The Hellenic Code

*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; It is a common position among many Greek Orthodox faithful, including your readers, that Greek language and cultural programs in their Church are inconsistent with its purpose and future.*nbsp; Unfortunately, the absence of serious debate on the subject gives an inevitability to this claim.*nbsp; In my opinion, the raison d*#8217;etre for the Greek Orthodox Church is to maintain a Hellenic historical, ethical and religious tradition.*nbsp;*nbsp;
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Losing this distinction, our Church will lose any significance, relative to others.*nbsp; As traditional Protestantism has discovered, faiths which become fungible are easily replaced. Fungibility, however, would be most devastating to Greek Orthodoxy. Our adherents and centers are relatively few, and our Church is relatively unknown.*nbsp; Consequently, Greek Orthodox Christians would likely be absorbed by other Christian faiths.*nbsp;*nbsp;
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Our loss would be devastating to Christianity, because unlike national (e.g. Russian) Orthodox Churches, the Greek in Orthodoxy is not ethnic.*nbsp; Rather, it reflects the fundamental link between Hellenism and Christianity.*nbsp; On a most fundamental level, Greek is to Christianity what Hebrew is to Judaism and Arabic to Islam.*nbsp; For example, former Senator Gary Hart learned Byzantine Greek while a Yale divinity student (he later taught himself ancient Greek and is an avid Hellenophile).*nbsp;
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; The Hellenic connection to Christianity is not just linguistic. Hellenism paved the road to Christianity, nurtured it and was instrumental in its proliferation. Before Byzantium (en touto nika) and the Gospel, Classical Greek philosophers deduced the existence of one divine perfection; relegating their Gods to mere nomoi or social conventions.*nbsp; Greek philosophers spoke of Logos as a single divine law which nourished all human laws, long before the word came to mean Christ.*nbsp; They believed that enlightenment brought about a salvation or epistrophe of the ps*ucirc;che or soul to the One, eternal and unchanging Being from whence it emanated.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Hellenism, with its openness to enlightenment and acceptance of One perfection; as well as its, tolerant and democratic tradition, welcomed Christianity.*nbsp; The Hellenic world offered the womb best suited to nurture the embryonic Faith. In fact, in 282 BC, Philadelphus II had the Old Testament translated to Greek for Alexandria*#8217;s famed library, thus bridging the gestation from the Platonic ideal to Christ.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Once accepted, Christianity immediately spread due to Megas Alexandros*#8217; earlier establishment of Greek as the common language or koinoi for the Mediterranean.*nbsp; Recently, a New York Times critic reviewing the Passion of the Christ, called the film*#8217;s use of Latin and Aramaic inaccurate because only Greek would have been spoken between Roman and Jew.*nbsp; Moreover, the use of Greek was particularly de rigeur for the educated.*nbsp; For example, the Apostle Luke, though neither Greek or from Greece, was a learned native Greek speaking physician, whose Jesus was a powerful miracle worker and a sophisticated, serene teacher of ethical wisdom.*nbsp; Consequently, it is no coincidence that the Gospels were written in Greek and preached to Greeks; and that Christianity took form in Byzantium.*nbsp; If one accepts the divinity of the Gospel, then Christ*#8217;s message was as Divinely entrusted to Hellenism, as the Ten Commandments were to Judaism.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Centuries after the Gospel, the confluence of Hellenism and Christianity profoundly inspired all Christian inroads.*nbsp; The seminal Catholic scholar, St. Augustine, professed that the Platonic Books attached him to God. The conversion of the Slavic world to Orthodoxy in the 9th and 10th Centuries followed observations such as these, provided by the Russian envoys of Prince Vladimir:
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; When we journeyed among the Bulgarians we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a Mosque while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Hellenism profoundly inspires our Church, even today. It explains our love for beauty, be it in iconography or the flowers on the epitaphio.*nbsp; It explains our use of theater, e.g. the baptismal dunking, the loaf of bread in our communion and the Good Friday parading of the crucified Christ.*nbsp; It is reflected in the poetic and musical beauty of our hymns, liturgies and Good Friday laments.*nbsp; It explains why Greek Orthodoxy avoids the starkness of protestant faiths; the rigidity of Catholicism; or the collaboration of some Orthodox Churches with oppressive regimes.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Hellenism also explains why our Church encourages its adherents, including clergy, to be of this World.*nbsp; This Hellenic characteristic is evident in how we celebrate our holidays, with wine, song and dance.*nbsp; It instructs why our Faith guided modern Greece*#8217;s quests for Freedom and Justice, from the coincidence of the Evaggelismo with Greece*#8217;s Independence Day, to Greece*#8217;s singular resistance in WWII.*nbsp; It explains why, despite the relative apathy of more powerful Christian Faiths, Archbishops Damaskinos and Methodius protested against the Nazi deportation of Greek Jews; Archbishop Iakovos marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King; and Patriarch Bartholomaios is championing environmentalism as a moral imperative.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Promoting this Hellenic tradition will invigorate, not diminish our Greek Orthodox Church. Rather than eliminate Greek language and cultural programs, the Church must qualitatively assert its Hellenic roots.*nbsp; Our Church must encourage a contemplative search for Justice, Beauty, Truth and Love for both our worldly epistrophe and our eternal salvation.*nbsp; To this end, Greek cultural and language education must address persons of all ages and all levels of comprehension.*nbsp; The language must be taught to ethnic and non-ethnic Greeks as a foreign language; and as a key to the original expression of all Western moral and ethical beliefs (for example, the italicized classical Greek expressions should appear familiar even to American born Greeks, such as myself).*nbsp;*nbsp;
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; The foregoing sounds radical only because the Greek immigrants who founded our parishes, understandably built our Churches on a bedrock of Faith and nostalgia.*nbsp; Consequently, our American born generations view the Greek language only as a key to Yiayia and Papou; confuse Hellenism for clannishness; and view Hellenic Culture through the prism of annual ethnic parades and festivals. The tragedy is that Hellenism is none of these. If anything, Christianity is plagued by scandal, demagoguery and anti-intellectualism because it has strayed from its Hellenic roots.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; There are many Christians*#8211;ethnic Greek and otherwise*#8211; who though assimilated, affluent and educated, yearn for a bedrock of faith. The Greek Orthodox Church must stand apart as a nourisher of both our nous and our soul.*nbsp; It must exemplify Christianity as a thing of divine and eternal beauty.*nbsp; By pursuing its Divine Mission, Greek Orthodoxy is uniquely qualified to offer them relevancy, enlightenment, hope, inspiration and continuity in a chaotic world.*nbsp; For the first time in centuries, clergy and laity can work together to reassert the Greek Orthodox Church as the spiritual heir of Byzantium, of which the late historian and scholar Steven Runciman wrote:
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; For eleven hundred years there had stood on the Bosphorous a city where the intellect was admired and the learning and letters of the classical past were studied and preserved. Without the help of Byzantine commentators and scribes there is little that we would know today about the literature of ancient Greece. It was too, a city whose rulers down the centuries had inspired and encouraged a school of art unparalleled in human history, an art that arose from an ever varying blend of the cool cerebral Greek sense of the fitness of things and a deep religious sense that saw in works of art the incarnation of the Divine and the sanctification of matter.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; It was too, a great cosmopolitan city where along with merchandise ideas were freely exchanged and whose citizens saw themselves not as a racial unit but as the heirs of Greece and Rome, hallowed by the Christian faith.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; It is our obligation, as enlightened Christians and as citizens of this planet to preserve Hellenism in the Greek Orthodox Church.