Here’s a treat for the occasional english-speaking reader (or just a passer-by). It’s an article written by Associate Professor Victor Roudometof of the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Cyprus. The article, entitled “Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Uses of the Past in Contemporary Greece”, was published in the “Religions” Journal (2011, vol.2) on May 11th, 2011.
If you’re American and used to debating with Church-State separation as a given, you might find the contents of the article quite disturbing (given that such separation is virtually non-existent in Greece). In any case it should make for an interesting read.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
and the Uses of the Past
in Contemporary Greece
Abstract: The article examines the use of Orthodox Christianity in the debates over the cultural heritage of contemporary Greece. Since the birth of modern Greece, Orthodox Christianity has been used as one of the foundational cultural markers for the construction of Modern Greek national identity. This employment of religion is particularly evident in the case of history in its popularized format. In contemporary cultural politics, debates over the building of a mosque in Athens or the role of Orthodoxy in history textbooks offer particular illustrations of the public significance of Orthodox Christianity. This high profile role was particularly pronounced during the reign of the late Archbishop Christodoulos (1998–2008). The article suggests that the engagement and influence of the Church on public debates depends upon the nature of the affair: The Church enjoys more authority in ecclesiastical issues and is far less influential on issues of broader interest, such as geopolitical disputes.
The full article is open to the general public and can be read here (in PDF form).
Here’s an excerpt I found interesting and quite informative. If you won’t bother reading the full article, just take a look at this (the links are mine and not present in the original text):
In Greece‘s case, there are three different levels of generality with respect to the range of issues where the Church and Eastern Orthodox Christianity in general is implicated. First, there are the most specific ecclesiastical issues, such as the cremation of the dead or the issue of burial rites and baptism for those who had a civil wedding. These are topics about which the Church enjoys an authoritative position. Some of these issues have more to do with the interpretation of Canon Law and less with national history or heritage per se. Second, there is a broad range of more diffuse topics, such as the listing of religious affiliation on ID cards, the operation of mosques or the Costa Gravas video. These are topics that do not concern the Church alone. Rather, the state and various other constituencies within the public voice their own opinions and also shape the final outcome in each case. In other words, in these topics, the Church has to compete for the legitimacy of its viewpoints vis-à-vis other parties. This is also the category in which the ―use of the past becomes a highly contested and publicly deliberated issue. Third, there are some broad political issues, such as geopolitics or issues of national interest and foreign policy. Although the perspectives expressed on such topics —like the Macedonian Question— are certainly colored by considerations of national memory and heritage, it is far from the only consideration. Foreign policy issues often are decided with realism and geopolitics in mind and the state is a privileged player in these affairs. In this domain, the Church has only limited ability to influence outcomes, as it is only one of several agents in the public scene. Certainly, it can voice its own perspectives but with far less appeal than on ecclesiastical issues.
Naturally, the flow isn’t one-way. We don’t just have Church officials trying to squeeze into politics. We also have, as in the US, politicians sucking up to the Church in the hopes they will attract voters; not to mention that openly opposing the Church can be politically suicidal, especially for parliament members belonging to the two major political parties. And it’s hardly uncommon for the Church to receive special treatment just to shut it up or delay them from playing the persecution card (though they do use it from time to time).
Welcome to the hellenic side of the Wall of Separation. And trust me guys, for the time being US grass is greener. Count your blessings! (but don’t get too complacent).