The Church Speaks Out
THE CHURCH is a vital element in the life of the Greek people. It was an important factor in the success of Near East Relief in its amazing record of reclaiming human life and it played from the beginning a significant role in the development of the Macedonian reconstruction program under Near East Foundation. It is appropriate, therefore, that we indicate the relation of the church to the rural enterprise with which we are dealing.
The religion of Greece is the Orthodox. This is the faith adhered to by the vast majority of the population and the Orthodox Church is the one religious institution recognized and subsidized by the State. Enjoying an extensive following in the Balkans and throughout the Near East, it is one of the most ancient and most important of the Christian churches. Its origin might be said to date from the teachings of St. Paul in Greece, just as the Catholic faith is reported to have sprung from St. Peter.
The Orthodox faith spread over a period of centuries to territory now occupied by Russia, Rumania, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. Orthodox churches in all of these regions recognized the Patriarch of Constantinople as their spiritual and administrative head. But as national interests in the various states became stronger the religious connections with Constantinople grew weaker. Today we find the Patriarch still residing in Constantinople (Istanbul) and acknowledged as the spiritual head of all Orthodox churches except those of Bulgaria. Administratively, however, the church of each country is autonomous.
During the many hundreds of years that Greeks resided in Asia Minor as Turkish subjects, the one unifying factor that bound these millions of people together was their religion. They adopted Turkish customs, manners, and dress. Generation after generation grew up under Moslem influence, hearing and speaking only Turkish. Many families lost all knowledge of their mother tongue, but their religion they never abandoned. This was the link that bound them to their home land, the element that preserved the integrity of their race. Contrary to general understanding the Turkish rulers, with a few exceptions and occasional lapses, respected the religion of the Greeks and permitted them freedom of worship. But in the chaos and the national tension that followed World War I it was their religion that marked the Greeks for Turkish persecution, and it was their religion that turned their hurried and harassed footsteps toward home.
In Greece the church is governed by the Holy Synod. This body consists of twelve Metropolitans, or district heads, with the Archbishop of Athens as the presiding officer. Elections to the Holy Synod occur every third year on the first of October. These elections must be sanctioned by the King, and there is always present at the meeting as an official observer with no voting power a representative of the State. This representative is an official of the Ministry of Education, Division of Religious Instruction.
The service of the Greek church is rich in ritual and to the casual observer it bears a strong resemblance to the Catholic form of devotion. In fact, those who are quite uninformed sometimes make the serious mistake of confusing the two. Students of theology tell us, however, that the nearest approach is the Episcopal church; that the ritual and the religious philosophy of these two churches are somewhat similar. Those who are sufficiently educated and thoughtful to understand the deeper meanings of the service find in Orthodox worship a high plane of religious thought.
Among the peasants with whom we are chiefly concerned there is of course considerable superstition interwoven within their religious beliefs. If the Orthodox church is today facing the same problem as many other religious sects and losing somewhat in its hold on the people, this is only slightly true of the rural sections. The average peasant still looks to his priest for religious leadership, if not spiritual guidance. Every rural community, no matter how poor, has its church. When the refugees came in the church was one of the first institutions to be established— very often only a shack in the beginning. But as the people became more settled and their economic conditions improved somewhat, the church again received consideration, and a more suitable structure slowly emerged. The walls of the new edifice would sometimes be built up around the original structure. The latter would go on functioning as the place of worship until the new building was completely enclosed.
Every village has its priest, and almost without exception the priest is also a farmer. In fact by this means he is enabled to exist, for the income derived from the religious services which he daily performs is meager indeed. At first one is somewhat surprised to see the village Father in his flowing black robes, his inverted stove-pipe hat with its brim at the top, and his long white hair tied up in a knot at the back, following his plow in the field, or pruning his vines on the hillside. But this is a common sight in every community. His farm may, at least in ordinary years, provide him with sufficient food for his family. Cash requirements are covered by his professional services. For baptizing a child he may receive twenty-five or thirty cents. In return for conducting a marriage ceremony he may get as high as the equivalent of one dollar. A funeral service will yield him about thirty cents. Sometimes he may be given five or ten cents for praying at the side of a sick person. In addition to these miscellaneous items he regularly receives a small stipend of a more dependable character. This consists of an annual contribution in kind from each family of the community. The size of such donations is frequently determined by a certain amount of bargaining which is carried on between the village heads and the prospective priest before the latter consents to settle down in the place. One country priest of my acquaintance received twelve okes (about four pounds) of wheat per year from each of the one hundred families in his parish. At the average price of seven drachmas per oke his regular "salary" amounts, therefore, to 8,400 drachmas per year, or about eighty dollars.
Having provided this brief introduction to the religious side of rural life in Macedonia we must turn now to our own special relations with the church of Greece. From the first we followed the policy of working closely with the Orthodox clergy—from the Metropolitan down through the bishops to the humble priest in the village. Entirely apart from the numerous instances of valuable assistance given to our program many happy acquaintanceships grew out of these contacts.
Soon after our permanent transfer to Salonica in the autumn of 1929, I paid an official call on his Holiness, Apamias, Bishop of Salonica. His Holiness spoke English and we soon became good friends. He came frequently to our home and he indicated an active interest in my new venture. It was quite natural, therefore, that I should ask my friend the Bishop to open our first rural training conference in the spring of 1930. The words of his Holiness on that occasion were so full of wholesome philosophy and his friendly attitude such an accurate prophecy of later relations with the church that I am submitting here, with his permission, the address which, in a very important sense, christened our new work in Macedonia.
THE PROBLEM OF URBANISM IN GREECE
Mr. H. B. Alien, Director of Education of Near East Relief, the organization which rendered such valuable service to humanity during the war, and to Greece especially, by saving the lives of 18,000 orphans after the Asia Minor disaster, very kindly called on me personally and asked me to attend a conference which was to be held at the Government Agricultural School; there to give the blessing of the church to the members of this conference and to speak to the agriculturists and field workers in attendance. What respect, and what consideration of a non-Orthodox toward the Orthodox Church! And what neglect and what indifference we find on the part of the Church's own children, the representatives of which every year organize various meetings of this kind!
With great pleasure have I accepted the invitation of Mr. Alien to attend the conference and to bless the meetings. I wish the workers who are attending this affair every success in their efforts to benefit our farmers in particular and, broadly speaking, the whole of Macedonia as well. I feel quite confident, most certain in fact, that as long as this work is entrusted to the hands of this altruistic child of the Great American Nation it cannot fail to be successful.
The program recently started by this organization is of a different type than previous activities. As the relief work gradually neared completion the directing committees, after much thought, came to the logical conclusion that it would not be proper to abandon to their fate the many thousands of orphans discharged from its orphanages, and whose lives had been saved from death and starvation; but that its Christian duty was to help them to become useful members of society; at the same time to provide agricultural instruction for our farmers who are in general quite ignorant. So Near East Relief, through its special agriculturists working in the districts of Verria, Porroia, Zihni, Pangaion, Drama, and Katerini, is teaching our peasants how to cultivate the earth in accordance with the newer methods so as to be able to live better lives and to make their own contributions to the general prosperity of this country. One result of only a year's work of this kind is the present conference which is organized in the hope of spreading helpful and useful knowledge for the more systematic cultivation of the earth, and of strengthening the love of the peasant toward nature. In connection with this subject I feel it my duty to mention a few points to which I would call your attention.
Among the several wounds that the recent war opened in the body of our country, many of which are still bleeding, there is one which lately has become very dangerous—namely, "urbanism." Peasants have begun to abandon their villages, their farms, the pure and undefiled rural life, and to congregate in the cities with the hope of finding some sort of work which will keep them there, disregarding the dangers that city life has for a peasant. Famous sociologists the world over consider this fact as a great danger to the prosperity and progress of a country. It is needless to say that here in Greece the terrible results of such a movement are already evident. We do not know what measures the government is going to take in order to stop this trend, but I feel it my duty to express the sorrow and regret of the church for this daily growing menace. We, of course, sympathize with the peasants and with you agriculturists who have undertaken the difficult task of participating in the hardships of village life. I congratulate you for your altruism, and ask you to advise your peasants to stay in their village homes and not to come to the cities in the hope of finding a brighter future—a search which must prove to be most uncertain.
The earth, gentlemen, is the great living lesson to which we no longer pay sufficient attention. It is the earth that teaches us to work, to pray, to love family life. The lessons of this great teacher we ignore. All peasants, especially the young men, are leaving the fields of their fathers and congregating in the cities. Here in Greece only about four hundred to five hundred young men are studying agriculture. This number is as nothing when compared to the thousands and thousands of young men graduating from the universities as doctors, lawyers, and clerks. There are some who think that there is no merit in farming and that persons taking agricultural courses are the ones who could do nothing better. This is an error. Unhappily not only the young men but the young women have a dislike for country life. If a girl abandons city life in order to marry a well-to-do farmer it is considered that she takes a step downward. This also is an error.
Industrial shops and manufacturing establishments have a difficult time to find workers, though banks, offices, and government positions receive constantly the applications of unemployed young men. It is because parents look only to the present and not to future. If a boy gets office employment he immediately draws a small salary; for this he prefers to sacrifice his future, and to become a "good-for-nothing"—a person capable only of routine work which will give him but a meager livelihood. Village boys have a tendency to abandon the plow of their fathers and to seek an easier life. Cities appeal to them because they are full of mysteries; and the unknown always attracts us most.
When a boy receives his diploma he thinks of becoming a teacher, an employee in the Ministry, an office worker, a post office clerk. The uneducated young man dreams of becoming a policeman, a messenger boy, a tax collector. So we see every day young men in the cities trying to secure positions at small salary merely to be able to remain in the Metropolis, notwithstanding the loss of health and virtue. But this is not all. The sister of the village boy abandons her home and comes to the city to become a servant or to work in some industrial shop. When, after some years, she returns to her village she is changed. The light of her face, the joy of her laughter, the picturesque native dress, the faith of her youth, the love that she had in her heart—all are gone! She weeps for her fate; but it is too late!
It is not only the youth of the poorer families who come to the cities seeking their fortunes; the richer peasants come also, desiring pleasures not found in the village. The wife of such a person thinks that she can no longer live in rural surroundings because she cannot find a good dressmaker, or a picture show, or congenial friends with whom to associate. Out in the rural communities one is far from the vanities of humanity, far from harmful pleasure, far from the hypocrisy of city life. In the country family relations are purer and friends truer. The village priest gives the same advice as the city priest. There is one Bible, and the church of the village is similar to the church of the city. The misery of the village, however, is not to be compared with the misery of the city. Rent, food, clothing—every item is more expensive in the cities than in the villages. One has to work harder in the city in order to make a living.
Out of urbanism comes unemployment and cheap daily wages. Every peasant thinks that he will gain much money in the city, taking into consideration the one that succeeded while forgetting the hundreds and the thousands that failed and perished in the effort. He forgets that many of those that came into the cities died from consumption. He forgets that the majority of city workers toil so unceasingly as to lose all joy and all vitality, and in the end die in ignorance and misery. Chasing wealth he dies in poverty.
Nor is the financial side of urbanism its only weakness. It is disastrous both to morality and to health. It is little short of criminal to draw a peasant from his village, which is to draw him from God and religion—the two great weapons against immorality. The simplicity of the good old times has disappeared from many villages. When a peasant loses his religious ideals he becomes materialistic and drops down to a lower level of life. When he ceases to be a Christian he becomes a barbarian because he cannot hide his barbarism under a cloak of politeness as the city dwellers do. And as beasts come out of their dens when the sun sets—so, when God disappears, lower instincts and brutal habits come to the fore.
Out in the village under the shelter of the peasant home, no matter how humble this home may be, one finds honor and self-respect. Peasants know each other. Each family has its traditions and its customs which it honors and follows, but seldom dishonors. When God created Adam and Eve He Himself placed them in a lovely garden. After their sin, although the earth was cursed, still it was the field of their activity and as such it remained. The cultivation of fields, the tending of sheep, is something very picturesque and almost sublime. Out in the country the air is purer, the sky clearer and God nearer to us. The work that the peasant does strengthens his health and keeps him out of evil ways. If, in his daily work with the soil, he is bent towards the earth this does not mean that he is "bent" in his attitude towards humanity. While he may toil hard he is not compelled to disgrace himself in order to make a living. The farmer cultivating his fields, the shepherd tending his flocks, the peasant grafting his vines, is in close touch with nature, and in nature he meets God and works with Him. In nature he reflects on the mightiness of God, His beauty. His kindness. A man of the out-of-doors has not to seek God either too high or too low. If he picks up a blade of grass, a flower, an insect, he will find it to be truly a miracle. Newton found God in the course of the stars, Chateaubriand in the nest of the nightingale. God is everywhere. He brings to us spring, and summer, and autumn, and winter;
He directs the rain, and the sun which ripen the grain and the grass. It is God that controls the thunder and the winds, the hail and the frost. It is He that sends them to the earth in His justice, and holds them back in His mercy.
Urbanism is also a menace to the life of the family, and civilization is based on the family. The man who has a family needs a home to shelter his wife and a place to cradle his child. Each home is a holy place, and in the country each peasant has his own home. He is proud to have a wife and children who one day will say: "This is the field of my father and there are the trees that he planted." In the cities very few have permanent homes; the great majority are constantly on the move from place to place hoping thereby to improve their very meager conditions of life. And so we find a great mass of unemployed human beings, constantly shifting from place to place and daily growing larger.
Be careful gentlemen! To abandon the village home leads to the decomposition of the family. Let us all fight against this tendency. Let us all work for a better future. Let us strengthen the foundations of society by building rural homes and respectable families. As good foundation stones make a solid building so good families make a sound and prosperous nation. If we all try we may be sure of contributing something toward making Greece worthy of its traditions and its past glories.
Let us teach our farmers the way of developing their agricultural production. Let us give them the means of improving their rural life; let us inspire and encourage them because peasants are, after all, the ones that control the welfare of cities. If villages suffer, cities are condemned to stagnation and misery.
The address of his Holiness on that first conference day in March 1930 was not only a prophecy of the success that would surely (and did) come to consecrated workers in the rural field, but it marked the beginning of a long and helpful relationship between the Orthodox clergy and the Macedonian program. To summarize those relations at this point is to anticipate our story before we are ready to unfold it. However, it is necessary in this chapter to reach ahead over the intervening years and mention briefly how the church of Greece joined hands with the Macedonian leaders in providing a more abundant life for rural people.
In requesting the Bishop to open and to bless our first conference we were adapting ourselves to a Greek custom which is an accepted practice, although one not always followed in these modern times. But in the development of our program each new unit of work was inaugurated by an appropriate ceremony conducted by the Orthodox priest. Year by year as the program expanded to include all phases of rural life, village priests were called upon to bless small reading rooms, school playgrounds, new water supplies, home demonstration centers, reforested mountain sides, and important meetings. Metropolitans rode out from their district headquarters, wearing their ecclesiastical robes and carrying their golden scepters, to attend such plebeian affairs as local calf contests. The Metropolitan of Salonica on several occasions left important affairs of church to attend athletic contests and club meetings of village boys brought in to this great city for the first time in their young lives.
Cooperation between village priests and our own field workers was usually in direct proportion to the educational background of the priests. On this point there is considerable variation, some of these men having been admitted to priesthood under the old standards which required little more than a knowledge of reading and writing, while others enjoyed, at the least, a good secondary education before taking up the study of theology. The less educated are often quite indifferent to the broader aspects of social life and sometimes too ignorant to appreciate or to understand these things. The others, however, are very frequently aggressive leaders in every movement relating to rural betterment. From among these we can provide many examples of priests who became, with the assistance of our leaders, pioneers in farm and community improvements.
There comes to my mind a priest, a friend of long standing, in the village of Megali Vrysi. Father Haritides is well educated and for more than thirty-five years was village teacher as well as priest. His active and liberal mind was interested in everything that had to do with village improvement. On his small plot of land he constructed the first improved poultry house under the supervision of our agriculturalist. When the department of home welfare was added to the Macedonian work, he insisted that Megali Vrysi should be selected for one of the first home demonstration centers, and from his pulpit he exhorted the women of his church to attend the classes which were conducted at this place. When a boys' club was organized in this village by the recreational supervisor, Father Haritides lectured to the boys, told them stories of travel and history and helped them in staging amateur plays.
In the village of Vaptisti Father Pashalis was a keen farmer. He listened to everything that the young agriculturalist, Stephan Harlamides, had to say, and out of his own long experience he offered valuable suggestions for village improvement. When it was decided that a certain variety of wheat, which had been well tested by the government, was particularly suited to this village, the Father became immediately interested. He called together six farmers of his village and with the agriculturalist outlined to them the advantages of this variety over the local wheat. The necessary money was collected and the two leaders set out for a distant experimental farm where this variety of wheat could be secured. In writing about the incident at the time Stephan reported: "It was a hot windy day and the trails of the valley were obscured by a thick fog of fine silt. We could scarcely see our way. The black garments of the priest were soon covered with road dust, and he looked white all over, creating an unusual appearance for a priest."
The wheat was secured, taken back to the village and distributed to the six men. Three years later every farmer in the region had changed over to this wheat and the Agricultural Bank was buying its seed from these people.
Father Papadopoulos in the village of Stavrohori built the first private latrine, and as a result of his example eventually raised the standard of sanitation and decency throughout his whole village. He also was the first to discover, under the advice of the agriculturalist, that this section of Macedonia was suitable for grapes. For three years he promoted with great energy our program of animal improvement and in the fall of 1937 voted five hundred drachmas from his church budget as a special contribution toward the expense of an annual calf contest.
Father Theodosiades of Makriyalos set an example for the women of his parish by sending his two daughters to attend the home welfare classes in cooking and sewing. Father Papadopoulos of the village of Kalohori purchased a pure bred bull, with some assistance from the Foundation, in order to lead in promoting a permanent program of animal improvement in his section. He started alfalfa and vetch in his village, introduced European beehives, kept farm accounts and constructed a model latrine.
We could go on with an unending list of similar examples, showing how the Orthodox priest is very often a leader not only in spiritual matters, but in all things that pertain to better living. It is sufficient to conclude that the developments recorded on succeeding pages could not have taken place without the hearty support of high church officials and the active cooperation of the lowly village priests.
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