What would happen if a business association convened tomorrow and decided to reopen all its stores on Monday? What if the owners of the country’s bars, cafés, restaurants, concert venues and nightclubs did the same next weekend? Or if sports clubs opened their stadiums and invited their fans to watch their games? Would it all have to be brought to a halt by the police? Could it?
The answer, of course, is no. Yet stores and venues that attract large numbers of people remain closed in observance of a widely accepted social contract which demands that we respect the rule of law and decisions taken by the government. All of us. Anything else is against the law. And the Church of Greece is not (or should not be) an exception. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, we saw those we would expect to act responsibly – since they like to assume the role of shepherd and guide – behaving in the opposite manner.
The Church of Greece chose a particularly critical time to make a show of strength. The tragedy is that this was by no means the first time the official state has bent to the will of the hierarchy, which exploits the influence it yields over the faithful – and voters – to intervene in the course of politics.
Perhaps it is time for the Church hierarchy, as well as the government, to understand that there is an equally important audience out there which expects a more responsible stance from one side and a more active imposition of the law from the other – voters who expect more than sterile dogmatism and fear driven by clientelist concerns.
It is, at best, shortsighted on the part of the Church leadership to fail to see that the stance it adopts during the health crisis is a crucial test for the younger and more moderate audience it ought to be trying to reach out to. For many in the Church and for many of its followers, unfortunately, keeping churches open to the faithful is an issue espoused as passionately as a rivalry on the soccer pitch – an attitude best illustrated by the woman caught in one photograph raising her middle finger as she came out of a church after the Epiphany service, evidently filled with piety and light. Is the faith of the Church’s followers really so tenuous that it cannot survive closed churches? Shouldn’t it only grow stronger at times of trial and tribulation, as so many sermons would have us believe?
Most importantly, what is it all about, ultimately, for the clerics? Obviously is it more about flexing muscle than blessing the waters. But there are exceptions too, like the priest in Antirio who walked to the sea on his own, without informing his congregation, and blessed the waters without fanfare.