kontoglous, New York, 1957, p. 21).

  Greece possesses an Orthodox counterpart to Lourdes: the island of Tinos, where in 1823 a

miracle-working icon of the Virgin and Child was discovered, buried underground in the founda-

tions of a ruined church. A large pilgrimage shrine stands today on the site, which is visited in

particular by the sick, and many  cases of miraculous healing have occurred. There are always

great crowds on the island for the Feast of the Assumption (15 August).

  In the Greek Church of the present century there has been a striking development of .home

missionary. movements, devoted to evangelistic and  educational workApostoliki  Diakonia

(.Apostolic Service.), the official organization concerned with the  .Home Mission,. was

founded in 1930. Alongside it there are a number of parallel movements which, while cooperat-

ing with the bishops and other Church authorities, spring from private initiative . Zoe, Sotir, the

Orthodox Christian Unions, and others. The oldest, most influential, and most controversial of

these movements, Zoe (.Life.), also known as the .Brotherhood of Theologians,. was started by

Father Eusebius Matthopoulos in 1907. It is in fact a kind of semi-monastic order, since all its

members must be unmarried, although they take no formal vows and are free to leave the Broth-

erhood at any time. About a quarter of the Brotherhood are monks (none of whom live regularly

in a monastery)  and the rest laymen. One wonders how far  Zoe,  with  its  monastic  structure,

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points the way to future developments in the Orthodox Church. In the past the primary task of an

eastern monk has been prayer; but, besides this traditional type of monasticism, is there not also

room in Orthodoxy for .active. religious orders, parallel to the Dominicans and Franciscans in

the west, and dedicated to the work of evangelism in the world?

  These .home missionary. movements, especially Zoe, lay great stress on Bible study and

encourage frequent communion. Between them they publish an impressive number of periodicals

and books, with a very  wide circulation. Under  their leadership and guidance there exist today

about 9,500 catechism schools (in 1900 there were few if any such schools in Greece), and it is

reckoned that fifty-five per cent of Greek children . in some parishes a far higher proportion .

regularly attend catechism classes. Besides these schools, a wide program of youth work is un-

dertaken: .The period of adolescence,. to quote an Anglican writer, .when so overwhelming a

portion of our own children lose all vital contact with the Church, is commonly that at which the

young  Greek  Christian  begins  to  play  an  active  part  in  the  life  of  his  local  community.  (P.

Hammond, The Waters of Marah, p. 133).

  The influence of these .home missionary. movements has declined considerably in the

1900s and 1970s, and in particular the words just quoted . written more than twenty-five years

ago . unfortunately would need today to be qualified.

 




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