To Better Understand the Hellenic Psyche Experience August

The Divine Liturgy at Holy Cross Church in Whitestone for the Transfiguration of Christ. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

August is a sacred month for Hellenes all over the world, including two major feast days –the Transfiguration of Christ and the Dormition of the Theotokos, along with the commemoration of St. John the Forerunner.

While August is also the quintessential month of summer vacation, with the majority of Hellenes taking whatever vacation days and income surviving the unprecedented tax tsunami that has turned the nation into a modern-day debtor’s prison, those interested in appreciating fundamental aspects of the Hellenic cultural proposal and its contrast to the globalized model can gain major empirical knowledge from this month’s events.

In a nation that has been so badly beaten up by totalitarian technocrats, hypocritical Eurocrat politicians, and insatiable banksters who hatched a villainous smear campaign that only Goebbels himself could admire in order to burden an (admittedly fiscally irresponsible and corrupt) Greek state with over $100 billion in private French and German bank debts (pushing Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio to an untenable 180 percent, when in reality, it would be less than 100 percent without the bank bailouts) and then imposing a cruel and inhumane protracted period of harsh austerity completely sabotaging Greece’s economy, the sole bright spot in this drama remains the remarkable staying power of these spiritual/cultural points of reference, which have become associated with the popular empirical conscience and collective knowledge for over two millennia.

Like their ancestors, if the modern Greek people manage to survive this latest period of barbarian occupation (economic barbarians this time), it will be thanks to the strength and resilience of their cultural proposal.

Let us begin with the Transfiguration – the feast in which Christ shined His uncreated light upon Peter, James and John.

In is here that one can pinpoint perhaps the greatest difference between the Orthodox and Latin mentality of interacting with the divine and the role of God’s uncreated energies in this process. The Hellenic Orthodox perspective, faithful to the role of empiricism that Aristotle so eloquently identifies as a source of knowledge, presents a sharp contrast to the cerebral Western approach that glorifies rationality over all else.

The eminent theologian Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who periodically lectures in the United States (why he hasn’t been invited to that money pit known as Holy Cross Seminary is a blemish on its administration), notes that “theology, according to Fr. John Romanides, is distinguishing what is created from what is uncreated.”

As Metropolitan Hierotheos explains, the basic difference between the Orthodox Church and papism lies in the teaching of God’s uncreated essence and uncreate energy. While the Orthodox believe that God possesses both uncreated essence and uncreated energy, and that He enters into communion with creation and humanity through His uncreated energy, papists identify God’s uncreated energy with His uncreated essence (actus purus) and believe that He enters into communion with creation and mankind through His created energy. In other words, they claim that God possesses created energies as well, meaning that God’s Grace, which sanctifies man, is a created energy (thus, according to the Orthodox view, bringing man’s true sanctification into question).

Metropolitan Hierotheos cites this misinterpretation as the source of Latin cacodoxies like the Filioque, purgatory, papal primacy, etc. The uncreated light which the Apostles witnessed is the same light that the prophets (who were also present during the miraculous event) once saw and that the saints of the Church continue to witness up until this day, marking the empirical continuity of communion with the Divine.

Next, there is the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, who holds a preeminent place in the month of August. Practically no Greek household is devoid of at least one person celebrating their nameday on this day, while the feast itself is often described as the “

Pascha of the summer.” The Troparion (festal hymn) of this holiday best sums up the significance of this highly sacred day for the Orthodox; something perhaps hard to grasp for heterodox, who might be puzzled by the seeming contradictions in reason, which the West has glorified so exclusively:

“In giving birth you preserved your virginity, In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.”

And for the Orthodox, even as in birth the Theotokos retained her virginity, so too in falling asleep and succumbing to the laws governing mortal flesh, she did not abandon the world. Religious or not, most every Hellene has at some point in their lives uttered the phrase “Panagia mou!” either to draw strength in the face of fear, exclaim surprise, offer a compliment, or, most importantly, invoke the intercessions of the Mother of God, whom the people recognize as their common mother and protector.

And as August fades away, Westerners will perhaps never understand why the beheading of St. John the Baptist becomes cause for a “panigyri” – a celebration lastting deep into the night. Similarly, they might never understand how, i.e., a diehard Marxist who purportedly views religion as “the opium of the people” might in the same breath admit that St. John saved his village from a fire on more than one occasion or worked other miracles!

These are the complexities of the Hellenic culture that reveal its “otherness” – the characteristics by which it can be recognized, appreciated, and ultimately, loved. As in centuries past, the Occident has often attempted to defame Hellas (see the multiple publication of “Contra Errores Graecorum” in the Middle Ages) but has ultimately failed, in spite of the many hardships and trials endured by its people.

As Greece traverses yet another period of polemics launched against it by its would be partners (apparently still adhering to the feudalistic system they created), the knowledge that its cultural heritage has historically been its best defense provides solace and encouragement as the occupying powers responsible for the people’s present suffering try to impose their reign of terror elsewhere as well.

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2 Comments

  1. Bravo!
    You wrote a great essay on August linking the great spiritual observances and festivals and the remnant Greek people.
    It’s unfortunate that the younger generation of indigenous people of Greek heritage are only peripherally connected to Orthodoxy and Hellenism.
    Today we are not known for our ancient Church, Christian heritage and values but for Greek food, pastry and dance festivals.
    When you identify yourself as Greek or Greek Orthodox, the next question of a non-Greek is: “What is the date of your Greek festival”?

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