Greece, Russia, and the West

Αssociated press

FILE - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, right, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, sits with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, left, prior to their meeting at the Patriarchate in Constantinople, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Western media is gleefully reporting that Greece is taking a hard line on Russia. American and European media are reporting that Russia was interfering in Greece's internal affairs. It was only three years ago that Greece was beingridiculed and mocked in the Western media because of the economic situation in Greece and Greeks were slandered for being lazy and tax cheats. But today, the American and European media and their respective governments aresuddenly very much concerned for Greek sovereignty.

Some fundamental facts are in order: since the nineteenthcentury, when Greece won independence from the Ottoman Empire after a hard won and very bloody struggle, the powers of the day (excepting Russia) have meddled in Greekinternal affairs. The period of the nineteenth century is especially interesting as the British and the French imposed a Roman Catholic King from Bavaria on Greece. During that time, Greece became in effect a German colony withGermans comprising a large percentage of the police force and the military.

At the time, with the backing of Great Britain,the German rulers of Greece removed the Church of Greece from theomophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in violation of the Canon laws of the Orthodox Church. Four hundredMonasteries were closed, the use of the Septuagaint version of the Old Testament, the Hellenic translation of theHebrew Scriptures, were banned for use by Greece's Western rulers. Byzantine iconography was banned in favorof Western iconography, and 72 churches from the Byzantine Era in Athens were destroyed andchurches were rebuilt in a Protestant style without the Byzantine dome.Russia, the sole Orthodox power, objectedto these crimes but was barred from having a say in Greek affairs.

In Athens, there was a pro-Russian faction that was led by the Theodore Kolokotronis. That great general was arrested by the German regime and was sentenced to death. It was only because of the fear of a massiveuprising by enraged Greeks that the general was pardoned. In the twentieth century there have been further interventions in Greek affairs by Great Britain, the United States, and the European Union, but not Russia. Now when referring to Russia, I am not referring to the atheistic Soviet Union but to Russia in the pre- and post-Communist periods when that country was under Orthodox rule. When has Orthodox Russia intervened in the internal affairs of Greece?

No evidence has been presented to assert that Russia intervenes in the internal affairs of Greece. It is curious, however, that the anti-Russian hysteria in America and Europe has carried over into Greece. From myperspective, it appears that it is not the Russians who are interfering in Greek affairs with an excessive andunethical influence. Since the nineteenth century, the Great Powers have gone after the Greek Church asthey recognize that the Church stands in the way of foreign rule in Greece. In the nineteenth century, a great national hero and monk arose named Christoforos Papoulakos, who preached the Orthodox faith and the freedom of Greece. Allegations directed against the Russians state that Greek bishops have been taking bribes from the Russians.

This has been stated without any evidence whatsoever. The bishops of Greece are naturally pro-Russian, as the Russian Orthodox Church is the sister Church of the Orthodox Church of Greece. Why would the Russians have to bribe bishops who are already friendly to Russia? It is important to state that several years ago during the

economic crisis, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens visited Moscow and received funds from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill for the people of Greece affected by the economic disaster. Further examples attesting to the relationsbetween the Churches of Greece and Russia include the visit ofMetropolitan Chrysostom of Patras to Moscow where he brought with him the cross upon which Saint Andrew the Apostle was crucified in the first century. Furthermore, we have seen the reception of the About Ephraim of the Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos when he visited Russia with the belt once worn by the Holy Theotokos. Russians received these Orthodox clerics with love and great enthusiasm. Greece itself receives a great number of visitors from Russia who visit churches and monasteries. In addition, St.Paisios the Athonite and other Greek saints are loved and revered by the Russians. Churches in Russia have been built in honor of St. Paisios. If there is anything that has been constant for two centuries, it is that the greatpowers of the day seek to keep Greece away from the Russians.

A decade ago, it was alleged that the Karamanlis Administration in Athens came under pressure as a result of its intent to establish an agreement with Russia regarding an oil pipeline. The West, which now castigates Russia has never had any scruples about violating Greek sovereignty. It should also be remembered that in 2004, the Bush and Blair Administrations pressured Cyprus to accept the United Nations Plan of Kofi Annan despite opposition from most Greek Cypriots. After an appeal from the archbishop of Cyprus, President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Ambassador in the UN Security Council to veto the Annan Plan as the basis for a settlement in Cyprus.

It is bizarre that Prime Minister Tsipras has expelled Russian diplomats. How many Turkish diplomats have been expelled from Greece? The Turkish president and three Turkish opposition parties in the Parliament in Ankara have repeatedly said that eighteen Greek islands are Turkish. Are we to believe that Orthodox Russia is a bigger threat to Greece than Islamic Turkey? As for intervening in Greek internal affairs let us remember it is the European Union that has been demanding changes in the status of Church-State relations and Prime Minister Tsipras has obeyed.

Greece has very serious economic and social problems, including the large number of refugees created in large part by wars that the United States and its European allies started. The Russians intervened in Syria to preserve the existence of that country and to prevent it from becoming a failed state. In 2015, following the Paris bombing by Islamic State, it was revealed that at least one of the bombers had a Greek passport and it was suggested that there are terrorist cells in Greece.

For all the problems that Greece has, Athens has an interest in friendly relations with Russia. It is only the hostile West whose policies remain anti-Greek and anti-Orthodox that have a vested interest in tensions between Greece and Russia.