"VIMA TIS KYRIAKIS", AUG. 22, 2021
As the preparation of the events of the cycle "Greece in 2040" (which will be presented in Zappeion, Athens, next October) proceed, journalist Tania Bozaninou spoke with His Eminence Ignatius, Metropolitan of Demetrias and with Professor Christos Papadimitriou (Columbia University, NY, USA) on the challenges posed in Greece by multiculturalism. These two interviews, published in the newspaper "Vima tis Kyriakis" on August 22, shed light on issues such as human mobility, the relationship between religion and migration, and the need for peaceful coexistence, which is central to all religious worldviews, including Christianity. The common denominator of the two interviews is the fact that migration and multiculturalism are common phenomena from ancient times, serving as a basis for the formation and the dissemination of many religions, and finally they are phenomena which should not scare us but instead should remind us of the possibilities they bring to our world.
The text of the interview of Metropolitan Ignatius follows, while both interviews, in pdf format, are available here.
VK: How could the Orthodox Church help in order to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of different religions in Greece during the next 20 years? Would it be prepared in “losing ground” in order to facilitate the sustainability of a multicultural society?
MI: The peaceful coexistence of religions in Greece is guaranteed thanks to the Constitution. We are a European country where the rights of all religions are ensured. However, the issue is not only a legal one. The Christian Church originated in a multicultural and rather hostile environment, while respect for the other as God’s image, regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender, social status or religious affiliation is an inviolable feature of Orthodoxy. Moreover, our Church has survived several cruel persecutions, so we all know well how precious this peaceful coexistence is. The power of the Church is based in the spirit of love that constantly gives life to our community. Therefore the Church is not afraid to lose ground, because is not afraid to lose something that it does not have. Actually it must not lose is what already has, namely the spirit of love that defines its entire tradition. Despite the mistakes of Christian believers, the true spirit of Christianity guarantees and ensures the peaceful coexistence of all people.
VK: Religion constitutes a main feature of the faithful’s personality. Is it possible to achieve peaceful coexistence if there are several religions with acute differences within Greek society (eg Orthodox, Muslim, etc.)? How such a coexistence will be formed?
MI: The big question that will not concern only the Greek but the global society as well during the next 20 years, is not whether different religious communities will manage to coexist, but whether the human being of the 21st will seek a new meaning in his/her life, a meaning beyond consumerism and rationalism. It will be evident that in the forthcoming great challenges and dangers, which one of them is the possibility of environmental catastrophe, religions have to offer answers to timeless and universal issues. These great problems will lead to communication and such an exchange of views will lead to coexistence. Religious communities will then deepen their spirituality and initiate a fruitful dialogue. Our Church has a lot to contribute to this development utilizing its truths and its tradition, a tradition dedicated to the example of the “Good Samaritan”, by promoting mutual understanding and peace. In addition to that, it must be absolutely clear that the first and most crucial condition for securing peaceful coexistence is a full and sincere respect for the Constitution of our country. This “Constitutional patriotism” is the foundation of the unity of our society, a unity within plurality expressed both on a religious and a social level.
VK: The “others” include not only people of different faith but also the atheists whose numbers are increasing in Greece. Is Europe entering a “post-religious” age, where Christians will become a minority compared to atheists? Does this concern the Church more than the existence of other religions?
MI: Metaphysical concerns do not constitute a mere stage in the human evolution. The metaphysical quest is a component of human existence. I believe that a person who is defined as an “atheist” by society is just an “indifferent and frustrated” human being, disappointed by the answers that he or she has received from religious people. I should like to acknowledge with self-criticism that many times we, the people of the Church, lead others to this kind of indifference. I think that a person who calls himself or herself an atheist is a completely disillusioned human being, disappointed by religious explanations. This fact can only lead us to self-examination and to the recognition of the need to express the truths of the Gospel with more humility and in a more comprehensible way. Therefore the Church is not troubled by the increase of atheists. On the contrary it considers it as an occasion of expressing its truths more clearly.
VK: Is it possible for the State to continue not to be separated from the Church in a multicultural society comprised by different religions and numerous atheists, as Greece is expected to be in 2040? How will the state justify such a condition to its taxpayers who will not be Christian Orthodox?
MI: This is not something that concerns Greece as it will be in 2040, because already now in Greece, Church and State have distinct roles based in the Constitution. Only one country in Europe, France namely, has a totally secular system that does not favor any religion, but this system already encounters problems that are being under discussion. All the other European countries have systems that define their relationship with religion according to their history and their particular circumstances. Greece also belongs to this large family of European countries, which represents the majority. We are not a European exception but actually we belong to the European rule. Apart from the above, it is also a fact that Greek people associate their identity with their spiritual tradition. In regard with taxation, all religious communities are treated exactly the same. Therefore, the Greek state should explain to non-religious people the reason why applies this specific tax policy for religious communities. I believe that it will not be in a much more difficult position in doing this than, for example, Belgium, which pays the salaries of religious ministers of all religions in its territory or Germany, which continues to provide huge sums from its state budget to the Catholic Church for confiscated land before the foundation of the modern state of Germany. Let me also point out that Germany provides financial support to Protestant Churches because of their social work and that in some Nordic countries there is a state church. The relations between Church and State in Greece are dynamic and change in many ways. In the coming years we will witness even more changes and that is something normal, but the special relationship between Hellenism and Orthodoxy will remain stable.
VK: We are already in the era of teleshopping, teleworking, distance learning and tele-services. Why would anyone want to go to Church in 2040?
MI: Church is not a department store that sells “spiritual” products. Church “grows” and “becomes” where there are people who want to express themselves in unity as a “we” instead of expressing themselves individually and egotistically as a separate “I”. Your question has a keyword and that is “tele…”. This is a prefix in Greek language that denotes distance. In the Church what interests us is to be close to each other, not only spiritually but physically too. Church provides hope to a world where people are used to be away and in distance from each other because it constantly reminds us that we need the presence of others and that this kind of presence is the only way to be led to true love. Church is not the temple but the community of believers; it is the face of the other and the participation in the Eucharist.
VK: There is the Anglo-Saxon view that advocates respect for multiculturalism, allowing the equal expression of all religions in society (eg Islamic headscarves in schools), and there is the French view that favors a secular state and secularity in the public sphere (eg by banning, Christian and other religious symbols in schools). Which model would be the best for Greece in the next 20 years?
MI: Each of these views is based on particular historical experiences. The Anglo-Saxons have the experience of the British Empire, where the sun never set, and the French take into account the event that made them French, namely the French Revolution. Why not ground our stance on our own tradition? Why not to consider the Constitutions of the Greek Revolution? But, above all, why not highlight the virtues of our own historical experience that is clearly defined by the Constitution? That is why I spoke to you before about “constitutional patriotism”. However, in our view, religious symbols should unite and not divide people. I cannot answer your question like a politician. I can, however, answer it as a spiritual father who considers it his duty to inspire in the hearts of human beings faith in God and love, as much as he can. Consequently, when people that are characterized by love legislate in order to create a community based on love, then both the laws and the political models contribute to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.