A couple of days ago, clergy from a monastery on Mount Athos boarded our cruise boat on open sea as we approached the amazing mountain of Athos itself. And they did this just to sell icons in return for showing relics…
Watching on that little cruise boat, rocked by the waves, at the tip of the Mount Athos peninsula, where the winds and sea currents are strong, the monks from the monastery of Dionysiou, which is perched like a fortress on a cliff, protected from all the elements by high walls, and with a harbour and a boat house at its base, I suddenly had a breakthrough insight into the very root of evil, the spiritual root of corruption.
Corruption has become perhaps the theme of the US election now just seven days away. On Friday, the FBI Director opened a new probe into Hillary Clinton’s secret email server, probably to avoid being indited himself for obstruction of justice. The US election has been reframed by the new media into a fight against a corrupt international elite personified by Hillary.
But where does that corruption come from? What happens in the soul of a corrupt person like Hillary or her biggest donor George Soros, who are actually trying to start world war three with Russia knowing it could end the planet?
I got a clue watching the monks arrive from the monastery, which could be the hide out of a James Bond villain like Blofield. From this incredibly wealthy complex with solar panels came a humble fishing boat with two monks on board. Our cruise boat stopped and the monks boarded, helped on with their lots of bags by deferential crew members.
Within a couple of minutes, these flink operators had set up their little business on the lower deck and proceeded to shake down a group of believers from a village close to Thessaloniki. They had been taken on a day trip by their parish priest, and they looked like they could do with a few euros themselves, frankly.
The two shady looking monks rearranged in the time it takes to snap your fingers cafe tables to create two long tables. One monk covered one table with a red cloth, took out relics in very ornate boxes from his rucksack, and unpacked a paper box to collect prayer requests and money. Simultaneously, the other monk, who looked like an escaped convict, set up a table to sell icons of all shapes and sizes.
The people were urged by the clergy to buy icons, kiss the relics, two hands allegedly of John the Baptist and Mary, the Mother of God, and bend their knees and kiss the monks’ hands. The parish priest even urged a French family to stand in line to participate in the ritual. They hung back like I did. For those in the group who really believed in God, and knew what was going on, I am sure the ritual may well have been subjectively spiritual to them. In that case, the people were worshipping a thing that meant something divine to them.
But for me, the relics were just an external thing, physical objects, and yet I was supposed to consider this thing as something absolute, and I was expected to bend my knee to it and monks who had it in its possession.
The act of approaching God was not a process happening in the spirit. It was a purely external ritual happening through things, relics. Here, it is, dear readers of this blog, the point where corruption starts, distance from God, darkness.
An objective truth which we receive in our innermost heart, when we are conscious of the presence of God, has been turned into an external thing.
We are not supposed to bend out knees to this completely external object. The spiritual relationship is a mystical relationship. We are supposed to be receiving God, the divine, in our innermost hearts. But what happens when our hearts are so hardened that we can no longer receive the divine? What happens when our internal spiritual organs of perception are so whithered we can no longer perceive God? What happens if people become so fixated on sense perceptions that they become fixated on the eternal world? This fixation results in greed, ambition, corruption.
As the monks departed with the sound of coins litterally rattling in their box, I could see from their shifty expressions they knew this was the most terrible superstition, stupidity, decadence and exploitation. The clergy are amassing wealth, abusing and exploiting people and living like royalty at a time of tremendous difficulty in Greece.
The group from Thessaloniki looked very hard up. Yet the monks could not pass up on the opportunity to shake them down.
The revenue streams from the boat tickets, permits and internal transport system alone must be very significant for Mount Athos. On top of that, the government gives monasteries money. They sell their products in vast amounts in Ouranpoulis and on their premises. They get huge donations. But that isn’t enough. Abbot Efraim of Vatopedi dreamt up schemes to swindle Greece of billions through land swaps based on fake medieval claims to land. And thanks to the crooked Areios Pagos prosecutor Efstathia Spyropoulou, the Vatopedi monks seem to have gotten away with it with Efraim just spending a short time in jail.
The Orthodox clergy have given the holy, holiness, God, the character of the purely external with rituals because their hearts are worldly and filled with greed. In as far as God and holiness becomes just a thing, a physical object, a relic or an icon, it can be taken possession of by someone else, namely, by them. The highest good we can have, the knowledge of God, knowledge of the divine presence in our internal spirit, suddenly becomes a thing, an object, in the hands of others.
That moment a divide opens between those who possess the object, the clergy, and those who receive it, the laity. The clergy set the conditions and the rest of the people just have to be obedient, have faith without insight, without questions, kiss the relic, bend the knee and hand over their money.
I saw elderly women give money to kiss the relics and give five euros with their prayer slips because they understood the clergy expected money. They knew the monks and their parish priest expected them to buy the icons and they did buy icons to have them “blessed” by the relics.
The clergy have reduced God to a cult. Religions is an external ritual, an object, a relic. People can participate in these unspiritual, external rituals on condition of giving money to the clergy. . The clergy claim to possess all the knowledge about the eternal, about God. But all they possess are external objects. They claim to be able to order other people around on the basis of their superior knowledge. They claim that other people don’t have the right to question them. People don’t have the right to think. Yet, the greatest and the most basic right that a person has is to think, to obtain knowledge, insight, convictions by thinking for themselves. It’s only if we do think, do feel, sincerely struggle with life’s problems, that we can find God. There’s no short cut.