Photo: Bishop Innocentios of Burundi and Rwanda (of Africa) during a pilgrimage by Orthodox African Christians to the mountains of the Caucasus to honour Saint Nina who, during the 4th century had brought Christianity to the land of Georgia (from here)
Ελληνικά: Χριστιανισμός, εθνικισμός και ρατσισμός
By Theodore J. Rigniotes, Theologian
Ours is an age of panic: with an economic crisis that increasingly impacts the weakest... with mental stress intensified by the (with or without quotation marks) pandemic... with a serious deficit in the State’s presence in support of the citizen... with various external threats (for example, even from neighbouring lands) and a host of other thorny issues... all test our patience and our endurance by shredding people’s dignity and jeopardizing the sense of security that they should be feeling - not only within their own country, but even as an immigrant in any “free” (whatever that may imply) and well-governed country.
No-one can even be sure that tomorrow it will be possible to switch on the light, have water in our glass and food on our plate... not to mention free healthcare and education, permanent jobs, etc. (these are becoming increasingly forgotten items). There is also no certainty if people are actually being tracked by technology every minute, or being “sprayed” with unknown materials, or if humans have already been turned into faceless numbers of an electronic hyper-system, which can imminently direct their daily lives upon the decisions made by certain powerful individuals and in disregard if such things were desired or approved.
Of course there are thousands of fellow human beings who have already been deprived of all these basic needs (even potable water and daily nourishment!), which we, the “many”, have for decades taken for granted. But, being increasingly informed by the mass media and the bills that are sent to consumers every month, these important commodities are no longer self-evident.
As in every time of panic, so today, conditions have favoured the emergence of extreme political tendencies that promise the people liberation from their painful shackles. This is the reason one sees Nazist groups and extreme-right parties infiltrating Parliament and their ideas finding followers - even among people who do not vote for them.
Among other things, Christianity is also being turned into an element of political ideology. This can be expected, inasmuch as Christianity also possesses a social message (which is automatically a political message as well), but also because in the past, the Christian faith has often inspired the liberating revolutions – not only by the Greek populace, but also by other peoples of the world.
So, it looks like we are becoming politicized as Christians. However, one must never forget that Christianity is primarily a spiritual matter. Regrettably, in the recent past it had been misused as the (governing) dictatorship’s crutch... Likewise, during the Middle Ages it was twisted into a means of terrorizing and oppressing the Western European peoples by the so-called “Roman Catholic Church”, as well as by the kings of Europe. This is why care and awareness are imperative, that Christianity cannot be turned into a political faction, but rather should be inspiring a political stance for the benefit of the people. The viewpoint that Christianity should not be expressed publicly is not only erroneous; it is also suspicious, because the underpinning of Christianity is both revolutionary and liberating.
The political stance inspired by authentic Christianity is characterized by justice, charity towards all people (even criminals), respect towards every person, selflessness, and willingness for self-sacrifice and self-offering.
Most certainly a Christian (whether politicized or not) cannot remain apathetic towards issues such as social injustice, economic impoverishment, the exploitation of workers (even the major Fathers of the Church, such as the Three Hierarchs who had openly expressed a vehement critique against the authorities of their time, had risked their very lives in doing so!), but also towards issues which at first sight do not seem political - such as the humiliation of the human body by transforming it into a sexual object, and the bombardment with messages of violence and frenzy festering especially within the generation of teenagers (but also of children) through “entertainment” mediums that include scenes of murder and torture, stories of horror and cannibalism, monstrous and demonic “heroes”, etc. These items – and many others unfortunately! – have already shown their bitter fruits, both in the lives of young people but also in entire families and in society as a whole.
Reprehensible extremes incompatible with the Christian faith, which are nevertheless often muddled when ideologically labelled as “Christianity” (causing confusion and aberrations), are ideas such as nationalism, racism, conditional acceptance of violence (against a guilty party for example) - even the acceptance of fascism of varying hues.
Nationalism and racism, under the inclusive term “ethno-phyletism”, have been explicitly condemned by the Orthodox Church in 1872, by decision of the Great Local Synod in Constantinople, on account of the Bulgarian nationalism at the time, which had turned the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria into a weapon of domination of the peoples living in northern Greece’s Turk-occupied Macedonia and Thrace - which had triggered the Macedonian Struggle around 1900, with the participation of many Cretans also. This was of course preceded by the Greek nationalist movement by the Bavarians who ruled Greece in 1833 and had excised the Church of Greece from the Ecumenical Patriarchate - which finally recognized it by making it an Autocephalous (self-governing) Church.
Nowadays similar trends have been observed in certain places (i.e. newly pronounced, pseudo “States”), where an approving stance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate towards groups such as the nationalist charactered “Churches” of the Ukraine and the “Macedonian Church” in Skopje, which, from their non-canonical and marginal (schismatic) status were arbitrarily declared as canonical, legal Churches of those regions, AND autocephalous (=not dependent on any Patriarchate or any other, local Orthodox Church). Only God knows what the long-term consequences of this practice will be: therapeutic, or traumatic?
It would be useful to mention here the condemnation of negro slavery in the USA by the Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim II in 1862 (with an article of his in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s magazine “Eastern Star”, republished in America), as well as the move by the Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos of America who had gone to Selma, Alabama and had stood by Martin Luther King for the second black rights demonstration march in March of 1965.
Apart from the above, it should be stressed that Greeks who embrace their cultural tradition should not be nationalists. “Philopatrids” – that is, patriots with a love for their homeland – yes; but not nationalists.
Nationalism is the fruit of the efforts by Western European peoples to liberate themselves from the feudalism and the oppressive empires that were robbing them of their very lives. The people of Greece had faced this problem too, during the centuries-long Turkish occupation; but until that time (or even during that time) they had belonged uninterruptedly for entire centuries to a multinational society that preserved individual and particular cultures and Histories, but whose members were united by common moral values and common ideals. This society was the Christian Romaic Empire (or “Romania” as it was called during the last centuries of its history) – whose general description came to prevail as “Byzantium”.
Because of the name “Romania” (from which is also derived the name of the country of Romania), all the descendants of the “Byzantines” are characterized as “Romans”, while the totality of all the peoples who were once “Byzantines” is characterized as “Romanity”. (Note: “Romanity” is also the title of the much-sung rendition of the poem by Yannis Ritsos and the music by Mikis Theodorakis). Its message is Christian, but not nationalist. “Roman” refers to every Orthodox Christian - not only of the Balkans, but also of Turkey (for example Saint Ahmed the Calligrapher, who was martyred by the Ottoman state for converting to Christianity), also Saint John of Damascus of Syria, Saint Makarios of Egypt, Martyrs of Palestine and of many other peoples. This had also been the aim of the major, exceptionally important Greek idealist, Rigas Feraios.
All Orthodox Christians are one with these - just as they are one with every Orthodox Christian of all peoples, wherever on earth (from Uganda for example to Alaska - and of course even to Russia, Ukraine, etc. – hence our grief being double over the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict), as they are all united by the Common Chalice of Holy Communion, which no-one is allowed to deprive us of - regardless if it is attempted in the name of fear, say, of a certain pandemic or for any other reason...
Although not united by the Common Chalice with other Christian groups and the faithful of other religions, we are however united in the teachings of Jesus Christ about love towards all people – and this is something that should never, ever be forgotten.
Romanity is “ecumenical” – inasmuch as it aspires to embrace all peoples in the world - but at the same time is opposed to the orientation of contemporary Globalization, which primarily aspires to self-interest (=looking out for one’s own interests) and is in the hands of powerful economic and political factors, who are anything but concerned with bringing man closer to God, which is the most important element and the most desirable aim in the life of Christians.
In political terms, Globalization is by nature colonialist. Romanity is its exact opposite.
As for conditional violence (with slogans such as “hang them in the public square!” as a reaction to criminals such as paedophiles, rapists, drug dealers etc. - even politicians), it seems quite clear that such behaviour does not befit people who simultaneously wish to be proper Orthodox Christians. Of course convictions, restraints and imprisonments of criminals are necessary – especially those guilty of heinous crimes! However such condemnations should not be vindictive while simultaneously claiming to be proper Christians!. They should aspire to protect society and to rehabilitate – that is, to correct (if and where possible) the guilty parties.
It is understandably very difficult – even superhuman! – for one to defeat the natural human tendency towards hatred and revenge. However, a Christian should not be a “natural” person, but a “supernatural” one. We must all be human beings that rise above the earth heavenward to become angels... indeed more than angels – and become “children of God”. It is the reason that Christ Himself (the only-begotten Son of God) had taught us to recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father...” as if we too are like Christ: as sons and daughters of God. We should pay careful attention to this detail and at least strive to honour it.