Earlier this month, The National Herald reported that an Auxiliary Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Bishop Seraphim of Apollonias, made certain derogatory comments about the Greeks of the United States in a public address at a parish in Sydney, where he welcomed a visiting Metropolitan from the Church of Greece.
Discussing the crisis affecting the Greek homeland and the fact that the Greeks of Australia did their fair share in aiding the suffering people of Greece, he remarked that the Greeks of Australia do not bear any resemblance to the Greeks of America, and that the former retain both the mother language and Greek traditions and customs to a higher degree. He also noted that the Greeks of Australia are more genuine Hellenes.
Setting aside whether or not the Bishop in question acted appropriately by comparing Greeks of different continents and whether these statements are becoming of a senior cleric, the comparison – albeit an unfavorable one – provides as good an opportunity as any for some genuine self-reflection.
According to Bishop Seraphim’s biography on the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he has served in Great Britain, Greece, and Australia, so it is not apparent where he is basing his knowledge for his aforementioned controversial statement.
It is not necessarily a bad thing to compare the organizational structure, successes, and failures of Greek Communities around the world. In fact, a conference addressing this issue would be most welcome, so that we could learn from each other and share valuable empirical knowledge.
For instance, anyone who has seen Maria Iliou’s film Alexandria cannot help but marvel at the success attained by the Greek Community that once thrived in Egypt for centuries.
Some years ago, Prof. Christos Yannaras even devoted an article to comparing the film with Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in which he juxtaposed and contrasted the two Greek communities and how they manage to manifest their Hellenism. Anyone who has ever traveled to another area where there is a Greek presence (Canada, Britain, Germany, etc.) cannot help but make comparisons and ask themselves where their group fits.
The distance that separates the U.S. and Australia makes this “intracultural osmosis” a difficult task. Due to the difficulties in visiting the Greek homeland because of seasonal differences, one would guess that it would be more difficult to maintain ethnic vitality in Australia, although the percentage of Greeks relative to the general population is also higher there, which eases the burden somewhat.
If Bishop Seraphim’s words are true, then more power to the Greeks of Australia! Perhaps we should begin adopting some of their practices.
However, before our Mediterranean tempers get the better of us because of the insult hurled our way from the “land down under,” (why is it that the negative traits always remain much more easily than the positive ones?) it is worth considering another article that TNH recently ran, featuring an interview with Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, whose metropolis is hosting this year’s Clergy Laity Congress.
The Metropolitan made several references to the issue of Greek Education, noting the pain that he feels deep in his heart over several Greek parochial day schools that have closed down in recent years.
He notes that “Greek language and education is an issue that concerns me more than you can imagine. I am deeply worried because I see that our efforts as a Church and Community – although great – are not enough…”
He goes on to express the hope that this year’s Clergy Laity Congress will mark the start of a new campaign in support of Greek Education and Culture, while calling Hellenism Orthodoxy’s “cultural skin.”
TNH notes that several Greek schools have been established in Metropolitan Evangelos’ diocese over the past few years, in contrast to the closing of Greek day schools in other areas of the Archdiocese, like New York, which was always viewed as a bastion of Hellenism.
These concerns which were expressed by Metropolitan Evangelos will hopefully be expressed by other clergymen at the Congress. However, words without action are empty and useless.
The question of Greek Education and cultural vitality needs to once again find a prominent place on the agenda if we want to avoid the feelings of indignation and shame that arise when our brethren from other parts of the world point out our failures.
In Dionysios Solomos’ “Hymn to Liberty” (the Greek National Anthem), the poet writes of Patriarch Gregory V, saying that the curse that he left behind before he was murdered regarding anyone that does not fight, but can fight remains like an eternal thunder bolt.
The Clergy Laity Congress could very well take Solomos’ poetic license and make good use of it, by requiring Greek Orthodox parishes – especially the wealthy ones – to contribute their fair share to Greek Education.
With so much talk of parish “commitments” to the Archdiocese, here is one progressive educational tax that would be well received. Parish communities renting out properties – ESPECIALLY SCHOOL BUILDINGS – and not using these resources to fund Greek day schools or at least try to house charter schools with a Greek component, should be mandated to contribute a significant portion of these earnings towards these projects, even if they are being housed in other district parishes. Too many people are trying to become businessmen with public funds and are corrupting the mission of the not-for-profit institutions that are our Greek communities.
Metropolitan Evangelos said it best in his interview: “If we truly believe that the Greek Nation has produced great men and heroes and imparted the light of wisdom and knowledge to the world, then let us rise to the occasion and take on our duties, changing our course of direction, supporting the work of Parochial Day and Afternoon schools, and the dedicated teachers who lovingly give of themselves to teach their students.”
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