Jewish Journal


June 18, 2012

Greece’s biggest failure? The Orthodox Church



ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς (“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”) – Matthew 7:20

And even I, myself [King Benjamin], have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne…” – Mosiah 2:14 [Book of Mormon]

My stock portfolio and I were very relieved to learn that Greeks had voted to save their economy by giving the New Democracy Party a narrow win over the delusional Syriza Party. Now that European governments have breathed a great sigh of relief, they can prepare to negotiate the final terms of the Greek bailout package. While I’ve seen plenty of reports on the country’s economic ills, few of them have highlighted the country’s spectacular moral failings. The sad truth is that almost all of them can be laid squarely at the gilded doors of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, to which 98% of Greeks belong.

There is little de facto separation of church and state in Greece. Greeks don’t just have a constitution: its official title is “The Constitution of Greece – In the Name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity.” This holy constitution establishes Greek Orthodoxy as the country’s “prevailing” religion, and the state pays for the clergy’s seminaries, salaries, and pensions. All of this largesse would be understandable if the government were getting inspiring moral leadership in return. Even a cursory review of Greek’s current situation shows that this is hardly the case.

I have blogged before about the Orthodox Church’s shameful record on anti-Semitism, and it bears repeating: surveys show that Greece is among the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel countries in Europe. Matters were not helped any when the Orthodox Metropolitan of Piraeus (a senior bishop on the public dole) declared 18 months ago that “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.” [In a “statement of clarification,” the Metropolitan added, “My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the ‘Sanhedrin’ which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism.”]

Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that Mark’s First Principle of Persecution – those who dislike Jews also dislike Mormons as well – is operative in Greece. According to the U.S. State Department, at least eight LDS missionaries have been arrested in the last four years. Six were released within two hours, and two missionaries spent two days in jail before being tried and acquitted of all charges. Former missionaries in Greece whom I contacted confirmed stories of police harassment and hostility towards church members and missionaries stoked by local Orthodox bishops and priests.

In addition to anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, Greeks are well-known for having a corrupt government and an aversion to paying taxes, the latter a primary focus of economic reform proposals. Clearly the Orthodox Church is not engaged in serious moral teaching and/or the people aren’t listening. Since only a quarter of Greeks attend church regularly, my guess is that their spiritual needs aren’t being met by the priests that they’re supporting.

I have two solutions for this disconnect. First of all, the best spending cut that the Greek government could implement would be to cut off funding for the salaries and pensions of all Orthodox priests, deacons and bishops. Ditto for Orthodox seminaries. Both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon provide examples of spiritual giants (e.g., the Apostle Paul) who supported themselves through hard work. One reason why Mormon bishops and other local leaders are unusually successful in their moral teaching efforts is because they all have day jobs, which allows them to relate very well to their congregants. [While it’s true that rabbis, like Greek Orthodox priests, are also supported by others, they have been much more successful in preaching moral values to their flocks than their Orthodox counterparts in Greece.] 
My second suggestion would be to tone down the church’s nationalism. I recall visiting a Greek Orthodox church in Santa Barbara a few years ago and leafing through an official church publication. Several articles discussed political issues related to Cyprus and Macedonia, and their tone was so biased that they could have been written by the Greek Foreign Ministry. This kind of material doesn’t belong in a magazine published by a universal apostolic church. In the end, nationalism is a poor substitute for inspired moral teaching, and the empty pews throughout Greece bear witness to this.

One of Israel’s official titles is “Light Unto the Nations,” a reminder that from the days of the prophet Isaiah Judaism has been expected to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the world. Rightly or wrongly, Israel’s actions – good and bad – are often seen as a reflection of Judaism’s ethics and morality. Although most Israelis are not religious, and Jewish law doesn’t govern the country, Jews’ image and ethics are constantly on trial when three quarters of a nation’s population is Jewish. The Greek Orthodox Church deserves similar scrutiny, since almost every Greek is a member.

If one were to give an evaluation of the moral teaching of this national church of a country on the brink of financial ruin, one would have to conclude that it has utterly failed to provide moral and spiritual leadership to millions of Greeks. In LDS theology, spiritual leaders have a solemn responsibility to teach correct moral principles to their congregants, lest God hold them responsible for the people’s sins. Greek priests would do well to follow this principle. In this case, the kindest thing that the Greek government could do for Orthodox leaders (as well as for the country) is to ask them to increase their moral preaching, nix the nationalism – and get a day job.


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