Do Not Allow Misanthropy to Extinguish Philanthropy
Christmas is fast approaching, with Europe (and the entire world for that matter) resembling a Dickens novel more and more by the day. The holidays present an ideal opportunity for us to ask ourselves if the traditions, customs, and worldview that so touched our forefathers still resonate today.
The crisis that is growing by the day also adds to the mix, since one can argue that people’s true character shines when things are the hardest. By the same token, all of us who are “proud to be Greek” have a perfect opportunity to show how proud we truly are by coming to the aid of our heart’s homeland in both word and deed.
Sadly, the old divisions that separated Europe but were less evident during the good times, are still there. The initial reaction of the European Union to “punish” the “sinful” Greeks for violating the rules of numismatic orthodoxy clearly shows their insistence on seeing things in terms of black and white; their adherence to the “letter of the law,” which blinds them from seeing anything else
That’s a far cry from the traditional outlook held by the Greek people, and many other Orthodox nations. Oddly enough, the Greek word oikonomia (economy) actually means to exercise discretion. One has to wonder what the late Samuel Huntington would say if he were alive to see his prediction regarding the Clash of Civilizations play out today.
To contrast Western Europe’s very dualistic, Protestant reaction, all one has to do is look at authors like Alexandros Papadiamantis, or poets like Elytis and Seferis, who carry with them timeless examples of the Hellenic worldview.
“Our land is small, but it has a huge tradition, and what characterizes it is that it was handed down to us uninterrupted… Another characteristic of this tradition is its love for humanity.” That is how Seferis begins his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Papadiamantis highlights the importance of humanity in practically all of his short stories. His protagonists are almost always simple, humble, and tormented souls, who entertain readers with their shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. According to literary scholar Maria Koutousi-Sipsa, “these peculiarities are part of life, and they do not remove people from the true faith” (as opposed to breaking the EU’s budget rules, which now sentences nations to a slow death by starvation…).
In his stories, Papadiamantis always includes references to the weakest members of society, orphans and widows, who despite being scorched by life and stung by death, never cease to struggle.
In Papadiamantis’ Christmas story Delisyfero, his protagonist, a hard-boiled widow nicknamed Delisyfero, fights with all her fellow villagers for her rights. Even church is not off limits, as she is willing to come to blows (as she has done on occasion) to claim her rightful spot in the pews. During the Christmas liturgy, her main concern was to get to church on time so that “none of those women who go to church twice a year to show off their jewelry indiscreetly takes her seat on the pew.” Meanwhile, two other men at that service also entertain readers with their antics: Darademos, who insists on praying loudly from his seat, beating the priest and chanters to their lines, and Captain George Konomos, who loudly criticizes Darademos for his annoying habit. Meanwhile, two chanters argue about who gets to say a particular piece, with the usurper regretting his action and offering the piece back to the original chanter. Then, a boy passes around a collection tray for the chanters, while some mischievous child tries to steal one of the coins and ends up knocking down the tray, causing a scramble for the loose change. Order returns only after one of the children sees the adults crossing themselves during the end of a hymn and decides to emulate them.
This spectacle would probably incite most Western Europeans. In fact, the troika might even list it in its next report as reason to tax the Church and curtail ordinations, citing ineffectiveness on behalf of the clergy.
What the careful reader will notice is that at the end of the story, Dardemos gets invited over for Christmas by his main detractor George Konomos, and both men are joined by Delisyfero, who brings over sweets.
Despite all the characters’ shortcomings, the spirit of philanthropy - in the Greek sense of the word (love for man) - prevails. Their hearts remain simple, unaffected, and above all, warm. George Konomos even asks Darademos to chant for him… The genuine warmth that burned in their hearts keeps the candle of their soul lit, and more than makes up for their less than decorous behavior in church.
“What a strange mystery…” notes Papadiamantis at the end of the story, alluding to the famous Christmas hymn. Human nature is indeed a strange mystery, but much like the birth of the Savior, it can only be approached and comprehended in a spirit of love.
Do not let the misanthropy of today’s world snuff out philanthropy. Like Konomos, we might get angry with the antics going on in Greece, but that is no reason not to let our love prevail and show some human kindness by aiding the country. That is what our Greek tradition teaches us. That is how our homeland has successfully combated poverty for centuries and maintained itself.