I was asked to
speak of the spiritual confrontation of the crisis that our country
is undergoing. However, before getting to that point, we
must first diagnose what crisis we are referring to. In my
endeavour all these years to communicate with other people, I
have perceived that the communication problem observed between
couples, between friends, between colleagues, begins with people
saying the same words but implying different things. Thus, if we
don't provide definitions, it will be difficult to finally reach
the conclusion as to whether we agree or not.
previous two years, the Western world (and the Greeks only
recently) discovered that there is a huge crisis in the economy.
The prevailing sentiment is our agony - myself to begin with -
as to "how we are going to tackle the situation". Oh,
really? You don't say!
So, where were
we, during all those years of our own prosperity, when literally
millions of people in the world were dying each year of hunger
and thirst? Where were we? Quite simply, the matter
didn't concern us, because it didn't concern our own homes.
We were merely reminded of the problem every year - around
Christmas time, with all the dedications on television and the
routine campaign supposedly by UNICEF. No-one talked about
crisis then, because Greece was among the 25 wealthiest
countries in the world; but there - in those "third-world
countries" (what a label!), it was a matter of death, and not
whether there will be fewer mobile phones or cars... Honestly,
have you ever asked yourselves what would be said by the subject of a country
where he has no water to drink and food to eat, if he were to
visit Greece - even today - and if we were to take him into our
home and show him our belongings, and then complained that we
are going through a severe economic crisis? He would most
certainly say that we have totally lost our mind.
have a feeling that if there is something that is being revealed
to us with the present state of affairs, it is the deep spiritual poverty
of both our society and each and every one of us personally.
For as long as we - and our family - are faring well, then there
is no problem. The others are of no concern to us. All
that matters is our self. Individualism in all its
glory... the primary characteristic of our civilization...and
therefore a spiritual crisis primarily.
But even this
so-called "economic crisis" - what exactly is it?
It is the
offspring of individualism, given that the cultural and the
economic system are both absolutely individualistic: a basic
cultural - economic formation. Each one individually must
strive to obtain "provisions", so that he might become "worthy",
find a job that pays well, so that he can become an owner: of
land, of cars, of mobile phones, of properties... whatever - as
long as he becomes an owner. We must not overlook the fact
that ownership is regarded as one of the most important values
of our civilization, which is why it has been secured and
protected constitutionally. Thus, man goes through his modicum
of a lifetime with one agony: to become an owner. An owner
of various knowledge that will enable him to become an owner of
money, so that he can achieve ownership of mobile phones and
cars... and eventually ownership of fame and glory...
formation is based on the following, dominant notions:
Individualism – reward - ownership.
"provisions" means: I acquire as much knowledge as
possible. Individualist knowledge. It doesn't matter if I'm
aware that the person next to me is going hungry, or if my
neighbour needs company. It suffices for me to know what the
capital city of Zimbabwe is, if that will benefit me for the
acquisition of money. Knowledge largely identifies with
the usefulness that it provides - with how much it will benefit
you. A quest for useful things... utilitarianism.
an owner of "provisions", I presume I am worthy of - and demand
- recompense. But this is an entirely different matter: I
don't think there is anyone who seriously believes that if
meritocracy (i.e. one's personal talent and will) actually
worked, any of those who govern us would have ever become prime
But, even in
the hypothetical case that meritocracy did work, what does
"meritocracy" imply? It means that whoever is worthy will
be rewarded, and whoever is unworthy will not. Well,
that's just fine for the worthy one. But what about the unworthy
one? Condemned. So? What do we care? We are
among the worthy. Individualism again, but it is an
individualism that we don't mind, as long as we are inside the
system. Let the unworthy ones starve... A society
that is indifferent and cruel towards the unworthy...
acquired the necessary "provisions" and become worthy, we are
"rewarded" with a good job, which in our civilization translates
as a job that will allow us to earn good money. Owners of
money. This is the other agony: the acquisition of money. And
here is where we must necessarily overcome the opponent (I mean
my fellow-man), sometimes at all costs, so that we can acquire
money. (The Greek poet Elytis wrote the following about
money: Money is the first symptom of leprosy. The leper
collects nonexistence and is pleased). Then, when we do
eventually acquire money, we again agonize over amassing more,
so that we can become owners of mobile phones and immobile
properties. What is certain, is that our dominant concern
is ownership, as the word denotes (Note: the Greek word for
owner is ΙΔΙΟ-ΚΤΗΤΗΣ - analyzed as
"possessing for one's self"). As long as these possessions
are ours, not the others'. Everything is individualism,
everything has to do with usefulness, and everything is for
And where do
we end up? Into an endless agony, beginning from the first
grade at school, through to the day we become pensioners
(because after that, it is no longer easy to increase money and
we occasionally turn to Religion), or even through to the day we
die. An unending anxiety to achieve all these things, followed
by a fear and terror of losing them... Agony, anxiety and
fear... These are the things that are spawned by this model of
living; in which case, the much-coveted blissfulness is lost.
wonderful system.... a system in which poverty and deprivation
of a large portion of the population, individualism and the
agony to acquire material wealth and indifference towards the
other are not a pathology - they are the physiology of the
cultural model. I hear it being said that politicians are
responsible for the dire situation of the economy, because they
have been stealing and in general not doing their job properly.
I say "no". they did their job very well; they were
absolutely faithful to the values deified by the cultural model
that they serve. If man's objective is ownership, why shouldn't
they steal? Why shouldn't they wrong others, if that gives
them ownership? And these things don't pertain to "others"
only; unfortunately, they also pertain to many of us.
told me the following, my brothers: "I spent an entire
lifetime, 50 years, as a close friend with certain people - all
of them churchgoers. Most of them extremely well-off,
financially. Good people. But they never once asked me
(even though they knew I had financial difficulties): 'How
are you managing financially, my friend?'... not to give me
money - not at all - but just to ask me, you know..."
And I'm pretty sure that even here, there are people like that
who have never been asked by me - not only about their finances,
but also about the difficulties in their life in general....
children of the system, gentlemen - most of us - and its
supporters. We too spend our life with the agony of
acquisition, and after acquiring things, we acquire the fear of
losing them. And that fear is what determines our life's
stance. Gentlemen, we have Peter himself who denied Christ
because he was afraid of losing his acquired interests. Whereas
the robber - who had nothing to lose - resigned, saying
"Remember me, Lord, in Your kingdom".
And now, I
need to talk about the spiritual handling of this model - which,
as I said, does not pertain only to "others" but to me as well.
I am part of the problem - an individualist, a utilitarian, a
bliss seeker. Honestly, what can I say? More importantly,
when I do talk about these matters (since most of us have been
taught the answers from youth and are more or less familiar with
them), I am accountable to my God, to those who raised me, and
The answer to
the problem is, I believe, one. I don't know any other.
It is to change the meaning that we have given to our existence.
is the remembrance of death; and immediately, the whole world is
overturned - our entire world view collapses - and everything
acquires its proper dimensions. There is one fact: the
biological end. After which, everything that the aforementioned
model professes, and all those things after which we struggle
and agonize lose their glamour. They are futile and transient.
You come to realize that this life of agony, of anxiety, is one
purposeless madness. The biological end will come, so why
are we spending our short life span inside that madness?
My brothers, I have heard of many who committed suicide because
they suffered financial ruin and lost their houses and the
material wealth that they had, and this was regarded as
absolutely normal by many - even by us. Madness is
considered a normal thing. To commit suicide over losing money!
You know, I have never heard of anyone falling apart because he
hated his fellow-man, or because his neighbour died on account
of his indifference. Much more so, because he lost Christ - the
Eternal and the True. Absolute madness...
Anyway - to
get back to the subject - when we speak of the remembrance of
death, we don't mean a passive memory that brings on inertia,
despair and desperation. Nor do we mean a nirvana.
We mean an active state which activates every corner of the
mind, the heart and the body. Realization sets in, and
your existence begins to pulsate. But your passion for life now
turns towards the real life; I am referring to the One Who is
Life itself. And Who is that? It is the One Who is
not ephemeral but eternal. The One Who does not give us
cause for agony, but joy.
Let me tell
you something personal. When I was a "failure" family-wise,
professionally and financially, when I had nothing at all and
was an absolute zero according to the criteria of this society,
I acquired only one thing: the remembrance of death. And I
felt fuller than I ever had before, because I had the One Who
fills everything. I would leave my one-room apartment
where I lived, without locking up behind me and without any
anxiety whatsoever, because I had nothing. What I did
have, no-one could steal from me. So I would walk the
streets, encounter acquaintances - many of whom pretended they
hadn't seen me - but that didn't bother me. Because the One Who
is omniscient knew me. Later, I became a judge and was a
recognizable individual, with fame, titles, money, material
wealth... and I lost that remembrance of death. I lost
everything, because I lost the Lord of all. When did I feel joy?
Then, or now? When was I going through a crisis?
When I possessed nothing, or now that I have possessions?
Let me return
to the subject. Who is Life? Who gives meaning to my
To reply to
this, one question suffices: Who is the conqueror of death? The
One Who conquered death is the only One Who can show us the way
to true life. No-one else. And I no longer accept
risen from the dead, trampling death by death… So, Christ comes
along and vanquishes death. And what does He say? "I am
the Truth and Life". And what does Life tell us? "Whosoever
wants to follow Me, let him renounce himself and follow Me..."
first prerequisite : "Renounce one's self". The
absolute "me" of our cultural system becomes a full renunciation
of our self, on the path to Christ.
him follow me". No clarifications. He asks for our complete
surrender. He asks us to trust Him. You either trust Him
and follow Him, or you go your own way - the way of
individualistic agony that our civilization invites you to.
And I ask
myself, brothers: To what end is all that agony? We know that He
feeds all the fowl of the sky, will He not take care of us?
Could that agony finally denote an egotism and a lack of trust
on our part? Of course you will probably ask why people
are dying of hunger - is it because they didn't trust Him?
we don't have answers to every question. But trust: we
either have it or we don't. That's it. When we were
children and our father told us that something had to be done
this way, we didn't know why he said it, but he knew. So we
trusted him, because we knew he loved us. So, either we
have a deep conviction that Christ loves us and will not abandon
us, and that no matter what befalls us, He Who is Love has
allowed it and therefore it is welcome, or, we follow the path
of our personal self-sufficiency. Trust also means that we
surrender ourselves to Him. A saint once said:
"Lord, I want to be with You, even in Hell". That says it
all. I deposit my existence with Him Who is Life, and may
He do whatever He sees fit. Then an incredible calm
overwhelms you... the agony that dominates our culture becomes a
joy of encounter, because I have encountered Him and have
associated with Him Who is Life.
trust, what else are we told?
possessions. Acquire nothing. Because the desire for
personal property differentiates us ontologically from Him, Who
keeps nothing for Himself.
What else has
He told us?
whoever has two garments should give away the one. Our
culture tells us that whoever has 2 ships should acquire 1000.
Who agonizes, and who, really, is happy? Have you ever
seen any extremely wealthy people - who comprise the social
model - appear peaceful and calm? Or do you perhaps see
them permanently sullen, bent over numbers? Then the
antipodes: Can you ever imagine Elders Paisios or Porphyrios
(and other monks of the same calibre) agonizing because they
possess only one, frayed cassock? And yet, we who have so
many things, agonize so much over acquiring even more... plus,
we also lose the joy of offering.
What else does
the Conqueror of death tell us?
this day our daily bread..."
Who of us, my
brothers, doesn't have that bread? Is that what we are agonizing
for? Let's be honest... We don't care about the bread,
even though we thunder out the Lord's Prayer every Sunday... We
care about anything material that the social model dishes out.
But if we did follow Christ, would we have any agony?
conquered death tells us many more things, which of course can't
fit into a brief introduction. But, everything that He
does say is summarized - I believe - in one and only statement:
"Love your neighbour". But what is far more compelling
is: "Love your enemy". Brothers, the stories that
we're taught in school write about a whole lot of revolutions,
and yet there is not a single mention of the most earth-shaking
revolution: Love your enemy. Honestly, can you imagine a
world that would simply listen to what the One Who is Joy and
Life told us? Can you imagine a world where all people
would love one another? Would any of the things that we
described as "crises" exist? Or would we be talking about
another world altogether?
cultural model does not stand up to repair. Its problem is
ontological. As I mentioned earlier, all the problems that are
born of the system we live in are not attributed to a pathology;
they are its very physiology. Another manner of co-existence is
imperative. And that path has been pointed out, by the
Victor of death: it is the manner of His existence - the
Trinitarian, loving manner of existence. This means that Man,
who was fashioned according to the image of God, can also become
God by Grace, in order to conquer death (not the biological
death, but death per se), and that he should attempt to
experience in all these agonies - as much as humanly possible -
a loving, Trinitarian communion. In other words, attempt
to co-exist lovingly with all his fellow-men, both friends and
enemies. Absolute fullness.
Even in this
other manner of existence, all of us are invited: the worthy and
the unworthy. Because God is Love. God doesn't choose. Man
chooses, freely: either he attempts this, and actually lives, or
he chooses to be dead, even though he survives biologically.
Of course, given that man chose to be fallen - both as a person
and as a member of an established collective group - he is
unable to attain that way of existence perfectly.
But, even if
that isn't entirely feasible, the way of life of the Saints
surely is - when we refer to a personal level, and the
life of the Church is, when referring to a collective level.
There can be no excuses here. The Saints were the same as
us. So, if they were capable of living a different life, so can
we. So let us follow their example and the example of the
And in the
end, why don't we just resort to the greatest potential that He
granted us in order to associate with Him and our fellow-man?
most solemn point of the Divine Liturgy and man's life, we hear
the following words:
of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all, and for all..."
That is the
whole meaning. Lord, everything is Yours. Nothing is
ours. And it is You Who has granted everything to us.
Just as You granted Your Self to us. Without anything in
exchange and without discriminations. To the poor, as well
as to the rich; to the beautiful and to the ugly; to the young
and to the old. And we now offer what is Yours, to You:
that is, our existence. Do what You want with it, because
it is Yours. Because You are Love, Life and Joy, and we
want to partake of Love, Life and Joy.