Technocratic clerics with environmental awareness

Participants at a recent conference on the national zoning plan held in Thessaloniki by Kathimerini and Skai Television included a small group of monks who were looking for «more knowledge» to help them in their work, which over the past few years has included the restoration of part of the historic center of Goumenissa, Kilkis (an area popular for its xinomavro wine). The diocese, known for its awareness of cultural and environmental issues, has since 1994 been restoring churches and other buildings in the town center. It is one of the few dioceses in Greece to have its own technical department and includes civil engineers, a mechanical engineer, as well as graduates in architecture, law, philology and medicine among its clerics. The technical department contributed to the designs for the restoration of all the historic churches in the 45 parishes with a total population of 50,000. It is also seeking a role for itself in the Integrated Intervention Program for the region. «We are working with all the other organizations without interfering in their authorities. We are simply making our presence felt without trying to interfere with the state services,» said Bishop Demetrios of Goumenissa. He and his colleagues believe that religious tourism – some 80,000 visit the Aghios Raphael monastery every year – could play a part in highlighting the cultural and architectural character of the area and keep younger people in the region. (The Metaxourgeio [Silk Factory] was one of the most important industrial plants in the Balkans.) «We would like to expand our collaboration (with other groups),» said Mayor Stylianos Papapanayiotou who is pleased with the way the local church is working with the municipality. Father Christodoulos, who liaises with other groups and state services, emphasizes that all members of the brotherhood believe in the importance of protecting the environment. One of their programs is titled «Promoting Monastic Life through the Use of the Native Plants of Paikos.» The diocese has managed restoration and conservation works at 14 churches and chapels, nine spiritual centers and two monasteries within seven different funding organizations (such as ministries and regions). Their research took them as far afield as the archives of the French Army, whose officers had recorded the exteriors and interiors of Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments during the First World War.