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International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 9, No.

2, 1995

Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism

Vassiliki Georgiadou



The subject to be discussed in this article touches on two very

important issues: nationalism and Orthodoxy. But analysis of the thematic
link between a fundamentally divisive ideology such as nationalism and an
ecumenical religious issue raises certain difficulties, and an examination of
the Orthodox Christian doctrine from a nationalist viewpoint serves only
to increase these difficulties. It is a rather curious fact that even though
properties of ontological and historical significance are widely ascribed to
Orthodoxy, and indeed the lingering reactions of Orthodox Christians are
thought to be important in the responses of certain societies to the
demands of modernization, from a sociological and religious point of view,
Orthodoxy still remains largely an "unknown quantity." The classical
theorists of sociology (e.g., Durkheim) and the sociology of religion (e.g.,
Weber) and their descendants (Luckmann, Berger, Schluchter, etc.) did not
include Orthodoxy in their fields of research. Thus, we still lack the theory
and methodological tools to make a scientific approach to the s u b j e c t -
not as a belief system, 1 but as a functionally specialized institutional system
(Luckmann 1967: 69-77), in other words, to make a nondoctrinal analysis
of the broader functions of Orthodoxy and the importance of its ideological
and institutional role in modem societies. In order to approach the subject,
therefore, we are obliged to overcome this theoretical vacuum. In this
analysis we employ historical and comparative approaches to examine
Greek Orthodox religion, with the aim of revealing the historical and
institutional relationships that exist among Orthodoxy, the Orthodox
Church, and nationalism. We also explore some elements of these
relationships as they pertain to certain features of the political situation in
Greece today.


9 1995 Human Sciences Press, Inc.

296 Georgiadou

First, a general observation is required. Nationalism may appear

in many guises, but in its most typical form (e.g., Europe in the eight-
eenth and nineteenth centuries) it assumes the characteristics of politi-
cal nationalism (Kamenka 1976, 2-20); that is to say, it is directly linked
with the formation of a nation-state whose existence, as a rule, it pre-
supposes (as in the case of France and Britain). It may, however,
merely seek to create such a state, as happened in the Central and
Eastern European versions of the nationalist phenomenon in the nine-
teenth century (Smith 1993, 140-144). Major components of the varie-
ties of n a t i o n a l i s m in the W e s t w e r e t h e r e f o r e politicism and
secularism, 2 characteristics that originated in the broader sociopolitical
context within which nationalism emerged and which are in some ways
related to religion itself. In Europe at least, the relativization of the
power of religion--the Christian religion was transformed from terri-
torially an ecumenical religion to a limited "state religion" (Bali-
b a r / W a l l e r s t e i n 1991, 134) and w e a k e n e d both cognitively and
normatively as a religion -- was an essential prerequisite for the estab-
lishment of a secularized state. An additional factor was the organiza-
tional revival of Christian doctrines, which was brought about mainly
through the reinforced institutional prominence of the churches. This
was accompanied, however, by a dwindling of the spiritual role and of
the ideological influence of church doctrines in public life. Within mod-
ernity, religion appears to exist in a secularized form, that is, first and
foremost as an (ecclesiastical) institution. However one perceives the
meaning of secularization -- whether as a kind of social "emancipation"
or as a "religious decline" (Luckmann 1971, 74) -- one major outcome
is that the doctrinal and mystical content of religion has gradually been
restricted to the institutional functions of the church (Luckmann 1971,
76 et seq., and 1967, 28 et seq.). This process refers to what Max Weber
(1978, 94) meant by the phrase "the disenchantment of the world" (En-
tzauberung der Welt). Weber condenses into this expression the cogni-
tive innovations that accompany modern society that were also partially
derived from religion itself. The word "disenchantment" also gives
emphasis to the process of reforming bibliocratic and canonical per-
ceptions prevalent in church doctrines (Bibliokratie) as opposed to
the mystical, ritual religious practices and meanings that had pre-
vailed before (Weber 1978, 122). Thus, according to Weber, the doc-
trines of Calvinism are ultimately restricted to the confines of a
confessional canon, offering the believer not a means of redemption
but merely texts -- in other words, a "law" (the Scriptures) on faith
(Weber 1978).
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 297

With Protestantism, of course, since the believer does not seek atone-
ment but only individual certainty of salvation (certitudo salutis) in this world
(Weber 1978, 104), the role of the church as an institution which had tra-
ditionally mediated salvation by carrying out a ritualistic task becomes clearly
limited. With Orthodoxy, as in the Orthodox Church, things are different.
Orthodoxy is for the most part a "popular," "lived" faith, and its doctrinal
content is therefore characterized "by a remarkable agility and fluidity," as
the historian A. Liakos puts it, so that 'everybody, whether believer or non-
believer, [can] participate in his own way and be accepted [into it] in his
own way" (1994, B2, 36). The important issue in the Orthodox faith is the
considerable presence of the community of believers, which exceeds the nar-
row bounds of the institutionalized church, as well as the symbolic (as dis-
tinct from the strictly doctrinal) content of its mystical ritualistic practices.
Precisely because these elements are related to (a) the fierce interplay be-
tween the Orthodox Church and the state; (b) the "incorporative" (Mouzelis
1986) type of social inclusion, as a direct result of the strong presence of
the state and the weakness of civil society in a number of Orthodox coun-
tries: and (c) in the case of Greece, the high degree of religious and national
homogeneity, elements that from the outset formed the institutional organi-
zation of Orthodoxy and that inevitably led to interplay between the religious
and the nationalist community on a secular and spiritual level, are reinforced
under modem conditions.
As far as the Greek Orthodox faith and Church are concerned, it
should be noted that during the period of national integration in the
Balkans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Greek Church -- in
common with other churches -- assumed quite distinct nationalist features,
taking an active part in the processes of nation building and state formation
that were taking place in the region. In any event, the complicated and (at
least in its finer details) somewhat blurred relationship between religion
and nationalism is rendered even more complex and "obscure" in the case
of the Orthodox Christian doctrine and the nation-states of the Balkans.
Developments in this region reflect, among other things, the specific
characteristics of communication between the West and the Balkans, and
reveal the connotations contained in the Western perception of the
Balkans, as well as the Balkan perception of the West (Skopetea 1992).


Most scholars of nationalism would no doubt agree with B. Anderson

(1991, 12) "that nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with
self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems
298 Georgiadou

that preceded it, out of which -- as well as against which it came into
being." In his own analysis of nationalism, Anderson, significantly, focuses
on two of these systems, the religious community and what he calls the
dynastic r e a l m - the political-cultural system of "antique monarchical
states" (p. 20). " . . .Both of these," he argues, "in their heydays, were
taken-for-granted frames of reference, very much as nationality is today"
(p. 12).
Religion can thus prove to be an important factor in the establishment
of a national identity, if certain basic prerequisites are met, such as
"flexibility; adaptability to new circumstances; and transferability from
generation to generation in terms of its values" (Warhola 1991, 259). These
prerequisites are aptly met in the religious connotations inherent in the
national identity of Orthodox Christians. The religious conception of a
nation's identity, then, does not necessarily controvert the modern and
secular character of contemporary states, provided of course that the
relationship between religion and nation is not tautologous- provided,
that is, that nation and national identity are not defined only in religious
terms, nor are classified exclusively under religious headings (Skopetea:
1983, 123).
The debate concerning nationalism undoubtedly turns on a "question
of identity" (Lipowatz: 1990). The concept of identity, however, remains
ill-defined, particularly within those disciplines from which basic analytical
experience and the results of clinical analysis are missing -- in other words,
where a (psycho-)social rather than a psychoanalytic approach to the
question of identity is advanced. Indicative of this imprecision and of the
diverse conceptions and overall difficulties involved in the "revelation" of
identity is the remark by Erikson (1993, 124) that Freud himself, who
originated and laid the foundations for the psychoanalytic debate on
identity, only once uses the concept in a specialized sense, that of a
psychoanalytic process. Indeed, in his classic work "The Psychology of the
Masses and the Analysis of the Ego" (Freud 1989), in which he deals with
the issue at great length, Freud refers not to the identity hut the
"identification processes" of the subject. According to Freud, the
structuring of the Ego takes place through its "emotional attachment" or
its attempt to acquire a desired object ("Introjection") which is idealized
to occupy the place of an "ideal Ego" (Freud 1989, 44-52). This
all-embracing "giving" of the Ego to the idealized object of its desire and
the impoverishment of the Ego that accompanies this "giving" assume new
dimensions and create, for the subject, conditioning structures that go
beyond individual and other, broader, collective identities (Freud 1989, 52).
Those that are usually formed on the basis of an awareness, on the part
of the subjects, of the similarities that stem from their common identity
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 299

with a third object, are considered by Freud as constituent parts of the

processes involved in the organization of the mass. In other words, they
are analyzed as signs of the absolute identification of subjects with the
idealized Leader, and by extension, as concomitant manifestations of the
forfeiting of the Ego and the inevitable identity of these narcissistically
impoverished subjects with each other (Freud 1989, 55, 56-57).
In any event, all identification processes are, according to Freud
(1989, 44), "ambiguous" -- in that they may happen as the result either of
desire and the idealization of an object, or of the rejection of that object.
If we accept Lipowatz's remark that "to deal with nationhood is to deal
with identity" (Lipowatz 1990 and Lipowatz 1994, 118), then this entire
debate is a fabrication and contains an element of artificiality that is open
to the refutation of its structural coordinates, when confronted by empirical
realities. We are referring to identity as a whole, especially to national
identity. With (psycho-)social approaches, identity (religious, nationalist,
etc.) is analyzed less in the context of ego-identity (Ich-Analyse) and more
within the framework of social identity (Beit-Hallahmi 1991, 86, 88). Thus
the identity of the individual within the group or a general collective unit
comprises the incorporation of a number of different identities: social,
racial, nationalist, religious. All these individual "sub-identities," as they
have been called, are elements of an overall social identity. Indeed, they
are more the result of the primary socializing process of learning the rules,
symbols and terms of the reference group, although this does not preclude
the rules, symbols and terms of reference from being the result of the
conscious selective assimilation (or even, by analogy, of rejection) of a
system of racial, religious, etc., views (Beit-Hallahmi 1991). The relationship
between nationalism and religion acquires a special import that bears the
characteristics of an interwoven relationship when national identity is given
preferential significance by the religious definitions of "social identity" far in
excess of the religious feelings and consciously chosen beliefs of the members
of the social group. Thus, not only religious symbolism is called into being,
but also the "sacralization of [national, V. G.] identity" (Mol 1976 and Mol



In regard to the relationship between religion and nationalism, it

should be noted that comprehensive, all-embracing political ideologies,
including nationalism, often assume the characteristics of an "ersatz
religion" (Ersatzreligion, Kluxen-Pyta, 188. Smelser 1968, 133 et seq.). Not
300 Georgiadou

infrequently, the nation appears to have the features of a sacred

corporateness, while nationalist demands are often accompanied by
religious images and cultivate strong expectations of redemption. The
secularization of modern societies has been accompanied by the emergence
of a host of totalizing ideologies that have from time to time constituted
the "functional equivalent of religion," and in some secular and societal
way, fulfilled both the powerful human need for unmediated relationships
and metaphysical expectations of redemption (Kluxen-Ptya, 189). The
comprehensiveness of nationalist ideology and its "obvious" nature render
it not merely an "ersatz religion," but also a general extension of religion
itself in the modern world (Balibar/Wallerstein 1991, 146).
We have described the relationship between nationalism and religion
as a complex one. As a matter of fact, apart from dogmatic-normative
systems, religions frequently function as political parameters. Gellner (1988,
72) says that "high religions, those which are fortified by a script and
sustained by specialized personnel which sometimes . . .become the basis
of a new collective identity in the industrial world, making the
transition...from a culture-religion to a culture-state," can contribute to
the creation of, or strengthen already existing, nationalist bonds, i.e.,
political bonds, much as in the case of the Bosnian Muslims. Their
recognition as Muslims provides them with a greater degree of distinction
from the Serbs and Croats. In this case, their designation as "Muslim" has
therefore been a mark of secular differentiation that distinguished one
section of the Bosnian population from other national groups, with whom
it nonetheless shared a common language and the same history for the
past seventy years. 3
With regard to Eastern European and Balkan nationalism, as it
appeared in the past and again more recently, we would agree with Dunn
that it was always "pro-religious" (Dunn 1987, 11): cultural elements and
religion appeared from the outset to be important dimensions of this
phenomenon. The fact that the nation-state and the national church were
established at more or less the same time contributed to this; they appeared
as separate entities during the process of disintegration of major empires
in which the prevailing political situation did not favor secular collective
identities. 4 Yet it was religion that played a decisive part in "helping people
to determine their nationality."5 Moreover, the late development of a native
bourgeoisie, as Lendvai points out (1992, 26), and the weakness of civil
society did not permit the cultivation of secular ideas crucial to modern
political institutions; on the contrary, they created the right conditions for
earlier religious ideas to have a determining influence on these institutions.
National identity and nationalism in Eastern Europe and the Balkans
therefore had a religious orientation, with religion a key factor in the
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 301

so-called national awakening of the people -- in other words, both

nationalism and religion influenced each other (Dunn 1987, 4).
The significant religious element in Balkan nationalism has strong
historical roots; it stems from the particular nature of the Ottoman
conquest (the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the overthrow of
Byzantium, which had already taken place over a long period of time), a
fact which c o n t r i b u t e d to the rise of the O r t h o d o x church as a
"supra-national" and at the same time, political institution more or less on
a par with the state. Since, as a theocracy, the Ottoman Empire did not
permit the survival of purely political institutions, it therefore granted the
Orthodox Church (i.e., the Patriarchate in Constantinople) certain crucial
prerogatives and privileges. It thus created the conditions for (a) the
Orthodox unity of the region, and (b) the primacy of the Patriarchate of
Constantinople over all the other institutional expressions of Orthodoxy in
the Balkans, by recognizing the Patriarch as head of the whole Christian
"millet" (Kohn 1967, 534 et seq.).
This politicization 6 of the function of the Orthodox Church, on the one
hand, and the later state building on the other, created a singularly propitious
background for the cultural and religious sense of identity of the Balkan
nations and their nationalist movements. Certainly the politicization of the
Eastern Orthodox Church can be traced back to the very beginnings of
Eastern Christian doctrine. Throughout almost the whole of the Byzantine
era, the principal feature of the Eastern Church was its universality, that
is, its universal jurisdiction over both spiritual and secular matters
(Georgiadou 1990, 77-96). The interrelatedness between church and state
within the framework of the Orthodox faith are an expression of this
universality. In 1854, analyzing the "Greek Uprising" against Ottoman
domination, Marx made some very important points about Orthodoxy and
its politicization, and these constitute some of the rare comments made on
this subject in the classics of the social sciences. He said that what
distinguishes the "Greek Orthodox faith . . .[is] the equal status of state
and church, of political and ecclesiastical life. In the O t t o m a n
Empire, . . J~yzantine theocracy was able to evolve in such a way that the
priest of a community was at the same time also judge, mayor, t e a c h e r . . . a n
organ of political life. The greatest accusation that can be levelled against
the T u r k s . . . i s that . . .under their d o m i n a t i o n . . . t h e supervision and
involvement of the church was allowed to absorb every aspect of social
life" (Marx 1962, 132-134, italicizing, V. G.).
Any study of the special features of Orthodoxy, therefore, requires
thorough research into the relations between church and state; it should
be noted that from the outset the latter invested Orthodoxy with a special
status, given that the Emperor Constantine (324-337) had designated the
302 Georgiadou

Orthodox Church as the official religion (religio licita) of his state (the
Eastern Roman Empire). During the Byzantine era, the church was "in
agreement" (consonantia) with the state, a situation that greatly contributed
to the establishment of a unitary political culture that would succeed in
incorporating as many sections as possible of the population that lived
within this vast empire (Meyendorf 1990; Georgiadou 1990; Makrides 1991,
281-305). Given that the politicization of the Orthodox faith was facilitated
from the start by the interrelationship between church and state, it must
be emphasized that, despite various changes, this interrelationship is still
very much in evidence in Orthodox nations; this certainly includes Greece,
from where we derive our information and our arguments.
As far as Greece is concerned, suffice it to note that in all the texts
relating to the statutes of the modern Greek state from 1821 ("Temporary
State of Greece," First National Assembly) up to the present day (1975
Constitution, revised 1986), "the religion of the Eastern Orthodox Church"
continued to be defined as the "predominant religion." Although the
current Constitution recognizes the freedom and protects the rights of any
other "recognized religion" (article 13, para. 2), the Orthodox Church is
given preferential treatment, stemming from its interpretative potential,
and it is reinforced by the "special legislative and administrative provisions"
(Sotirelis 1993, 21) of the Constitution. 7



Of course, the relations between church and state in Greece and

in the Orthodox part of the Balkans have changed over time. The regime
of consonantia gave way to one of "national subordination" (Georgiadou
1990). In other words, following the creation of independent nation-states
in the Balkan peninsula, or even while they were in the process of preparing
their main political structures, the Orthodox churches were rendered national
churches -- i.e., they had to obey the authority and interventions of the na-
tion-states. The Greek church, in particular, was recognized as "autono-
mous" on completion of the process of releasing it administratively from
the Patriarchate in Constantinople- a move already promoted by the
central political power between 1833 and 1835 (the Bavarian regency).
Admittedly, that process split the Greek church for a number of years
and tested its relations with the Patriarchate, which was opposed to this
development (Frazee 1969). However, the move was more or less inevi-
table, and regardless of the argumentation put forward by the two eccle-
siastical "camps," there is no doubt that self-rule for the Greek church
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 303

was a "natural" consequence of the political independence of the Greek

state. The other Orthodox churches in the newly established Balkan na-
tion-states followed the same course (self-proclamation of the Bulgarian
church as independent from the Patriarchate in Constantinople in 1872,
and the establishment of the Bulgarian state in 1878; proclamation of
the autonomy of the Rumanian Orthodox Church in 1885, a few years
after the political union of Vlachia and Moldavia; Albanian independence
in 1912 and the proclamation in 1922 of the independence of the Al-
banian Orthodox Church, which the Patriarchate refused to recognize;
recognition in 1832 of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in Serbia,
two years after Serbia's proclamation as an independent hegemony under
the suzerainty of the Sultan and Russian protection [Stefanidis 1959, pas-
The national subordination of the churches contributed to the cur-
tailment of the social and political role the churches had played hitherto.
In considering the newly established Greek state at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, it should be noted that the rapid development of a
public education system and the introduction of a modern judicial system
at the initiative of the country's first governor (Iannis Kapodistrias, 1823-
1831) quickly deprived the church of two important areas that had pre-
viously been in its exclusive domain: the task of educating the people,
and the dispensation of justice on the basis of canon law (Petropoulos
1968, 106 et seq., 153 et seq.; Georgiadou 1991, 116-196). However, de-
spite all these changes the Greek church continued to be a historically
important institution in Greek society, and one that made a substantial
contribution to national struggles, thereby enjoying power and prestige.
Yet there have been discrediting voices that stem primarily from the dis-
puted role of the church in the postwar period, culminating in the tol-
erant attitude adopted by the official church in Greece during the
dictatorship (1967-1974) towards the autocratic regime of the colonels
(Konidaris 1994, 82-156). Nevertheless, generally speaking, the presence
of the church in Greece has been mainly a cultural one, in the sense
that it preserved and handed down the Greek language through the cen-
turies of foreign (Ottoman) domination and made a sizeable contribution
to the continuation and unity of the scattered Greek nation. Moreover,
in the past the church was a provider of social values that were derived
from the "popular" features of Orthodox church tradition; and as a con-
sequence of the lack of any major rival doctrinal factions and religious
movements within the Greek Orthodox faith, it allowed the cultivation
of more socially tolerant attitudes in a basically traditional society.
In the social sciences it is not unknown for there to be a gap
between an objective situation and the way in which individuals appro-
304 Georgiadou

priate and internalize the meaning of that situation. In the case of

Greek Orthodoxy, the power and prestige of the church result from
the recognition that society itself (according to the circumstances at
any given time) granted legitimacy to Orthodox institutions. Two recent
examples of circumstantial fluctuations in this recognition are, first, the
initial part of the period of political changeover (1974-1981) -- a time
of widespread doubt and mistrust on the part of society towards the
Greek church -- and second the period of the collapse of Communist
regimes and the Balkan crisis (1989/91 and thereafter), during which
some parts of society and the political elite urged the Greek church to
move in a positive way, expecting some actions (e.g., on the country's
foreign policy issues) that would have equal weight with those of the
state, s
Thus the Greeks' collective representation of Orthodoxy and the
Orthodox Church is unstable and subject to the political influences of
the times. These always serve as a reminder of the interrelationship
between church and state mentioned earlier, to which we shall refer in
greater detail below. At this point, we shall merely emphasize that
sometimes this interrelationship has favored the church as far as certain
secular issues are concerned (rid. the recent example of the nonobli-
gatory sanctioning of civil marriages, despite PASOK's endeavors to the
contrary in 1982), while at other times it favored the side of the state,
with the predominance of secular views on ecclesiastical matters (i.e.,
the establishment in 1833 of the Holy Synod, "under the suzerainty of
the King," as the body in charge of church administration; the refusal
by the state in 1852 to grant the church the right to administer its own
affairs, (Frazee 1969, chs. 6-8); unprovoked state intervention during
the dictatorship in the internal affairs of the church, (Konidaris 1994).
We shall now attempt to analyze and explain this interrelationship.

Orthodox Nation or National Church? The Possibilities and Implications

of a Special Relationship Between State, Society, and Church

Nationalism is often defined as a wholly secular phenomenon, i.e., it

is said to be devoid of religious content. However, if nationalism is defined
in this restricted manner, the empirical content, that is, the religious
element, of so much of nationalist doctrine, is excluded. Therefore, a
definition of nationalism that is resonant with its actual ideological content
would have to include the religious aspect. Such a definition, of course,
should not be so all encompassing as to prohibit distinguishing essentially
religious movements from those that are nationalist.
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 305

Referring to the relationship between nationalism and religion, the

historian E. Skopetea (1988, 123) observes two alternative interpretations
of this relationship: either the nation appears as the "guardian of religion,"
or else religion appears as the "guardian of the nation." The first version,
according to Skopetea, refers to the "Western European perception of
the nation," while the second refers "beyond the realm [of Greece, V.G.]
to the actualities of the Ottoman Empire." We would probably agree with
the historian that "the actualities of the Eastern Church i t s e l f . . . c o u l d
support both of these opposing views," since history has demonstrated
that the close relationship between church and state (the regime of con-
sonantia, church-state relations in Orthodox Byzantium) and the subor-
dination of the church to the nation-state (church-state relations in
Orthodox nation-states in the Balkans) exist alongside one another. Thus,
for example, the creation of independent national churches in the Bal-
kans during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as we mentioned ear-
lier, reveals their subordination to the nation-states, while the continuing
relatedness between church and state, which we discuss below, often turns
out to be to the detriment of the secular settlement of civil affairs in
g e n e r a l - indicating the "secular deficits" in contemporary s t a t e s -
often, creating the preconditions for the religious element in the rela-
tionships to dominate.
On the basis of its principles, Orthodoxy is p r o j e c t e d as a
supranational religious creed (Alivizatos 1969). Yet we know there have
always been national confrontations within it; 9 Greek spiritual domination
within the Orthodox Church has played a decisive role in this process. At
the same time, the seeds of nationalism in the Orthodox Church are also
to be found in the church's relationship to the West -- in the way that the
Balkans, through Orthodoxy perceive their "differentness," a reality that is
not just historical but ontological and which began with the separate course
the region took in the fourth century. 10
Most of the ontological differences and disputes may have occurred
between the doctrines of the Christian religion, but it is also true that
disputes and differences were to be found within each individual doctrine.
The Orthodox Christian doctrine is itself an example of an arena for the
expression of differences within the Orthodox faith, many of which are
attributable to the Primates of the Patriarchate in Constantinople (primus
inter pares), but concern mainly the processes of national integration that
were taking place in the Balkans during the nineteenth and the early
twentieth c e n t u r y - processes to which, as we have already said, the
various Orthodox churches also made a contribution. Returning then, to
the relationship between Orthodoxy and nationalism, it should be pointed
out that Orthodox leaders went on to issue a formal condemnation of
306 Georgiadou

"ethno-nationalism" in 1872, i.e., they were against the establishment of

churches that were independent of the Patriarchate in Constantinople
because these churches resulted not from "state discord" or political
dissention, "but only from national differences. ''u At the level of
fundamental principles, the Orthodox doctrine was to remain true to its
policy of "cultural pluralism" (Stefanidis 1959), the implementation of
which contributed to the Holy Scriptures and the Divine Liturgy gradually
being made available to all Orthodox believers in their mother tongue. Of
course, despite the application of the principle of cultural pluralism, Greek
spiritual and institutional domination in the Orthodox Church (Greek
supremacy in the Patriarchate) caused ethnic friction and rivalry within the
church. A typical example of this is the case of the Bulgarian Exarchate
in which the interrelation between church and nation-state can be seen
quite clearly (Nystazopoulou-Pelekidou 1992, 204-229). The rise of
nationalism in Bulgaria was accompanied by a demand for recognition of
the independence of the Bulgarian Church from the Patriarchate in
Constantinople, granting it more or less the status of a patriarchate in its
own right. This claim, made around 1860-1870, was in effect the expression
of the Bulgarians' desire for the establishment of a Bulgarian state that
would be independent of both the Ottoman Empire and Hellenism; this
was finally achieved in 1878 (Stefanidis 1959, 720-741).



There is constant interplay in Orthodoxy in its relations with the

polity. The intensity of this interplay varies, of course, over time, and its
content depends on the terms on which the relationship is based. Thus,
for example, following the establishment of communist regimes in the
Orthodox Balkan states, we saw the supreme state authorities passing out
high-handed resolutions imposing absolute separation of state from church.
The resurgence of Orthodoxy in the same geographical area following the
collapse of communism, together with the increased role of the Orthodox
church in the region, are both factors that bear witness to the fact that
relations between the secular and the religious are always, in every
circumstance, renegotiable. With reference to this particular example, the
resurgence of religion in the Balkan region is the result not just of reaction
to the high-handed way that religion was treated during the period of
communist rule, but mainly of the fact that these political regimes had
themselves cultivated strong expectations of salvation, in effect replacing
metaphysical ideas of redemption.
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 307

Not only did the utopia of communist society embodied by these

regimes allow for their survival for decades -- a survival achieved through
the application of principles such as fear, obedience and sacrifice, principles
that are themselves basically religious -- but the eventual failure of these
regimes prepared the way for the simultaneous revival of nationalism and
religion) 2 Of course, to be fair, we should point out that today's
reappearance of nationalism and religion is a more or less worldwide
phenomenon, albeit with some variations. In the Balkans, this reappearance
is also accompanied by a show of religious and political strength attempted
by the main churches through their various interventions, but it is facilitated
by a long history of continuous interplay in church-state relations that dates
back to the nineteenth century.
We have argued that, alongside other cultural elements, religion and
religious symbols have periodically been factors in the consolidation of
national identity. This does not, of course, remove the competitive
relationship between state and religion, when the latter is perceived as a
holistic system offering universal certainties and total directions regarding
the constitution and content of political, economic, cultural and social life.
Religions have from time to time been considered as objectsfor instrumental
treatment by political movements and ideologies, though this is not
automatically to pass judgment on the religious orientation of those who
are against what are otherwise secular protestations. By the term
"instrumentalization" we mean that religious doctrines and religious
institutions are from time to time put to functional use by the state and
political parties, thereby overriding and replacing their spiritual content.
This means that their religious content ceases to exist as such, and having
been instrumentalized, these institutions assume a "materialness": their
acceptance is judged on the basis of their usefulness and their potential to
provide a certain legitimacy to the acts and options of the state. The
political uses to which religious doctrines and church institutions are put
reduce the range of public discourse as a whole, and therefore also reduce
society's reflexive ability -- they create a situation of "intellectual
economy," since political acts are projected, through the invocation of the
religious authorities, as self-evident and infallibleJ 3



M o d e r n G r e e c e is an example of the continuing interplay in

church-state relations, a situation which on the whole was not reversed even
308 Georgiadou

during the political changeover that followed the restoration of democracy

in 1974 -- a historic period that marked a turning point in the consolidation
of the institutions of parliamentary democracy in Greece. Apart from the
fact that the close ties between church and state were further strengthened
constitutionally during the period 1974-199414 (and indeed this relationship
was not disturbed even on the part of the church15), it is of even greater
interest to observe the ways in which politics and the political parties have
preserved this interrelationship. While for the New Democracy party
(1974-1981)- Greece's main center-right f a c t i o n - maintenance of this
interrelationship was the fulfillment of its elective affinities with the
Orthodox faith, PASOK (1981-1987), as the center-left party that has
systematically sought to bring about institutional changes and a more
secular foundation to society (introduction in 1982 of civil marriage, divorce
by mutual consent, the lifting of prosecution for adultery and unsuccessful
attempts to legalize abortion and redistribute church property), finally had
to reach a political compromise with the Greek church. The introduction
of the institution of civil marriage as merely an optional alternative to the
religious ceremony and not obligatory, as had originally been announced,
along with the deactivating of certain legal provisions aimed at the
redistribution of church property and state involvement in church
organization -- innovations for which PASOK had itself introduced
legislation between 1982 and 1987 -- are just some examples of this
compromise. The causes, however, of the compromise were not external.
They lay primarily in the party's social characteristics; they have to do first
and foremost with PASOK's high potential for integration and its loose
ideological principles, the properties of a catch-all party, which were
threatened by its one-sided way of handling the ecclesiastical issue. While
in the early 1980s PASOK had succeeded with relative ease in penetrating
the center-right sector of the electorate, 16 in its dispute with the church, it
realized that the church had a diffuse influence over society, mainly in regard
to the attitudes and the value orientation of the traditional electoral groups.
Thus, to a considerable degree, these reactions on the part of the church,
as well as the traditionality of the newcomers to PASOK (such as farmers)
and the somehow "natural" voting tradition of the older cohorts of the
electorate (where the appeal of PASOK clearly lagged behind that of the
New Democracy party), have been the decisive factors for a substantial
departure from its original positions. 17 In fact, PASOK's retreat has been
more like an act of strategic withdrawal, aimed at facilitating and~or
consolidating its progressive penetration into other sections of the electorate.
At the same time, it indicates the party's realization that interventions in
the church are likely to cause reactions on a broader scale than merely the
immediate forum where the interventions are directed. It shows that
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 309

PASOK realizes that the community of the Orthodox faith is not confined
to a very small population of church-followers, but is rather a component
of the nation's cultural identity. Thus PASOK's ideological laxity, its vague
references to a classless "people" to whom it nevertheless lays claim on a
wholly political l e v e l - making it the primary subject of its political
platform -- and the party's high potential to absorb votes, made it possible
to infiltrate the electorate on the basis of its political handling of specific
contingencies and not necessarily on the basis of the appeal of its
ideological and socio-political constants. Its populist slogans contained basic
class references ("privileged," "nonprivileged"), but they were often
nationalistic ("Greece belongs to the Greeks"). This rhetoric enabled
PASOK to increase its infiltration of the defensive and nationalist-inclined
electoral groups of the center-right, which from time to time (1982 and
1987) supported the church in its dispute with the socialist government. It
should be noted that PASOK's strategic withdrawal and its substantial
reconciliation with the church prepared the way for a new phase
(1987/89-1994), mediated by the political parties, in the relations between
church and state and a further examination of the intrinsic relations between
the political parties and the church. Indeed, since 1991, the church --with
the consent, or even at the initiative of the political parties -- has found
itself in the forefront of public life; this was done by activating the cultural
reserves and social feelings of large sections of the Greek people regarding
Orthodoxy. With its para-political stances, the church has even sought to
give legitimacy to secular political dealings and effectively vindicate
Greece's controversial foreign policy in the Balkans, a policy that is
divergent from that of the rest of Europe.
Any political-party intervention in church matters takes place within
the diffuse, if not always visible, influence of the church in Greece. It is
no coincidence that despite the flexibility of the Orthodox doctrine -- or
perhaps because of it -- and despite the relatively low church attendance
by Orthodox Greeks, studies have nevertheless revealed that the power and
influence of the church is considered by citizens as being clearly greater
than the power and influence of basic political institutions such as
parliament and the political parties, is Whenever this positive representation
of the church by society was degraded politically every time the political
parties and the political elite ignored the fact that Orthodox and the Greek
church not only exist in close relationship with the state, but also as an
imaginary ingredient in society for the formation of collective identities, the
result has been a breach in the social alliances and electoral influences of
the political parties. A case in point is the New Democracy party after
1989. The rupture in relations between PASOK and the church between
1981 and 1987 was much more serious than any breach with the New
310 Georgiadou

Democracy Party. But PASOK, as we have seen, handled its dashes with
the church in a very constructive way both in regard to drawing up social
alliances and to increasing its electoral support, where as the New
Democracy party, while gradually confining itself to the party's right-wing
element, 19 still has major weaknesses in its communication with its
traditional "electoral audience," those who are influenced by the addresses
of the church.


The close relations between the church, the political parties and
society, if viewed in the light of the politicization and instrumentalization
of the Greek church, have continued to exist even after the political
changeover. Neither the church itself nor the political parties have any real
desire to change this status quo. Since the end of the 1980s, even the
center-left party of PASOK seems no longer to be seeking to alter or defuse
the situation. As far as the "extra-religious" endeavors dictated by
Orthodoxy and the Greek Orthodox Church are concerned, their embracing
of the political parties and the frequent changes of political allegiance to
which they have been subjected undoubtedly play a contributory part. Yet
the church's political flexibility and its weakness for unsolicited and
nonsectional interventions have in effect "turned it into an extension of
state rule. ''z~
In Greece, a country which is almost totally (around 98%) Orthodox,
which has never experienced any major disputes within the Orthodox
church or with other religions, and where the political parties never had
religious origins, no serious religious cleavage has ever been established.
The relationship between church attendance and support for a particular
political party was not, therefore, an area of study for electoral sociology;
thus there are no voting analyses that would enable us to assess how the
periodic tensions in relations between the political parties and the church
- or their collaboration -- have affected voting habits. There is, of course,

no doubt that at the level of its social and political overtures to society,
organized Orthodoxy has usually functioned as a pillar supporting the
options of the conservative faction, but this does not appear to be of crucial
importance. This is because the determining factor in Orthodoxy has not been
its institutional structure but the so-called community of believers, an imaginary
community with historical and cultural roots that go far beyond the narrow
confines and doctrinal scope of the organized church. The ideology of
"Greekness," which has been so skillfully cultivated by a section of the
conservative center-right and the center-left that leans towards Europe for
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 311

defense purposes, resonates in accord with the utterances and choices of

this "de-churchified" imagined community. Thus the cordial dialogue
cultivated by the political parties of the center-left during the latter phase
of the third Greek republic (1974-1994) in its relations with the church
and its place in public life are not merely signs of the broader attempts
being made at better communication by the political parties with their
traditional electoral audiences (as we consider those who are socially and
ideologically influenced by the utterances of the church). They are also
signs of obvious efforts by the center-left to strengthen its electoral
popularity; their success indicates mainly an ideological compatibility
between the secular nationalist-centrist ideals of this political faction and the
religious nationalist-centrist views of Greek Orthodoxy. The politicization and
instrumentalization of Greek Orthodoxy is now firmly based on
acknowledgement of this compatibility.
The relationship between nationalism and religion is a complex and
multifaceted one, and the interplay between nationalism and Orthodoxy is
associated primarily with the historical circumstances at any given time that
specify the form of the relationship. But the relationship itself also has its
roots in the continuing if fluctuating potential for the political and
functional utilization of Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, it is a fact that in this
latest phase of the post-dictatorship period which we are now going through
in G r e e c e - what a number of people insist on calling "the end of the
political changeover c y c l e " - - a period in which the political parties are
constantly being called into question and the present-day political elite is
no longer seen as effective, the possibility of Greek Orthodoxy being used
for political and functional ends is greatly reinforced. Such usage is further
accentuated as a symptom of a wider renunciation of real functions and,
simultaneously, the ritual symbolism with which national politics are
endowed (Narr/Schubert 1994, 32). So if religion is being politicized and
instrumentalized, as would appear to be the case with Greek Orthodoxy,
in this period of the globalization of the economy, of the scope of social
problems and confrontations, and of the nature of political decision making
under the auspices of supranational organizations, there seems to be an
even greater need than ever for politics to make use of the symbolic
reserves and assimilative potential offered by religious doctrines.


1. The writings of the church fathers and the work of Russian and Greek theologians provide
valuable material on the study of Orthodoxy as a faith.
312 Georgiadou

2. For the political dimensions of nationalism, see Kohn, vol. 11, pp. 63-75, esp. p. 64,
Kitromilidis, 1993, pp. 13-17, esp. p. 15: " . . .with the passage of time, my research
strengthened my conviction that the crucial factor in the establishment of nationalism is
the modern state." For the secularity of the nation-state, see Asad, 1992, pp. 3-16, esp.
p. 11.
3. According to Weber, it was possible "for nationalist differences to go on despite the
existence of an undoubtedly strong community of common descent, simply because of
existing differences in religious doctrine, as is the case with the Serbs and the Croats."
In Weber, 1978, vol. 2, p. 922. Also idem, vol. 1, pp. 395-398.
4. Referring to Eastern Europe, Dunn, 1987, pp. 10-11, maintains: "The Eastern European
nations were mainly gathered from people who, while admitting that they were Turkish,
Prussian, Austrian or Russian subjects, persistently denied that they were Turks,
Prussians, Austrians or R u s s i a n s . . . T h e Distinction between citizenship and nationality
is a major feature of East European l i f e . . . "
5. Ibid. "This is certainly true in Poland and Lithuania, and I think a case can be made for
Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia and Albania," p. 11.
6. For the politicization of religion in general, see Lekkas, 1992, p. 159.
7. As far as the wording of the constitution regarding "predominant religion" is concerned,
the view has been expressed that the legislator of the constitution does not give Orthodoxy
a preferential position, but by presenting some initial "fact-finding" thoughts places it
within the text of the constitution in a way that reflects its real position in society as the
religion "of the overwhelming majority of the people." Ibid., pp. 97-108.
8. For example, the public debate on the "Orthodox arc" as a possible religious alliance of
the Orthodox Christians in the Balkans -- an alliance which, while having a religious
content, would be a political response by society to Turkey's attempts to establish a
Muslim alliance, the so-called "Muslim arc" in the Balkans -- is one aspect of the
aforementioned exhortations for the Orthodox Church to undertake a more active role
in the Balkans.
9. The numerous nationalist prejudices that became entrenched during the course of the
last century amongst the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Balkans have accompanied
the peoples of the region ever since, as a kind of "cultural constant," and influenced
their relations with one another. Sugar, 1980, p. 32.
10. Although it is not our intention to involve ourselves in doctrinal matters, we should like
to emphasize that in the Orthodox dogma it is the way the Holy Trinity is presented that
predominates: this is where the idea of the Person (Iannaras, 1992) is based, which is to
be distinguished from the idea of the Individual (Dymond, 1988), in the way that the
latter predominates in the Western Christian tradition. In this, man is seen first and
foremost as "man-in-relation-to-God" (Dymond, 1988, 47). A Christian has the
characteristics more of an "other-worldly individual" (idem., p. 43); that is to say, he
forms a transcendental relationship with his God based on a duality that permeates
fundamentally the Christian image of the world, having to do with the distinction between
the secular and the other-worldiy. Of course, in Calvinism (a typical post-Reformation
Christian doctrine), a person ultimately remains in the world, he becomes "of this earth."
The Orthodox tradition, on the other hand contains a fundamental criticism with regard
to the doctrinal results of religious reform. The image of the austere, ascetic and
methodical individual who is rationally motivated in a worldly way is replaced by the
image of the Person. According to Iannaras (1992, pp. 21-34), the Person indicates
primarily a relationship, since the Person is always "versus," i.e., there is a "towards
something" or "face to face with someone." The communal perception of Orthodoxy and
the central position occupied by the church, not just as an institution but as a community
of believers and a place where certain rituals are observed, is in complete harmony with
the idea of the nonindividualized Person.
Greek Orthodoxy and the Politics of Nationalism 313

11. Recognition of the Bulgarian Exarchate by the Turkish authorities in 1870 was to provoke
a series of reactions from the Patriarchate, culminating in the summoning of the "Great
Synod" (29.8-17.9.1872). The Bulgarian demands were considered to be irregular since
they created an independent church "as a result of ethnic differences" and ethnic loyalties.
Stefanidis, 1959, p. 739.
12. Lipowatz, 1993, p. 55, attributes the "resurgence of religion and community-based
nationalism," as he describes Balkan nationalism, to the ideologies of the Communist
regime. Communism, he maintains, "was set up by a left-wing Communitarianism whose
collapse was of necessity favorable to a return to earlier forms of communal living."
13. Horkheimer, 1987, pp. 35-37.
14. See the relevant clauses in the 1975 Constitution (revised 1986) on "predominant religion"
and (art. 16, para. 2) the development of a "national and religious conscience" as a
"fundamental mission of the state," frequently interpreted as the development of the
Orthodox religious conscience, Sotirelis, 1993.
15. The aspiration, up to a point, of establishing relations with the state, the government
and the political parties reveals the church's underlying inability to establish a separate
and basically religious form of communication with society. Outstanding institutional
issues that have dragged on within the church accentuate this situation. The political
changeover of the church, that is, the act of restoring to the church the normality which
had been disturbed by the regime imposed by the Colonels in April 1967, was brought
about between November 1973 and June 1974, a few months before the fall of the
dictatorship (July 1974). This act consequently had conflicting repercussions: any
movements aimed at correcting the situation stemmed from yet another autocratic regime;
the actual procedures that implemented this restoration may have been quite proper, but
they were not complete. Konidaris, 1994, pp. 118-194.
16. As, for example, with the electorate in semi-urban and rural parts of the country. In the
1981 elections, PASOK's popularity in these areas increased from the 26.1 percent it had
been in 1977 to 38 percent, while the strength of the New Democracy party fell from 40
percent to 27 percent. In the 1981 elections, 36.3 percent of the female electorate voted
for the New Democracy party, and 47.1 percent for PASOK. But in the previous elections,
in 1977, the New Democracy party took 46.9 percent of the female voted and PASOK
only 27.3 percent. Data supplied by the Centre for Political Education and Research, in
the magazine "Epikentra," 22 (1981).
17. In the 45-54 and 55-64 age-groups, PASOK took 19.6 percent and 23.3 percent of the
votes, respectively, in 1981, and the New Democracy party 46.7 percent and 51 percent.
Data supplied by the Centre for Political Education and Research, ibid.
18. According to research carried out by the Social Research Centre on "the political culture
of Southern European countries," church-attendance in Greece is clearly at a much lower
level than in the other countries studied: only 10.7 percent of Greeks questioned said
they went to church every Sunday, compared with 23.5 percent of Italians, 24 percent of
Spaniards and 28.3 percent of the Portuguese. Despite these figures, the Greek church
appears to exercise greater influence than the other national churches: 32.8 percent of
people in Greece consider the church as the institution with the most power, compared
with 29.1 percent in Italy, 11.6 percent in Spain and 14.1 percent in Portugal. Indeed,
the power and influence of the Greek church seems to be considerably greater than the
power and influence of secular and political institutions, such as parliament and the
political parties. Thus only 10.2 percent of those questioned see the political parties, and
16.8 percent parliament, as the institutions with the largest social influence in Greece.
Nikolakopoulos/Kafetzis et al., 75A (1990), 107-151.
19. According to studies by the MRB, in April 1990, 50 percent of New Democracy party
voters described themselves as "right-wing," whereas by September 1993 the figure had
314 Georgiadou

risen to 61.7 percent. At the same time, the number of New Democracy party supporters
who called themselves "centrist" voters fell from 13.9 percent (1990) to 4.9 percent (1993).
20. N. Mouzelis, 26.6.94.


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