"...and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (Gospel of John 8:32 )
The present scandal within the Orthodox Church of Greece is disturbing. At the same time, the scandal needs to be placed within the proper religious and historical context. It should be remembered that Jesus was betrayed by Judas who had been among the twelve disciples. In light of the fact that the traitor Judas had been a disciple, it is not surprising that there have been priests and hierarchs who have strayed and that have betrayed the sacred mission and teachings of the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church has within its sacred and revealed traditions the authority of Canon Law which was composed by the Holy Fathers. The Eighty five Canons of the Holy Apostles declare that, "Any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that is taken in the act of committing fornication, or perjury, or theft, shall be deposed from office, but shall not be excommunicated. For scripture says: "Thou shalt not exact revenge twice for the same offense." The same rule applies also to the rest of clergymen." The Holy Canons further address a number of issues pertaining to rules of which clerics must adhere to, or they must be expelled from the priesthood. This signifies that misbehavior in the clerical ranks is not a modern problem since the Holy Fathers and the Church Councils saw fit to address these problems in their own day.
One of the most interesting Icons in the Orthodox Church is that of the "Ladder of Divine Ascent" by Saint John Climacos. A group of Monks are ascending a ladder into heaven. Some of the Monks are received by Jesus who welcomes them. Other Monks are pulled off the ladder by demons and are taken to hell.
The Orthodox Church will emerge from the present scandal unscathed. Jesus Christ is the leader and founder of the Orthodox Church, and as such the Church is indestructible. The Orthodox Churches of Russia and Eastern Europe have recovered from the scandals which ensued in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism in which the links between various hierarchs and the Communists were exposed. During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a center of intrigue as various Bishops schemed and competed to curry favor with the Sultan in order to ascend the Patriarchal throne.
One must keep in mind the Saints and Martyrs who have suffered for the Church of Christ to place current events in proper context. Recent Saints added by the Ecumenical Patriarchate include Mother Maria Skobtskova and Father Dimitri Klepinin who died in Nazi death camps as a result of their persistent efforts to assist French Jews during the German occupation of France. It is becoming fashionable in the Greek media to attack the Orthodox Church of Greece. The Church of Greece has traditionally been the moral authority in Greek society, and has earned international respect and prestige as a result of the actions of clerics such as Archbishop Damaskinos and Metropolitan Chrysostom of Zakynthos, along with numerous other clerics who risked their lives to protect Greek Jews from the Germans. The Archbishop and the Metropolitan have been recognized as righteous gentiles in the state of Israel.
There is a sudden push for a complete separation of Church and State by some anti-clerical elements in Greece. It should be remembered that the Greek War of Independence began with the standard of revolt by Archbishop Germanos of Patras in 1821. The Archbishop of Cyprus was executed for his open support of the Greek Revolution. In 1922, Metropolitan Chrysostom of blessed memory was slaughtered on the orders of a Kemalist General as a result of his outspoken condemnation of Turkish-sponsored Genocide during the previous decade, and for enthusiastically embracing the Greek liberation of Smyrna in 1919.
During the Bolshevik Revolution, millions of Russian Priests, Bishops, Nuns, Monks, and faithful were slaughtered by the Communists. Among the martyrs was Patriarch Tikhon who died for Christ in the wake of being tortured and beaten by Leninist thugs. The reemergence of the Russian Orthodox Church after having been completely eradicated under the rule of Stalin proves that Orthodoxy will triumph over any crisis. In our own day, Serbian Orthodox Christians are being slaughtered in Kosovo. Among the martyrs are brave and faithful priests such as Father Chariton Lukic and Father Stefan Puric who were murdered by American-backed Muslim extremists.
Both the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece, and the Greek Courts are conducting investigations into what has transpired within the Church. Those clerics guilty of inappropriate behavior should be expelled as Church law demands. Simultaneously, Greek media should be very careful not to tarnish the reputations of Greek Clerics who are innocent of any wrongdoing. Most importantly, anti-clerical elements in Greece should not use the problems in the Church to silence the Archbishop and other hierarchs who have been outspoken on behalf of human rights and religious freedom in Cyprus and Kosovo.
Theodoros Georgiou Karakostas is director of the Byzantine Cultural Project.
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