Orthodox Christian



Archbishop Christodoulos speaks at the Univ. of Craiova on the European identity

"Europa Nostra"

June 2003

Right Honorable Chancellor, 

Honorable Professors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear youths, bearers of hope not only for your own homeland but for the whole of Europe,

I thank you so much for this great honour to the Orthodox Church and to my person.

Before I begin my talk, let me wish you from the bottom of my heart: welcome to the European Union! Welcome to the organisation of modes of government of Europe, of which you have been a member and a co-author for centuries. I do not attempt to flatter you with these qualifications. I truly believe that Europe is the home of all her peoples, that there are no first-rank and second-rank Europeans, and that unless we all undestand this, then constituting the European Union will have no future nor any particular point.

The Church of Greece will continue to raise her voice in all European fora, so as to support the full integration of your country into the European Union. And this she will do because the Romanian people, with its deep-rooted Christian consciousness, its evident Roman roots, and its manifest European orientation, is a people we need in the European Union.

Let us now ask ourselves once more the question: what is Europe? It is a question which the more we pose the more we enhance our self-knowledge. It is also a topical question, since at this time we Europeans are discussing the contents of the European Constitution.

Goethe once noted to one of his friends: [quote] “What constitutes Europe is the true unity of its culture, and what divides it is political ideas” [unquote]. And lo, as we are now striving to build our political union upon sound and operational foundations, a series of threats appears.

The first of these threats is of course the conflicts in the Near East and the related attempts of distant centres of power to determine the identity of the European Union. I do not deem it opportune to discuss this issue here. But I am certain that everyone in this Hall will have felt how tragic those conflicts are for the peoples of the region and how crucial for the future of the European Union.

Another threat is posed by the view, which is put forward in different guises, that the European world should not be regarded as a cultural formation, but that countries totally irrelevant to its culture should also be included in the Union. If, however, this view gains ground, if, in other words, we accept that any country which so wishes or for which it is decided by the current geopolitical circumstances that it should join the European Union, if we accept a Europe founded on interest and not on its culture, then the European Union will degenerate into a fake economic zone, with no political or cultural entity. But in that case, Europe will have been murdered, and we shall have nothing else to do but to entomb its unburied body.

A most serious threat comes also from the appearance of an ideology which means to circumvent reality and, in the name of a so-called modernisation, wishes to forget that the roots are not the outdated yesterday of the tree but the prerequisites for its survival. I refer to those who want to delete Christian identity from the characteristics of Europe and to turn it into a volitionless inn of ideologies, to an entity without tradition, and therefore without resistance and without presuppositions.

So would you kindly bear with me, at this very hour, when I put this question again: what is Europe? The answer has been given by history and must remain given: it is not a geographical but a cultural formation ― so much is clear already in Goethe’s remark. Its frontiers have been determined by its spirit, not by geographical conditions. The French poet and thinker Paul Valery set out the real frontiers of Europe as follows, in one of his brilliant essays, which is acknowledged as the cornerstone of Europeanism: there is Europe wherever the influence of Christian faith, of the Roman world and of Greek Letters is predominant.

However, neither could the Greek world on its own, nor could the Roman one, create Europe. The ancient Greeks went through a stage when political segmentation and religious unity co-existed in the pursuit of a unitary political entity, and ended up establishing an empire, which nevertheless, on the one hand, could not last and structure itself and, on the other hand, did not comprise Europe.

Universal empire was the deed of Romans. And they succeeded where the successors and epigones of Alexander the Great had failed, because the Romans founded their empire not as the achievement of one brilliant personality but as the deed and responsibility of their law-abiding republic. The empire was not Scipio’s or Caesar’s. It was the empire of Rome.

The Romans considered the Greeks their opponents, though not Greek civilisation. On the contrary, Roman Letters cannot be thought of as something different from the Hellenistic. The whole of Roman culture, even religious, was influenced by the Greeks. The embrace of Hellenistic language and culture was of decisive importance, because in this way the Roman legions became the apostles of a system which combined Greek learning with the Latin institutional frame of mind.

The Romans taught all peoples of the empire the importance of institutions, the significance of law. And yet only in Europe was their teaching preserved and became fruitful. Why was this so? The answer is given to us by a Byzantine scholar in one of his letters where he describes his journey to the West. He notes that those peoples may not be aware of their history, but it acts upon them and determines them: [I quote] “I recall the procession and the fair held two years ago in London, Britain […]. Those people seem to ignore Caesar, who was the first to subjugate them, even though two of his fortresses are still standing there […]. I think that everything, namely the power of the Romans and the monarchy and sovereignty of emperors and the subjugation of nations, took place for exactly this purpose, that the Glory of the Apostles may follow” [unquote].

Even though I do not share the teleology of this view, the truth is that in order for Europe to be born, Christianity had to come first. And this occurred because Christianity assumed both Greek learning and the Roman tradition of law, thus achieving a synthesis of unique historical significance.

The message to the Christians to open up to the non-Jewish world was given by Jesus himself, through His amazing deeds such as the conversations with the Samaritan Woman , with the Canaanite Woman , with the centurion , and in many other instances by His words. But the Apostles were deeply imbued with the Jewish spirit. A long struggle was needed before they themselves and the faithful could break away from Jewish isolationism. It is this struggle that we see recorded in the Acts but also in the Epistles of the Apostles.

This opening-up of Christianity to the Gentiles was a fundamental prerequisite for the genesis of Europe. Because it is thanks to this process of opening-up that Christianity did not become a national religion but accepted men of any race, country and social stratum as equals, providing everyone with a common identity, thus reinforcing the sense that everyone partakes in the same world.

The Church did not only provide the faithful with a common identity. Living in the light of the Lord’s words, that [quote] “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” [unquote], the Church saw the sermon of salvation not only as spiritual word but also as philanthropic deed. Accordingly, there were always two concerns involved in the setting up of a Church in any new town: the appointment of a Presbyter and the organisation of services for one’s neighbour.

This was the reason why the Christian Church rejected the policy of other religions, which remained coldly indifferent to the acts of the state and to the situation of society. Even during the period of persecutions, she continued taking care of one’s neighbour. And subsequently, as soon as she was recognised, she immediately began to put pressure upon the state, as is shown, for instance, by Ambrose’s refusal to accept the acts of the emperor Theodosius and as is certainly shown by the attitude of John Chrysostomus.

This was how the European house was constructed: thanks to the fact that Christians preserved Greek learning, preserved the Roman tradition of law, but first of all fought for the transformation of a ruthless imperium into a Christian commonwealth (respublica christiana).

The Sermon which is known as “Sermon on the Mount” has remained the foundation of this Christian republic . This teaching constituted the core of the Apostles’ preaching, as we see in their Acts and in their Epistles. Their successors continued teaching along the same lines. As if neither he nor any other Christian had suffered, Clement of Rome, in the first century, just after the dreadful persecution under Domitian, wrote the following words, inspired by the same teaching, which some of the sociologists of our time called “Christian Utopia” : [quote] “Let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds” [unquote]. Christian society is described by one more text of those times, which, in many respects, is a text of all times: everyone of us should find it fair to “minister to the widows, to take care of the orphans and the deprived, to save his fellow men from their needs” .

The first Christians did not consider the possession of servants a sin, but only the inhuman behaviour towards them, and also the insolent behaviour of a Christian servant towards his or her master . This situation was tolerated due to the fact that the first Christians did not think that the establishment of a Christian commonwealth would be possible, because they were certain that the end of the world was imminent. We see this in a highly popular text of the Christian literature of the first centuries, where we read that Christians “reside in their own homelands, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners”.

When, however, the first centuries had passed and the Roman empire recognised Christianity as its official religion, the request for conformity of the state with the Christian perception of society began to be formulated.

The Cappadocian Fathers explicitly raised the issue of servitude. Gregory the Theologian noted: [quote] “He who created man from the beginning allowed him to be free and with a capacity for self-determination (autexousion)” [unquote], and he went on to explain that only when sin and reversal entered the world did servitude occur. But he asked Christians to strive for man’s freedom and to make no concessions: [quote] “But please do me a favour and keep the original isonomy in mind, not the subsequent division” [unquote]. Gregory of Nyssa was even more rigid when he asked: [quote] “Thou condemnst to servitude man, whose nature is free and capable of self-determination, and in so doing thou makest a law contrary to God, since thou reversest His law upon nature [...]. If God Himself doth not subject a free man to servitude, who is going to superimpose his own rule on that of God?” [unquote].

The abolition of servitude was therefore an imperative for Christians and led at first to a humane treatment of servants and eventually to the abolition of the horrid institution altogether.

Nevertheless, what was more important was not only the abolition of slavery, or even the new perception that the servant was not an object (Lat. res) but a human being, a brother in Christ. Christian teaching turned the empire into a republic of solidarity. Eusebius of Caesarea attributed the responsibility for the exercise of a philanthropic policy to the founder of the Byzantine empire and indirectly expressed his expectation of him that he may act in imitation of God. There followed deacon Agapetos’ excellent hortatory addresses to his pupil Justinian, in which he tells him the following: [quote] “our kingdom is justly reverable, because it makes our power apparent to our enemies but to our subjects it administers philanthropy” [unquote]. The result was immediate: the Byzantine state established and covered the needs of an extensive network of hospitals, old people’s homes, orphanages, and other charitable foundations . This republic of solidarity would be inconceivable and could not be organised without the beneficial Roman experience of the institutional state.

Nonetheless, when we speak of Christianity, we should not always bear only Byzantium in mind. The Church of Rome, which assumed alone the burden of the West, developed an extraordinarily extensive network of church services from the first moment of its constitution. A telling example is that in the middle of the 3rd century, its members were no more than 7,000, and yet financially supported more than 1,500 widows and unduly suffering .

As, however, it soon found itself away from the military shield of the empire, in the mercy of barbaric invasions, the Church of Rome used monachism as a means of propagating faith and of integrating it into the culture of the so-called barbarians. Abbeys of Benedictines spread to all countries invaded by the barbarians or, to be more accurate, the newcome peoples, to the point where they became centres of protection of the poor, of the ailing, of the disabled . In order to help the barbaric peoples more effectively and to initiate them into the techniques used by the peoples of the empire, the monasteries became also centres of teaching the ways and techniques of life .

Likewise, this explains the serious difference which we observe between Orthodox and Western monasticism. Orthodox monasticism preserved life away from the world’s affairs as its centre ― despite commandments to the contrary from Basil the Great, who wanted the monk to consume himself into the service of his neighbour . This occurred because, as I already mentioned earlier, the Byzantine state developed a large welfare network. In contrast, barbaric invasions destroyed all infrastructure of the Roman state, and the Church there remained alone, striving to restore unity, the rule of law and a republic of solidarity in a troubled world. Western monasticism was therefore forced by the course of things to become extrovert, to consume itself into serving the neighbour and to find ascetic exercise in that service ― just as Basil wished, he to whom the founder of the Benedictines looked up as his teacher. As a notable medievalist writes, [quote] “the peoples of Europe wanted to be Christian and acknowledged themselves as Christians, mainly because of the monks, the abbeys and their related foundations” [unquote].

It has been said that no religion other than Christianity has done so much for the poor and the weak. And this is found written in the “bible”, so to speak, of the French Enlightenment, the “Encyclopedie” of Diderot et d’Alembert, famous for its anti-clerical spirit . To which we should also add that no religion other than Christianity has put so much time, so much money and so much organisational care into education.

If the philadelphic attitude of the Church originates in the Lord’s teaching itself in the Sermon on the Mount, then its care for learning has its roots in the congregation of the faithful: even before the crystallisation of a liturgical ritual (Typicon), the faithful would read out in their congregations the Bible and the Apostolic Christian texts. Reading a book was therefore an activity at the centre of church life.

This of course did not apply only to Christians. Reading of the Bible took place in Synagogues too. Living within the Hellenistic environment, the Hebrews (and those of the Diaspora in particular) entered Greek learning and soon had their own people educated by its Greek standards. Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria are two well known, though certainly not the only cases. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament by the Seventy Jewish Scholars, and its extensive use in the Synagogues could have furthered integration into the Greek-Roman world. But the conservative Hebrews refused to familiarise themselves with Greek Letters.

The great push given to learning by Christianity is due to the fact that Christians, in complete contrast to the Hebrews, did study at Greek schools. To them it felt as if they were ―and indeed they were― partakers of Greek learning, and later as if they were its heirs. It may be true that the first Christians were Hebrews. It is not fortuitous that Christianity began to spread mainly to the hellenised Hebrews of the Diaspora ― Antioch had more faithful than Jerusalem. This situation is reflected in the expression: [quote] “[the Christians are] attacked by the Jews as if they were men of a different race, and are persecuted by the Greeks” [unquote] : so they felt it unfair to be considered “men of a different race” by the Jews.

Yet the situation changed when the number of Greek Christians began to rise. We do not know when this number rose sufficiently for the heathen not to identify the Christians with the Hebrews. At any rate, it is worth pointing out that Marcus Aurelius and also Celsus in the 2nd century speak of Christians and no longer identify them with the Jews.

Even so, Celsus the renouncer of Christianity did not realise the truth which was born around him. That is why he dared to claim that [quote] “if it were possible that all the inhabitants of Asia, Europe, and Libya, Greeks and Barbarians, all to the uttermost ends of the earth, were to come under one law, [...] Any one who thinks this possible, knows nothing.” [unquote]. He failed to see that Christianity embraced the Greek and the Roman spirit and instead of being a pariah within the Empire, it turned Europe into its own homeland. This development gave Clement of Alexandria the right to claim that philosophy was “a gift of God given to the Greeks” .

We do not know when exactly the Christians felt Greek learning had become their own. We see, however, that, when Julian the Apostate forbade Christians to teach Greek letters (which implies that they had been doing so already), Gregory the Theologian replied by an epistolary invective to the emperor, whom he criticised ironically as [quote] “reasoning most unreasonably of affairs of reason” [unquote] thus giving the watchword of disobedience to the absurd law.

Education was one more weapon of the Church in her effort to create the Christian commonwealth. In Byzantium, the establishment of schools began immediately, in the reign of Constantine the Great. Eusebius of Caesarea credts the emperor with establishing schools throughout the empire . As is already known, for ecclesiastical reasons the spiritual influence of Byzantium spread to the North but not to the West. It was an influence which did not dwindle to the work of Cyril and Methodius but endured and was maintained even after the fall of Constantinople. As the eminent Romanian historian Nikolae Iorga has shown, Byzantium, as a civilisation comprising the ancient Greek heritage, Roman law and Orthodoxy, was not made extinct by the Turks, but survived as a spirit-shaping power until after the capture of Constantinople .

Besides, in Western Europe, from about 550 there began the renowned “millennium of the Benedictines”. In the course of those centuries it is estimated that approximately 800 abbeys of Benedictines scattered all around Europe possessed schools, libraries, and scriptoria, that is writing-rooms for the copying of manuscripts .

In conclusion, Europe is that which Christianity created, it is the cultural formation which was born because the Christian Church gave a common identity, a common learning and social welfare services to a medley of peoples.

Obviously, Europe was not created by decree. It was the result of a long course in history ― a course which was not always glorious nor always luminous. But we cannot dispute ―and there is no point in concealing― the fact that Europe was born in the courtyard of the Church.

Nowadays we attempt to unify it, but it should not escape our notice that Europe was born with unity as its precept, a precept which we abandoned thereafter, by espousing the political ideology of nationalism, and thus vindicating the remark by Goethe, which I quoted at the beginning of my talk.

Accordingly, what I would like to testify to before you today is that we shall not be able to keep the unity of Europe alive if we let it fall prey to political ideologies. We shall not be able to keep it alive if we let it fall prey to financial interests.

I would also like to testify before you to my deep conviction that there will be no Europe on the basis of pressures and compromises. If we want Europe to exist, we must also assume the responsibility for Europe, we must lay again the community of its peoples as precept. We shall have to acknowledge both in its forthcoming Constitution and in its everyday political practice the fact that, when we speak of Europe, we speak of a civilisation, we speak of a particular spirituality, and that this spirit is the offspring of Christianity, and that we want to preserve it as The reconstruction of United Europe is a responsibility incumbent upon nobody other than its men and women of spirit.

Once again, then, you hold history in your hands.



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