Collective Manifestations of Hellenism: Trying to Rediscover the Deeper Meaning 



The latest shameful act by Greece’s “Education” Minister Nikos Filis to bar Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia from addressing students who invited him to their school is representative of the current state of affairs threatening Hellenism. The most disturbing thing about this action was not the government jockeying for position against the Church of Greece, or even the obtuseness and obstinate nature of the current administration’s ideological ankylosis, but rather, the audacity of a semi-educated political party test tube cadre like Mr. Filis to bar someone as erudite as Metropolitan Nicholas from addressing students. A quick review of both men’s bios says it all.

Metropolitan Nicholas Chatzinikolaou studied Physics at the University of Thessaloniki, Astrophysics at Harvard, and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his doctoral degree in Biomedical Technology at a combined program offered by MIT and Harvard. He also holds graduate degrees in Theological Studies and Theology from the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., as well as another doctorate in bioethics from the University of Thessaloniki. Prior to entering into the priesthood, he worked as a researcher at the New England Deaconess Hospital’s cardiovascular lab, Massachusetts General Hospital’s anesthesiology department, and Boston Children’s Hospital’s ICU. He served as a consultant in space medical technology for NASA and Arthur D. Little. He taught at Harvard and MIT, as well as the School of Medicine at the University of Crete and the University of Athens. He became an Athonite monk and was elected Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki in 2004, where he offers a remarkable ministry. He was among the first prelates to publicly address the memorandum and display solidarity to the suffering Greek people following the austerity onslaught.

Nikos Filis is a high school graduate. There is no readily available public record of his possessing any college degrees. He worked as a journalist and served as editor of the ruling SYRIZA party’s newspaper Avgi. He is a member of SYRIZA’s central committee.

This is the latest in a slippery slope of surreal happenings that signal a cultural decline for Hellenism. However, as troublesome and downright stupid as these behaviors might be, it is not just Hellenes in Greece that are confronted and confounded by the irrational. Lest that we who are not sinless cast the first stone, let us turn our attention to our own problems here in the Greek-American Community.

While the Greeks of Greece have Mr. Filis and the other ignominious ideologues of the self-styled left (who left behind anything remotely resembling the traditional left long ago) leading the onslaught against Hellenic Paideia, the Greek schools of America have their own crosses to bear.  In many instances, the people crucifying them are the very persons appointed/elected to serve them. Priests and parish councils have shut down several parochial day schools in recent years, leaving their founders likely turning over in their hallowed graves. None of the entities closing down these schools and renting their suddenly available space for huge profits ever bothered to retool, recalibrate and reopen, too preoccupied perhaps with maintaining their social media profiles, other hobbies, or whatever other nouveaux riche fancies they have undertaken with their newfound wealth.

Worse yet, these decisions have not openly drawn the ire of the Archdiocese. There were no transfers of priests, appointments of special ad-hoc committees to supervise the reestablishment of these schools, nor at the very least redistribution of some of the sizeable profits from school building rentals towards existing Greek schools fighting the good fight. Hellenic Federations and other collective bodies also remained eerily silent on the matter. Even teachers’ organizations sidestepped the issue, preferring instead to quarrel with each other over petty issues and bruised egos like a bunch of schoolchildren.

If faith, paideia, and culture are not the central pillars of the Greek-American Community’s collective body, what is? Souvlaki, tzatziki, and loukoumades? That’s not to say culinary tradition and other aspects of folklore aren’t important, but they serve a greater purpose. Those circular Greek dances recognized worldwide speak of a collectivistic body of persons. Fasting regulations are not some individualistic rubric meant to earn brownie points with a higher power that relishes seeing people give up things, but a common contest, in which the people happily participate together to as a “modality of freedom from individualism,” according to philosopher/theologian Christos Yannaras, “where the people subordinate their food intake to the common ecclesiastical mode being shared, whereby survival needs are transformed into freedom.”

What are the organizations of the Greek-American Community doing to advance the Hellenic modality that is so crucial for our survival in the Diaspora (or Greece for that matter, in the wake of the colossal demographic changes taking place)?

The annual Greek Parade represents one of the largest annual mass events of Hellenism in America – perhaps second only to Holy Week. Looking at its organizational structure, can it really be said to serve the underlying principles of Hellenism/Romanity when Greek schools are often left to march last, struggling for some semblance of publicity and recognition amidst a mishmosh of completely unrelated organizations, floats, and paraders dressed every which way? Certainly there is room for everyone, but, to use an analogy from Greek cuisine, even moussaka or pastitsio have a subordination of layers, not just a chance mix of ingredients.

And while it’s true that the lottery system used to determine the marching order at the Greek Parade is part of the Hellenic tradition, it was used in the democratic appointment of officials, so it would be wonderful to see the Greek-American Federations start choosing their boards that way as well, since parade organizers are so fond of this system.

It is worth asking ourselves what testimony to the collective principles that constitute our cultural otherness and guarantee our cultural survival do the Greek Parades offer – and taking organizers to task when these are absent.

Speaking of parades, the greatest shot to Mr. Filis’ tyrannical inferiority complex would’ve been an invitation to Metropolitan Nicholas to come and speak to the Greek students of America.


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