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March 27, 2017

The Dialogue of the Church with the Left and the Right

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Recently there was a discussion in the ecclesiastical and broader area concerning the dialogue between the Church and the Left. I did not attend the Conference from up close, but only read some papers and related publications. Some of my thoughts are recorded here for wider discussion and clarification.

1. The Church is a place open to everyone, but with a certain purpose. It is a particular society which acquires theological significance as a Body, the Body of Christ, as a spiritual family, a spiritual hospital. The Church does not function as an ideology, but as a spiritual mother who gives birth and raises her children, regardless of color, class, gender and nationality. Whoever sees the Church as an ideology fails to see her deeper purpose, to see the capacity of her heart and how she delivers blood to all her members, even the most humble and despised.

2. The terms "right" and "left" were created opportunistically from the position that it was seized by the members of the Constituent Assembly of revolutionary France in 1789, where they discussed on the one hand how the regime would work in a constitutional monarchy, and secondly what would be the authority of the king. Those who sat on the left were more radical-progressive, while those who sat to the right were more conservative. Since then these terms have become loaded with strong sociological content, and have acquired an ideological direction.

In modern language the concept of the Right is associated with conservative and traditional thinking, expressed by maintaining the hereditary religion, capitalism, neo-liberalism, the free market. Conversely, the concept of the Left is associated with modern and radical thought, both in traditions and certainly in religion, as well as in the social space, as expressed with the principles of equality, multiculturalism and internationalism.

Between these two were inserted the Centrists and Social Democrats, who are trying to operate on a Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, in order to express the middle ground. These models are complex because between right, left and center moves the center-left, the center-right, social democrats, and beyond these the far right and the far left.

Certainly, the factions are not to be interpreted as waterproof patterns, since on the rightist faction there are people of the so-called lower classes, which Marxism sees as an unnatural situation and interprets it through the lack of "class consciousness", but also through the effect of propaganda. The fact, however, is that it is not possible sociologically for these patterns to be waterproof and cannot be interpreted through these ideological and social patterns.

This means that in the Church, which is an open space, there can be accommodated those seeking the truth beyond sociological patterns, which will deteriorate with time and the feasibility of mankind. For example, a conservative does not mean that they are certainly a true Christian, even if they live within the space of ​​the Church, and a radical and revolutionary does not mean that they are necessarily atheistic and godless and considered not to be part of the ecclesiastical space.

Besides, all the preaching of the Church and the whole of theology is revolutionary against all establishments, all hypocrisy and compromise, any corruption whether it be theological, social or political. Whoever restricts the Church into parties, factions, ideologies and biases, alters her universal character and her transformative mission. In the Church there exists open and hidden disciples, and God knows the hearts of people. There are fools for Christ truer than the rationalists of the world, and there are people living on the margins of social life who are seeking the God of love, which is not done by hypocritical moralists, who are compatible with all situations.

3. The Church is in dialogue with all people, is not afraid of dialogue, because it has a life that overcomes death. The teaching that the Church is the divinely-human Body of Christ shows in that just as the body so also she accepts all, is in dialogue with everyone, but there remains in her the relevant elements and waste is eliminated. Compared to the world the Church is neither an ideology nor is it possessed with fear of the world, but neither is she led towards secularization. However, Christians can convert Christianity into an ideology and be distinguished by fear of the world and secularization. Thus, the dialogue of the Church, as shown by its history, is the permanent objective and causes fertilization and transformations in humans.

The Church only does not make dialogue with the devil. This is a dark spirit, a creepy being, a bearer of evil who cannot benefit by the life she gives, because he cannot repent. Today, demonic forces in the social space are expressed in dictatorial ideas, fascist attitudes, aspirations to oppress people, with forces of violence, war, plundering the freedom of people. The Church can still operate amid tyrannies, by experiencing her freedom even in the catacombs and in periods of persecution, but she cannot support such schemes and cooperate with them by serving its harsh and inhumane goals.

4. The debate on the relationship between the Church and the Right and Left took place in the western world, because there was great need. When I speak of need I do not mean the needs of the Church, but the needs of western theology, because Christianity in the West was involved in aspirations and motivations of the right faction and ideology. Let me remind you of the identification of Protestant groups with capitalism, such as Max Weber analyzed, and with efforts to become independent Christians from the capitalist mentality, thus developed so-called "political theology" and the "theology of liberation", as seen in Latin America. Let me remind you also even of the development of "dialectical theology" in the West, or the "theology of crisis", mainly in German Protestantism, because some Protestant groups became allied with the martial attitudes of German leaders. Some Protestant theologians in the West opposed the alliance of Western Christians who consented with fascism and nazism. Thus appeared so-called "Neo-Orthodoxy", or the "theology of crisis", whose main slogan was "no consensus with the world," as analyzed by Professor Marios Begzos.

Thus, the relationship or identity of Protestant and Catholic/Papal Christianity with the culture of the world and western political parties constitutes a fall of the Christian faith. This means that in the West you can speak of a Christian Democratic party that opposes socialism, which is why dialogue with the Left is needed in order to disengage Christianity from the mentality of right-wing political ideologies.

Consequently, the dialogue of the Church with the Left in Greece is important, since in our country the identification between the Church and the Right is not extensively observed. If this was done with some Christians and Clergy it would not be accepted by the Church, which distances herself from all those patterns. The Orthodox Church did not identify with fascism, nazism, ethnophyletism and tyrannies. She can tolerate them, because we could do no different, but was not totally identified with them.

5. No one refuses a dialogue of theologians and clergy with the Left, because in the past few excesses were observed. Sometimes the Right appropriated the ecclesiastical space, sometimes some Christians opposed the Left, or some leftists uncritically questioned the Church, without understanding that the Orthodox Church is one thing, as expressed by the Fathers of the Church, and Western Christianity is another with its various expressions. There can be also be a dialogue between theologians and the Right to explore various mainly practical issues. However, this dialogue, in order for us to be better acquainted, must touch upon the heart of the matter and not some external, social consequences. I think that such a dialogue is to be on four bases.

The first is Metaphysics. It should be investigated what metaphysics is, what are its attributes, and what is the attitude of the Left with the Orthodox on the issue of metaphysics. It is known that Marxists and the Fathers of the Church oppose metaphysics. Also, metaphysics is associated with Western Christianity, which is associated with German Idealism.

The second is the Enlightenment. It should be clarified why the Left brought enlightenment principles to Greece, and expresses itself according to the enlightenment, since the Western Enlightenment birthed liberalism or it was born from it, and fueled capitalism. It is not enough for the leftists to accept the enlightenment, because some enlighteners were agnostics or atheists or deists who rejected neoliberal views.

The third is the difference between religion and the Church. Marx opposed religion, which he expressed as metaphysical, magical and the opiate of the people. The Church, however, is clearly different from religion and its aspirations, and is free of religious ideologies, which are operated by the tyrannical regimes.

The fourth is the teaching - theoretically and practically - both of the Left and of the Church regarding property, wealth and economic assets. Then we shall be given the opportunity to identify the social teaching of the Fathers of the Church, derived from the theology of the Church, and show that the theology of the Orthodox Church for material goods is radical and exceeds all modern sociological theories.

In conclusion, the Church is open to any dialogue, it suffices to take place without considerations, but with sincerity and attention. Dialogue will clear up some additional external components, and there will be an acquaintance, or knowledge of the other side. At least in terms of the Church those who approach the dialogue must have the features of the Fathers of the fourth century, namely Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa and others who had empirical theology, intellectual capacity, high qualities, and proficiency in the contemporary reality. Only then the dialogue can produce results, otherwise it will remain on the margin of ecclesial and social life, and it will be exploited and eventually deteriorate.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Διάλογος τής Εκκλησίας μέ τήν Δεξιά καί τήν Αριστερά", February 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.