After the two first events in Athens and Volos, the third round table of the circle ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY AND THE “OTHERS” IN GREECE IN 2040, on the topic “The secularization of the state and society and the witness of the Church”, was successfully held in Thessaloniki on Monday, September 20. The first of the speakers, Rev. Theodosios Martzouchos (BA Theology, Clergyman of the Holy Metropolis of Preveza) referred to the historical course of the Orthodox Church during the Ottoman times, a course which began with the assignment of a leading role, responsible for the whole genus of Orthodox Christians, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, by the Ottoman governors. He also noted that the first Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 avoided his identification with a certain cultural model, taking responsibility for maintaining the faith and the moral and spiritual guidance of the Christian nation. If today we exist as a nation and as people, Rev. Theodosios continued, we owe it to those fighters and exponents of the Christian faith. Finally, referring to the solidarity which is based on persons and not on ideas like nation, blood or race, he underlined that the love for the present, the present of God, is a Christian obligation, since Christians must discern that the Holy Spirit works in the world today, as well. The future, therefore, that the Christians will build must be based on love and not on fear, including in Christ all forms of otherness.

Then, Dr. Aris Stylianou (President and Professor of the Department of Political Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), spoke about the concept of secularization of the state and the society that must be examined in accordance with the testimony of the Church and the Orthodox tradition. As he noted, always with strict adherence to the current Constitution of the country, we must redefine the distinct roles between the State and the Church, ensuring in practice the proper functioning of a modern, European, secular and religiously neutral State. And all this must take place bearing in mind the interest for human rights, individual and political, with faith in democracy and popular sovereignty, but also with respect for the special characteristics of the Greek society.

Dr. Grace Davie (Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Exeter, UK) then pointed out that the process of secularization takes place in different ways in each society. It should come as no surprise that the Greek Orthodox Church still has a strong presence in Greek society, far stronger than the respective influence of the Anglican Church in Britain, since the Anglican Church is just one of the many denominations of Christianity in Britain. However, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church face common challenges. They must both resist the temptation of populism and the tendency to use their confessional peculiarity aiming to exclude the “other”. The Churches, therefore, acting rather as social networks than as state entities, can and must treat minorities as a source of enrichment and not as a danger.

Finally, Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Director of Volos Academy for Theological Studies, and Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Religion) referred to the phenomenon of secularization that “hovers like a ghost over the societies of Europe and America”. Especially for the Greek case, he stressed that the Orthodox Church must get rid of the burdens bequeathed to it by the idealization of the Byzantine “Symphonia” and the Church’s nation-leading role during the Ottoman times, since this way it tries to face the challenges of pluralism, of modernity and of postmodernity with answers coming from the past. He also pointed out the need for significant changes in the Church. However, these changes, as he stressed, cannot take place without dialogue between the Church and the society, nor can they be sustained if the State, but also the wider civil society, are simply interested in getting rid of the Church the soonest possible, succumbing to the demand of separation at any cost. One should consider, in such a case, into whose hands the institutional Church will end and what political orientations will it be tempted to adopt without the institutional brakes of the democratic state. Finally, he proposed for the Church the priority of adopting an ecumenical ecclesiastical discourse free from the constant references to the nation and the state and the abandonment of any idea of a nostalgic return to Byzantine theocracy, as a precondition for entering the contemporary world.

The event was moderated by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, Chair of the Board of Directors of Volos Academy and Coordinator of the Working Group “Greek Orthodoxy and the ‘other’ in Greece towards 2040,” and it took place with the support of the Agape Hellas Association.

Videos of the live transmission of the round table are available here (in Greek) and here (in English).

As a reminder, the last round table of the circle (on the topic “Islam in Greece and in Europe”) will take place next Monday, September 27, 7 p.m., in Alexandroupolis, Greece.