Tragedy has struck Greece this summer season, with dozens of dead and scores injured in this week’s wildfires. We have sustained incalculable environmental damage and material losses. Yet in this tragedy we are also seeing the epitome of indifference and carelessness from the government, from local authorities, from regional authorities and, of course, from citizens.
As all this is going on, meanwhile, party officials are busy calculating the potential political gains they can reap and the damage they can wreak on their rivals – a terrifying catastrophe has become a pretext for vulgar political confrontation.
The government announced subsidies and tax breaks for fire-stricken residents of Attica, as was its duty. Now studies will be ordered into the oversights of the past and present that led to the tragedy and decisions will be announced regarding the reorganization of the state – and there will be a widespread sense of futility, because all of this has happened before and nothing changed.
But there are the victims to consider first and foremost, and we have a duty to respect them. As his position dictates, Archbishop Ieronymos offered his prayers for the casualties and the Church’s support to the survivors in a statement on Wednesday. When asked about the outrageous comments of Kalavryta’s metropolitan bishop, Amvrosios, who said that the wildfires were the wrath of God because the country is run by atheists, Ieronymos restricted himself to the theological answer: “God is love. God does not take revenge.”
Some people were upset that Ieronymos did not take a position on the political leadership’s role in the disaster, suggesting it was because he is seen as having a close relationship with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. They are obviously overlooking the enormous difference between the political and clerical point of view.
When Constantinos Mitsotakis was sworn in as prime minister in 1990, a delegation of government and New Democracy party officials traveled to Mount Athos. The head of that delegation made a point of stressing to the monks that the new government and prime minister had the deepest respect for the Church and would stand by its side.
When he completed his speech, the head abbot answered: “What government, brothers, what prime minister, what Mr Mitsotakis? We have been here for centuries…”
So to the naysayers today I say: “What Mr Tsipras, what government, what SYRIZA?” The Church has a mission and a purpose, and any politicians who try to stir up trouble are bound to reap what they sow.