Christianity in Greece today – a living church concerned with social justice

Yesterday in the centre of Athens a vast sprawling camp of homeless people opposite the Parliament.

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A few metres away, a demonstration  by the unemployed.

Rarely has a country been so brutally run and ruined by the bankers. Sixty per cent of the Greeks are now living on or below the poverty line. Even according to the Telegraph, the Greek economy has shrunk by 30 per cent and one quarter of the population is out of work.
The story is repeated in Italy, also under the so-called Troika, an unelected cabal of bankers, and also Spain.

In the face of so much poverty, the Orthodox Church has assumed a leading role in alleviating the suffering caused by the austerity imposed by bankers after they pulled a financial trick to push Greece into debt in 2009.
Since then, the church has launched a number of programmes to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.
Every day the Orthodox church in Athens alone hands out more than 1,000 meals to hungry people.

In an operation called Church in the Street, people can go to a number of places across the city and get a meal. Unlike the government-run programmes, no social security number is needed. Every one who shows up is offered a meal without questions. In fact, even I was offered a meal, including an orange, when I went to a soup kitchen in a building owned by Athens city. The food is donated by private individuals and organizations or paid for from Church income derived from rents from its property. A significant number of the people are refugees but there is an increasing proportion of Greeks. I was not allowed to take pictures inside to protect the privacy of the people. But here are a couple of snaps I took from the street.


I saw one young Greek woman looking through the rubbish bins before going to the soup kitchen. A middle-aged woman with a bandage over her eye was sitting in the street with a plastic bag wrapped around her feet to shield her from the cold, asking for money.
Apart from this programme, many of the 145 parishes in Athens also offer help to the hungry.
The church also runs a hostel offering shelter to the homeless as well as clothing store with blankets, shoes and other item which homeless people require. In addition, the church has organised social and psychological support, information and medicine.
The programmes are just the latest example of the strong connection between the Orthodox Church and the people.
During the Nazi German occupation when many monks were brutally murdered and monasteries razed, the then Bishop of Athens, Damaskinos, saved the lives of thousands of Jews. He issued them with false baptism certificates and new identity cards from the Orthodox church. Six hundred priests were arrested by the Nazis and many killed for their role in helping Jews escape deportation to concentration camps.
When the Nazis asked the Mayor of Zakynthos and Bishop Damaskinos for a list of all the Jews living on the island, they handed over a list with only two names> their own.


The exceptional quality of so many individuals is the reason why the Orthodox Church is held in such respect by people of Greece in spite of scandals, including its support of a ruthless military dictatorship.
A recent example of a saint/like figure is Father Porphyrios. He joined a Skete in Mount Athos when he was a young boy, developed spiritual powers and became a famous for performing miraculous healing as a priest at an Athens hospital, attracting a large following.
The Orthodox Church is very close to the Catholic church in its creed but church rules dictate that Catholics should not receive communion in Orthodox churches and vice versa.
The Roman Catholic church developed after a schism with the Orthodox Church in 1054 which came about after Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800. From that time onwards until the Protestant Reformation, there were two main Christian churches: the Roman Catholic based in Rome and the Orthodox Church based in Constantinople, present day Istanbul. The Orthodox religion spread to Russia and Eastern Europe.
There are many Irish saints observed by the Orthodox Church in as far as they lived before the Schism.

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