Sunday, 3 February 2008

The death of a bishop

Last week the biggest news in Greece was the death of archbishop Christodoulos. The 'pope' of the Greek Orthodox church had for months fought for his life because of cancer. He even flew to America, but they could do nothing, he died on 28th January.

I'm not so keen on church men, and certainly not on those here in Greece. Some local papas are like a folkloric attraction, such as the previous papas in Petra. You could regularly see him drunk, he was always chasing women, later became a pimp and he stole icons from the church, until finally he was was thrown out of his ministry (which means that you really have been doing bad things).

On television I saw the senior papas with their grey beards and their fancy clothing behaving like serene priests. But whenever you opened the papers and read about what really kept them busy besides saying masses, you would be more than disgusted. 2005 was the most negative year for the Greek Church and Christodoulos. There were scandals with drugs and sex involved, huge sums of money disappeared and there were dirty tricks played in the election of the new bishop in Jerusalem.

The Dutch paper 'Volkskrant' called Christodoulos a flamboyant man. I wouldn't call him this. As a powerful man of the Church he meddled in too many things that should only be handled by the government. In Greece state and religion are not separated. And so you get situations such as that Christodoulos was very angry when the Greek law was changed which said that your religion must be stated in your passport. The Greek Church interferes in art exhibitions, in the publication of new schoolbooks, they are against Turkey joining the European Union and so on. It's difficult to make Greece a modern country, when the Church still has so much power.

There were four days of national mourning and last Thursday Christodoulos was buried. That day all officials had a day off to mourn. Only on the island of Ikaria did they think otherwise. There the officials did not take a day off. Why would you stop public work when a member of the Church died and why should only the officials get time to mourn? I'm sure that whenever somebody has the power to separate the Church and the State in Greece, the Ikarians will be first to vote for this change in the law.

After some icy cold days, warm days returned and still the olives are being harvested. Funeral or not, on Thursday the children were dragged into the olive groves. Except that all the children were about, nothing else on Lesvos gave you the idea that in Athens a big funeral was taking place.

A lot of foreigners take the opportunity of the winter months to visit their families abroad. When they come back they always ask the same question: "What happened while I was away?" And then you think and think, but you can't come up with anything. Yes, a friend got pregnant, but you promised you wouldn't tell, even though the whole village knows it. And while in the rest of Greece storms caused damage, here on Lesvos maybe only some pottery flew off balconies and the heavy rains and snow that made daily life difficult in many parts of Greece, on Lesvos only came to one heavy shower.

The only disruptions in the north of Lesvos are caused by the road builders who are installing new sewage pipes. So the road to Petra and Anaxos is blocked many times a day by trucks and bulldozers. The harbour of Molyvos is a no go area because of the same works. Even Tsonia (beneath Clio) is hard to reach because of road works. And the works at Molyvos castle, that have been going on for some 2 years, are still not finished. So nothing new is happening here.

You see everybody making bets: will the roads be open by the beginning of the coming season? In this chaos that Greeks always like to create you can find your way because the traffic is light. What about when the tourist season starts, with all the touring cars and the tourists that rent a car? Then the chaos can lead to more problems than only waiting 5 minutes until the bulldozer stops his shovel.

Well, the church doesn't interfere with road building. That's not necessary, because they do it in the typical old fashioned slow Greek way. And there's no modern planner who can hurry things up or has the right overview so that not all roads are opened at the same time.

Modernisation anyhow is not in the lexicon of the Orthodox Church. They may even consider it as one of the bad things they have to fight against. They are against globalisation, abortion (they have a pretty high rate of abortions in Greece), human rights organisations, euthanasia, or Turkey entering the European Union. So the Greek people, 98% of whom are Greek Orthodox, remain a ball played between the Church, corrupt politicians and a handful of enlightened politicians who have modern ideas. On the 7th February they will choose a new archbishop. Not much chance that he'll be a modern bishop, because the Greek Church is so conservative that a modern papas has no chance at all of promotion...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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