This post first appeared on Phylax Blog:
Recently I wrote a post on the importance of evangelizing young people in their Orthodox faith. Shortly thereafter I read in Kathimerini that Greek Orthodox priests will not be able to talk to or confess school children in the public schools of Greece. The shocking part is that the effort to ban this practice was led by parents and teachers. Not only am I saddened by this turn of events, I fear for the future of Orthodoxy in Greece and what it means for national survival.
Despite growing up in a multicultural society that emphasizes the separation of Church and State I was raised by my parents to love our Orthodox faith. This faith sustained generations of Greeks in captivity and I was always quite proud to know that although I cannot trace my ancestors back more than a few generations, they never gave up their Orthodox faith. Through their efforts and their tenacity, they gave me the gift of Orthodox Christianity and God willing I will be able to pass it on to my children and grandchildren.
There is an ongoing effort to de-Christianize the West and to secularize our societies. It is not strictly a Greek problem. It is insidious and incremental. It starts with little things like removing a Cross from public land, prohibiting any type of prayer in schools, prohibiting children from saying Merry Christmas, or banning children from wearing a Crucifix. While prohibitions against Christian worship abound, recognition and preferential treatment is accorded to other religions. In my own home state of Maine, in the US, Somali immigrant children are provided a room where they can pray during the school day while Christian children are prohibited from doing so. Being a Christian has never been easy.
In Greece where a vast majority of people consider themselves Greek Orthodox, there is a gradual chipping away of the power of the Church. There is and always has been a strong under-current of anti-clerical feeling in modern Greece and it has been heightened by the recent Church scandals. EU regulations have in turn done much to secularize a government that was traditionally very connected to the Orthodox Church. It is only recently that I have come to the realization that many Greeks living in Greece are estranged from their Orthodox faith. As this process speeds up it cannot help but impact the country's moral foundation. As I have argued before, as we Greeks turn away from our Orthodox faith, it becomes easier to rationalize self-destructive behavior. It becomes OK to abort a baby, after all it is not a real person. It becomes OK to be narcissistic, consumed with oneself, and ignore the needs of others. It is OK to lie, cheat, steal and yes, even murder. These aren't new behaviors, they have been around since Adam and Eve. What is new is that increasingly, there is nothing to make us think twice about committing unthinkable acts. As someone who deals with children on a daily basis in my practice I hear about some of the serious and intense problems that they face in their daily lives. Kids need someone to talk to and qualified priests, teachers and medical practitioners often fill that role and make a real difference in the lives of children.
One of my favorite Greek Saints, Saint Kosmas, was an itinerant preacher, who traveled throughout Greece, Albania and parts of Serbia, during the Turkokratia (Ottoman Occupation). He did a great deal to help poor, illiterate peasants turn back the tide of conversions that was sweeping the Balkans in the 18th century. There were many incentives for converting to Islam and it was the easy and profitable thing to do. St. Kosmas was also a great believer in education as well as an outspoken proponent of social justice and a bold preacher for Jesus Christ. They hanged him, of course. Perhaps he could have avoided that fate in modern Greece; one thing is for sure, he wouldn't be allowed in any Greek school.