Monday, November 1, 2010

Patriotism on St. Demetrios Day

Patriotism is not thinking your country is better than all the rest.  (Even if you do think that, that’s not what patriotism is.)  Patriotism is not chauvinism, not elitism, not communistic, not fascistic, not belligerent.  Patriotism is to recognize the greatness of your country and your culture; for every country and culture does indeed have some greatness in it, somewhere.  Patriotism is to value your country’s ideals, traditions, customs and folkways; her literature, music, and art; language and history.  Patriotism is being willing to stand up for all these things, to sacrifice and maybe even to die to preserve them. 

Here in Greece, the language has been debased; formal Greek is no longer taught in the schools because to insist upon speaking correctly is elitism and you should not scorn to speak the slang you learned at your sainted mother’s knee.  One result is, you have a so-called language without any hard and fast rules, whether of spelling or of grammar.  Another result is that most Greeks younger than, say, 45 or 50, cannot read their own literature:  neither Homer nor the philosophers nor the Scriptures nor the Fathers nor much of anything else that predates the mid-20th Century. 

History has been re-written; Greek school children are now learning how jolly it was when the wonderful, wise Turks ruled this land.  (They can’t read the older histories, remember, because those are written in proper Greek.)

Schools have been made ineffectual by putting the students in charge of them, in the name of democracy.  Shouldn’t children have a say in their own learning and in who teaches them, and what subjects they want to learn?  So children sit on the boards tat interview, hire, and fire teachers.  If the children dislike anything or anyone, they simply close down the schools—by occupying the buildings, and this they are allowed to do for as long as they please, even if it be weeks on end. 

The universities are in a similar condition; everything is highly politicized.

Religion is no longer taught in the schools and there are no more school prayers.  The government once tried to tax the Church, but the people made such a stink they couldn’t do it.

The military is all but non-existent, a mere shell.  Even in times of high unemployment, when the government was providing uncounted make-work jobs for its supporters, it wasn’t hiring desperately needed soldiers or sailors or airmen; for that there was no money.  Instead, the military was reduced drastically.  Militarily, Greece is now virtually defenseless.

Greece may as well have no borders, as they are undefended, unpatrolled, uncontrolled in any way.  Whoever pleases may cross freely, with or without documentation, with or without contraband.

Industry?  Greece hardly has any left; it has been exported to other countries.  Globalization.

And of course you’ve heard, because the propagandists make so much of it, that this same government has wrecked the Greek economy.  Greece has no financial strength, either.

A third of the Aegean Sea is to be conceded to the Turks next month, or at least Greece’s oil drilling rights are; and another third or so to the U.S.  That means Turkish ships, including naval vessels, will be routinely sailing Greek waters.  (Why doesn’t Greece drill for her own oil?  Because Turkey has said it will declare war on Greece if that happens and the U.S. is backing Turkey.)

And many people are dispirited and fall for the propaganda that says Greece is a no-good country where nobody ever seems to get anything right.  (Implication:  it might be better to be the protectorate of some more efficient power, NATO, perhaps  Or it might even be better to break up Greece and give some to the Turks, some to Skopje, some to Albania, etc.  This, for the globalization/internationalization folks, would have the added benefit of fracturing those countries as well.)  The only grain of truth in the idea that Greeks can’t do anything right is, the Greek government never gets anything right.  That, of course, isn’t really because they’re stupid  – far from it! – but because they’re corrupt.  Deviating from the right way the better to line your pocket is precisely what corruption IS.  You cannot be corrupt and do things right/well at the same time, by definition.

See?  It’s all a mess, everything ruined, and systematically, too.  The famous Greek singer and songwriter Mikis Theodorakis said, “We are under occupation by an army not wearing uniforms, but Armani.”  I’ll put it more baldly:  paid traitors (no other word for them) in government are dismantling all of the above, dismantling Greece; and the process has reached an advanced stage. 

Now we are being discouraged from flying the Greek flag, if you can believe it.  It is politically incorrect because it implies you think Greeks are better than anybody else, when everyone knows, or ought to, the Greeks are considerably worse.  The only way you could think otherwise is if you are a fascist, like those in Germany who thought they were some sort of Übermensch, supermen.

So we decided, last Saturday morning, it was time to put up our Greek flag in time for the Feast of St. Demetrios on Tuesday and Ochi Day, Thursday.  Ochi Day is rather like Memorial Day in America.  It commemorates the 1945 defeat (defeat, mind you!) of fascist Germany and the earlier defeat of fascist Italy.  It seemed to us that in previous years, flags had appeared around town somewhat earlier.

We have a large flag, and on the corner of our balcony is the holder for it; the flag can therefore be seen from both streets. 

By Saturday evening, there were five more flags visible from our balcony.  By Sunday morning I counted 14.  A few more appeared Monday.

We didn’t go to the Church of St. Demetrios this year, discouraged by our horrible experience there in 2007, when we literally could not find each other afterwards and each thought the other had somehow met a dire fate, until about 2:00 in the afternoon, when we ended up in each other’s arms, both crying.  But I wish now we had gone there, on account of what we hear happened.

About half the city seems to go to that church on the feast of its patron saint.  For all the politicians in Greece, the ones in office and the ones hoping to be; it’s de rigueur  to be seen at St. Demetrios Church on St. Demetrios Day.  The VIPs even come from Athens.

And some friends of ours who were there told us how our bishop did a daring, defiant thing.  After the Divine Liturgy, with the national and local officials all standing up front as is customary, Bishop Anthimos asked everyone to stand.  Okay, so when you’re in church and your bishop asks you to stand, you do it, right?  And when the people had all risen, he said, to the delight of most people, “Let us sing the National Anthem,” and he launched right into it. 


Of course everybody else had to sing with him, didn’t they?  Most people sang it with gusto.  There was, according to our friends, one notable exception.  Guess who did not sing the National Anthem?  The Prime Minister!  He stood there, they told us, and mumbled something and looked uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, all this was being televised. (YES!)

There are two interpretations of his behavior going around, the more charitable of which (or at least the less sinister) is, the Prime Minister doesn’t know the words to the National Anthem. 

Is that believable?   Not to me, it isn’t.

But the Bishop of Thessaloniki actually made all those office-holders sing the National Anthem or else be embarrassed on national TV!

Oh, and I’ve heard something else encouraging about our bishop, too.  Remember the mayoral candidate I wrote of recently, who wants to re-name St. Demetrios Street and make it Kemal Attaturk Street?  Well, this candidate, from the party currently in power (same party as the rime Minister), also said he felt really uncomfortable whenever he saw the Bishop dressed in those strange liturgical garments.  And the Bishop replied, publicly, “As long as I am Bishop of this city, you will never be mayor.” 

He has the influence to back up those words, too.

God grant you many years, Bishop!

(Makes you realize, doesn’t it, that when you’ve got a good bishop, you sing that to him not only for his sake, but for your own!)


margaret said...

God bless Bishop Anthimos!

Everything else is so saddening. We are on the same road here in the UK, not as far along it as Greece but I think we will end up in the same place sooner or later. It makes me so sad, both for my own country and for Greece which has given the world so much. If Greece in the past hadn't been proudly Greek we would have so much less good literature, less fabulous fascinating history to read, less art, less poetry, less mythology and English (which we hate here) would be sadly impoverished. I hate 'the spirit of the age', I really do.

123 said...

"Mr. Wills also has a Ph.D. in classics from Yale, and he is eloquent about why this sort of education matters to anyone who wishes to write and think seriously. “Learning classical Greek is the most economical intellectual investment one can make,” he writes. “On many things that might interest one — law and politics, philosophy, oratory, history, lyric poetry, epic poetry, drama — there will be constant reference back to the founders of those forms in our civilization.”" (

This is from a New York Times review of Garry Wills' autobiography Outside Looking In (Viking, 2010). If you add to this quote koine Greek and byzantine/ecclesiastical Greek (not just classical) as well as 'religion' as one of the "many things that might interest one" you get the argument for and raison d'être of a Greek School abroad. The part-time Greek School many GOA parishes in the US have should be mini-athenaeums preparing the way for a classical parochial school system as are the "Latin Schools" in various east coast cities. However, a dependence and focus on modern Greek, modern Greece and the more contemporary Greek/Greekness of the turkokratia relegate Greek School to little more than an ethnic preference like going to an Italian or an Irish Catholic school, or studying either of those languages, or visiting an ethnic restaurant, i.e., it is interesting to one's own, it is interesting as part of the tapestry of diversity, but it's just one unique culture among many. The focus and mission of these Greek Schools must be ancient and foundational (ancient Greek, the Greek of the Church) as the basis for all learning and piety in Western Civilization, regardless of one's more immediate culture and heritage. It also puts Greeks and non-Greeks on more of a level playing field, since older forms of Greek are like a new language to many modern Greek speakers. It takes the feeling of cultural superiority out of the equation a little (which Greeks don't really understand they project, and which Phanariote history has taught Orthodox who are not Greek to despise). It's important to have non-Greeks (like Wills) advocating for the importance of Greek and Greek culture, otherwise it's like English-speakers arguing for the importance of English around the world - it is not objective, it is purely subjective (and also a little imperious). A strength of the Greek-American community is its connection with the educational system prior to the move to demotic alone (and thus closer to the ecclesiastical and classical forms of the language) - though this strength is fading in America as that generation reposes.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

All ur countries seem to be on this same road. The idea is to do away with ALL national identities and teach people to identify themselves as world citizens. In the name of peace, or course.

But really so a few can exercise more power and grab more of the world's goods.