ATHENS – A Greek writer and erstwhile politician who ridiculed the concept of Holy Fire ahead of Easter has drawn sharp rebukes from critics but also the backing of a new, rising political party leader who defended his stance in a country where almost everyone declares themselves Greek Orthodox and a Church supporter.
Nikos Dimou, author of The Unhappiness of Being Greek, suggested that the Holy Fire brought back from Jerusalem each Easter Saturday is not the result of a miracle and that Greece should not spend money on a jet to bring it to Athens.
A series of politicians from New Democracy, Independent Greeks and even the anti-religious Communist Party (KKE) lined up to slam Dimou, who frequently questions traditional interpretations of Greek history and religion. KKE MP Liana Kanelli labeled Dimou “an Easter attraction, like ‘Ben Hur’ on TV.”
Mocking the Church or questioning religion is the kiss of death for a politician, especially in Greece. In his article on the Protagon.gr website, Dimou wrote that Christ would have probably helped the poor rather than pay to transport the Holy Fire over from Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
“As Easter approaches and I am reminded that we will again spend money on bringing the (supposed) Holy Fire, receiving it with the honors afforded to a head of state, I become a rabid anti-clericalist,” he wrote.
Besides firing up Greeks ahead of the most solemn holiday of the year, when Greeks line up at churches and proclaim their devoutness no matter their sins the rest of the year, Dimou’s statement became political a month ahead of critical elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities.
Dimou, who unsuccessfully ran for the European Parliament in 2009 as a member of the Drasi (Action) party that polled 0.8 percent, is now a supporter of the populist, anti-politician party To Potami (The River) that despite just being formed has already risen to third in many polls.
To Potami was put together as a king of protest by former TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis as a kind of protest against traditional parties. Dimou is not a member but one of its most-known supporters.
Theodorakis defended Dimou’s right to express his views. “I am running to become a politician, not a Bishop,” said Theodorakis.
“We should not seek to take advantage of people’s faith… it is not right for politicians to play on people’s religious sentiment,” he said.
Christian Orthodox faithful believe that the Holy Fire appears each Easter Saturday in Christ’s tomb, lighting the candles held by a small group of priests that who enter. The flame is then flown back to Athens and distributed to churches via lamps.
Thousands of Orthodox Christian brave hours of waiting to witness the Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre – an important annual rite for the Church’s eastern denominations.
In what believers regard as a miracle, an unlit blue fire from a stone in the Church descends from the dome and ignites a candle held by the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.
Last year, about 10,000 people squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – regarded by many as the place where Jesus was laid to rest and resurrected – with about as many waiting outside.
As the Patriarch received the fire, he passed it around, to other clergymen from other denominations (six of them share the church and consider it a holy site) and onto the gathered pilgrims.
The appearance of the flame is symbolic of Jesus’ rise from the dead three days after his funeral.