How hostile to Islam is Greece

"Islam is not a religion"

Greek Archbishop Ieronymos is once again devoting himself to a favorite enemy of the Orthodox Church and provoking an expected controversy

The Greek Archbishop Ieronymos caused a stir in mid-January with statements on Islam. These also have an impact on the current negotiations between Greece and Turkey, in which the dispute over the natural gas reserves in the Aegean Sea is to be settled. The whole affair is complicated by the fact that Ieronymos made his controversial statements in connection with the 200th anniversary of the modern Greek state.

The statements weigh on the efforts of the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who is trying diplomatic channels to find allies in Europe against Turkey. On Monday February 1st, Dendias traveled to the UK for this reason. The aim of the intensive diplomatic campaigns is that at the end of the exploratory talks the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers can settle the dispute between the two countries in a joint meeting.

An explosive television interview

Ieronymos, whose full title is "His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece", is actually known as an anti-racist pastor. "The Church loves all people, including those who are black, white or non-Christians," he remarked back in 2012 at the height of the political presence of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, when it loudly moved into the Greek parliament, the Vouli, after the parliamentary elections. Ieronymos is head of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece, which is the state religion by virtue of the constitution.

Specifically, Ieronymos began his remarks in the television interview with a statement in relation to the fall of the Byzantine Empire literally with:

You know, when the city [Constantinople] fell, the conqueror watched the intense events for two or three days. But then he saw that it was not easy to administer such a populous state. Because, as we know, Islam, its citizens, are not a religion. It's a political party. This is an expansion policy. These are the people of war. These are the people of expansion. That is characteristic of Islam, that is what the teachings of Mohamed say.

So the Conqueror [Mehmed II - posthumously Fātiḥ, called Conqueror] saw the necessities, how to govern, how to collect taxes, and especially how to hold together all these people over whom he ruled. He certainly had his advisors. Many of them were Greeks. We have to admit that too. These told him the Miletus, the entire nation ...

Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens

The journalist interrupted him, "... to incorporate the Christian community ... into the Ottoman Empire ..." Ieronymos continued:

... not just the Greeks. The entire Christian community must be united in one person, one man, and controlled by him, the patriarch. Now who should this patriarch be? It had to be the person who would help Mohamed (sic!) With his actions in the struggle against the West, maybe even against his own will. There were the unifying and those who opposed unification [of the churches]. So it had to be an opponent of the union, and a very powerful one in particular. So Gennadios Scholarios was chosen.

Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens

The intention of Ieronymos is clearly recognizable in Greece. He wants to keep up the narrative of the Orthodox Church. Accordingly, it is taught in Greek schools that the Church ensured the unity of the Greek nation during Ottoman rule. The Orthodox Church derives its claim to be a state religion from this narrative.

Opponents of this historiography, such as the intellectual Vasileios Rafailidis, who died in 2000, point to the ambivalent role of the church princes during Ottoman rule and during the revolution of 1821. His book with the title "(New) History (tragicomic) of the modern Greek state 1830 - 1974" is still cited today as a standard work for the critical examination of official historiography.

Political Dimensions

The statements by Ieronymos sparked violent protests from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. This accuses the Archbishop of Islamophobic agitation and racism.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry combines the Islamophobic statements made by the prince of the church with the diplomatic talks between the Greek and Turkish governments:

The fact that such a statement was made at a time when preparatory arrangements were made for exploratory talks is also significant and an unfortunate step in undermining the process.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ieronymos as a prince of the church has a great influence on conservative circles within Greek society. His remarks about the philosopher Gennadios Scholarios could also be interpreted as a warning against collaborators.

This does not make the negotiating position of the right-wing conservative Greek government any easier. In addition to the church opposition, the ruling Nea Dimokratia also has declared opponents to the talks with Turkey in its own ranks. The former party leader and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras presented himself as a figurehead before the critics of diplomacy.

In this context, Samaras also criticizes the position of the EU and especially Germany in the conflict between Greece and Turkey. The danger that the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will fail because of the conflict with Turkey and internal party opponents is more real than the prospect that the opposition parties in Greece could overthrow it.

Internal Greek reactions

Statements directed against Islam ieronymos also aroused feelings among the Islamic minority in Greece. "The picture that His Beatitude has drawn for our religion does not correspond to the reality of our country and offends our religious feeling," say the two muftis who look after the Greeks of the Islamic creed in Thrace.

Renewed statement by the archbishop

The archbishop's press office issued another statement on January 17th on the subject:

In all that the blessed Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos, said about Islam in the context of a recent television interview about our Church's contribution to the 1821 revolution, he meant nothing more than the perversion of the Muslim religion itself of a bunch of extreme fundamentalists sowing terror and death across the universe. These are the very people the Archbishop was referring to, people who instrumentalize Islam and turn it into a deadly weapon against those who have a different point of view than them, against "unbelievers" but even against believers. Both the Archbishop himself and all Metropolitans of the Church of Greece respect in practice all known religions and treat all their believers with Christian love and solidarity that knows no discrimination, through all their actions and initiatives, especially in the social and charitable field. In addition, the example of the peaceful and harmonious coexistence and coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Thrace confirms the truth in the clearest way.

Archbishop's press office

Appeasement on the part of the Greek Muslims

After the first wave of outrage, Greek Muslims began to calm things down last week. In a diplomatic statement, the chairman of the Muslim Association of Greece, Naim Elghandour, called on the archbishop to study the Koran in order to convince himself of the peacefulness of the religion.

In addition, Elghandour referred to the writings of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios, who advocates an open dialogue between the religions. (Wassilis Aswestopoulos)

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