Loose tongue

There is a lot of talk about the political motives behind Archbishop Christodoulos’s remarks during his sermon at the church of Aghia Varvara on Thursday. Some read in his public language an ambition to form and lead a political and ideological movement with conservative, nationalist and xenophobic elements. Others deem that his disparaging remarks were actually targeted against the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios. There may indeed be some truth to these views, but they both fall short of offering a convincing answer. The reason for this is that the archbishop’s controversial rhetorical flourishes serve none of the above purposes. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they seem to have seriously tainted his image. A large section of the audience was disillusioned with his preaching of intolerance. True, Christodoulos has repeatedly objected to the prospect of Turkey’s EU membership. He has in the past invoked historical circumstances to back his claim, but this time he overstepped the mark. The belief that our neighboring country has no place in a united Europe is widely held among members of the continent’s political and cultural elite, and even more so among common people. The arguments are well known to everyone: The political chasm between the two sides, Turkey’s vast population, the country’s economic underdevelopment and its significant democratic deficit. The issue, then, is not Christodoulos’s opinion that Turkey must not be accepted into the EU. The Vatican and all Christian democratic parties hold the same view. The problem, rather, lies with the intolerant nature of his remarks. Christodoulos’s public demeanor has bruised his own name and injured the international image of the Church of Greece. It becomes immediately clear that the main loser in this case is the archbishop himself. Had this been part of a political plan, Christodoulos would already be suffering the negative reactions and would be seeking to dampen the criticism or to play down his remarks. However, the head of the Church yesterday stood by his statements, remarks that were so incompatible with his spiritual role. The explanation seems to be psychological rather than political. Christodoulos could no longer bear the silence that he had imposed on himself over the feud with the Istanbul-based Patriarchate – despite the fact that his self-restraint had been acknowledged even by public officials who are not that keen on the archbishop. His intolerant and immoderate stance seems to vindicate those who accuse him of being swept away by his narcissism.