Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Fascism’s Orthodox crusaders

Junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos

By George Koumoullis

IT SHOULD surprise nobody that the archbishop’s heart is pounding with emotion and joy because a fascist party has entered parliament for the first time. Just a brief review of history shows the close ties between the church and fascist regimes in Greece. By the term ‘church’ I mean the priests running the show, the high clergy that represent the institution, and as the subject is very broad I will focus on Greece.

A kaleidoscopic overview of perceptions about nation and religion should cover the 19th century during which the ideology of ‘Greek-Christian ideals’ developed and constituted the marriage of two completely different ideologies. The prevailing thinking in Greece at the time was that the nation always moved side by side with the church and that the clergy was obliged to follow and support anything that was covered by the national idea.

The position of the Greek Orthodox church, which identified with the two fascist dictatorships of the 20th century, was that the chosen people were the Greeks, the church’s mission was the salvation of the nation (not people irrespective of race) and without Hellenism there was no church and vice versa.

To impose itself on the country in 1936, the Metaxas dictatorship relied on the wholehearted support of the church. It was indicative that in August 1937, one year after the dictatorship came to power, the magazine Ekklisia (the official mouthpiece of the Holy Synod) wrote: “The enthusiasm with which the Greek people of the capital and all the districts celebrated last Wednesday the anniversary under Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, was indescribable. This transformation, resulting in the reconstruction of national ideals, the return of the nation to the royal road of Greek morality and nobility, the regrouping of the Greek soul in the track of the Orthodox religion, in this pool and the Ark of our nation.

The church also fully identified with the dictatorship of Georgios Papadopoulos and Demetris Ioannides and accepted the role of ideological and spiritual alibi for the torturers. ‘Greece of Greek Christians’ was the sign hung in all churches. The priests referred to the dictator Papadopoulos as the ‘saviour of the nation’, ‘blessed’, ‘man of God’ and ‘worthy of the country’.

As for his notorious partner Despina, for her the church had a special address, as published in To Vima of March 3, 1968: “We have two Despinas. One in the heavens, the Virgin Mary, and another on earth, Mrs President.”

The toadies of the junta were not just the bishops of Greece but also the patriarch of Orthodoxy. First among them was the Ecumenical Patriarch Athinagoras who expressed his elation, during his visit to Greece in 1968, over the ‘national salvation work’ of the ‘national’ government.

In August 1968 the Patriarch of Jerusalem Benediktos proclaimed the junta troika (Papadopoulos, Patakos, Makarezos) “Great Crusaders of the Order of Orthodox Crusaders of the Holiest Grave”.

In May 1969 the Patriarch of Alexandria Nikolaos congratulated Papadopoulos for the ‘resurrection of the nation’ and awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Apostle Markos.

It would appear, however, that Golden Dawn messed up with the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and created critics among the clergy. Before his murder, the nationalistic and extreme right wing rhetoric of the neo-Nazi organisation was endorsed by the church. The conservative newspaper of Athens, Kathimerini, expressed the following queries in its leader article: “Why are the senior priests who condemn the criminal activity of the racists being praised as enlightened exceptions? Why does the official church restrict itself to statements against violence and does not denounce the body-builders of Golden Dawn?”

Wehrmacht soldiers posing with Greek Orthodox monks at Athos, Easter 1941
Wehrmacht soldiers posing with Greek Orthodox monks at Athos, Easter 1941

Based on the above, we could ask: “Are Orthodoxy and extreme nationalism Siamese twins?” The answer is negative because when the life and comforts of the top priests have been threatened, they have proved willing to renounce the interests of the nation, as an abundance of examples show.

During the German occupation in 1941, the Archbishop of Greece Damaskinos swore in the collaborationist government of Tsolakoglu, showing complete disregard for the nation. In the same year the Bishop of Ioannina, Spyridon, in a letter to his flock, urges them to trust the German authorities and report resistance fighters.

However, the ultimate in treachery was the nauseating telegram sent by the monks of Mount Athos on April 24, 1941 to Hitler, in which they extolled the ‘glorious’ German nation at the time when German troops were setting fire to Greek villages (Germany had invaded on April 9 of that year) and were brutally murdering innocent Greek citizens.

As some readers might not have the stomach, I will quote only short excerpt from the telegram. “We take the exceptional honour to address Your Excellency (Hitler) and warmly request of Him that, with pleasure, would take under His high personal protection and guardianship, this holy place, of which we happen to be leaders and representatives… The King of those who reign, the Lord of those who rule we beseech with our heart and soul to lavish on Your Excellency health and a long life for the good of the glorious German nation.”

How appalling.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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