An Orthodox Christian stance on the refugee and financial crises. A vision for the future of Europe

Τhessaloniki, 20-23 February 2018

Allow me to begin by conveying my deep gratitude to Mr. Petros Vasiliadis, President of the Center for Ecumenical, Missiological, and Environmental Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou” and Professor Emeritus of Theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, as well as my congratulations to the members of the Organizational Committee of this Symposium for the privilege of participating in this conference at a crucial moment in our national reality.

It is with gratitude that I received your invitation to speak today in this truly unique conference. Through the structure of an Interdisciplinary International Ecumenical Conference there are particular aspects that allow us to share our thoughts, opinions, findings, questions, and even the possibility to explore solutions to the spiritual, religious, or political aspects of the financial and refugee crises respectively; not only about here in the Greek arena but also other member states of the European Union. It is not our purpose to go into depth as to the causes of these crises, the stress on the social solidarity of the European Union member states, or the responsible parties, or the future existence and the survival of the EU.

Truly, modern Europe faces one of the most serious crises of the post-World War period, a crises not due to foreign powers, but due to interior weaknesses furthermore perhaps even a lack of interior political will power. Two sides to the coin of the single crises is the financial crises and the refugee crisis. This double faced issue weighs heavily on an already difficult atmosphere, while the hardships seem to fall into that category of perpetuity the rhetoric surrounding, the issues continuously expands the chasm of consensus between the three poles: the wealthy North, the poor South, and the xenophobic East.

As it is well known, the economic crisis that broke out in 2007 in the United States of America, with the epicenter the banking assurance and high risk loan markets came to its peak damage in September of 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brother. The financial collapse quickly spread to the other side of the Atlantic ocean, first through the European Union’s market and later, just as a contagion, the whole world .
Just as dramatic as the shifts of the earth’s tectonic plates, the world economy’s collapse landed once again on Greece, since then she has entered a truly critical snag in her history; finding herself fighting against a first of its size economic turmoil. The blemish of distrust however not only was a stain on the Greek economy but the image of Europe as a whole.

The economic crisis continues to be central to not only the Greek reality but to the international community at large. The economic turmoil has had chain reactions throughout Greece not only in the financial sphere but also rippling through other institutions and most tangibly the Greek social sector.

The phenomenon that is Migration, is considered by many social and political scientists as one of the most important phenomena of the 21st century. Migration is directly linked to the social image of a country, and of course has an organic connection with the economic crisis, since it is its main consistency. The causes of migration are complex and vary from economic, social, political, religious and even cultural events. The most important cause of this phenomenon is the unfavorable, possibly even inhumane, living conditions that make it necessary to seek improved living conditions and social independence.

In 2015, a landmark year for Europe, the migrant meets the refugee. It is the year when the impasse of European immigration policy was unprecedented, causing a strong division amongst member states, proof of an overwhelming in effective political machine, and the apparent need for an adjustment to the legal framework of the Member States, most of which remain to this day trapped in the national border dilemma posing the question, “security or humanity.”

The crisis currently facing the 28 Member States of the European Union is that of the refugee dilemma, the massive influx of Syrian refugees and other populations from the wider Middle East, compounded with an immigration issue, the massive influx of economic migrants from many African and Asian countries. Today, the refugee crisis is considered a key issue for Europe, more important than the economic crisis. The economic crisis has been limited to the poor South, its side effects however none less are many effecting both the social and economic structure of the Member States. These effects are all the more serious due to the ever-increasing number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, mainly through Greece, which will increase over time. At stake, therefore, are the different political ideologies, sensitivities or perceptions, concerning the rights of every human being.

Of course, through these introductory considerations, I hope to give a general overview but the true purpose of my presentation is not to approach the whole problem at large, or to explore accounting or techno-economic specifics, or even to make a further political analysis of the facts. But I will focus on the case of Greece, which has been perceived by the global Christian community as having a huge moral issue, in which Christianity can no longer be stagnant and inactive.

Indeed, it is now commonplace that this double sided crisis that plagues the European map is primarily a spiritual and moral crisis, it is a crisis of institutions and values, a crisis of vision and of hope. In other words, it is a humanitarian crisis, since respect and trust in the human person have been lost and replaced by a type of enslavement in impersonal economic institutions, human freedom trapped in the absolute paralysis of an uncontrolled market, co-operation and mutual aid have given their place to extreme personalities and the defense of personal benefits have gained superiority over all concepts of collegiality, solidarity and mutual respect.

Undoubtedly, the essence of this spiritual crisis is the absence of a meaning of life, and this tragic absence constitutes the deepest, most radical and essential crisis of modern man, confirming his entrapment in the present and his individual, atomic, and self-centered microcosm. A present without a future, dreams and a vision, a present without purpose and mission, condemned to apathetic monotony. It is a sad fact that unsustainable consumption and unbridled speculation, unfair and merciless competition, the endless pursuit of a fictitious bliss that characterizes modern Europe and lead it to historical amnesia, the oblivion of traditions and a gradual leveling of its fundamental values, transforming man from free personhood into a thoughtless machine of an unobstructed and impersonal collection of moving gears. Certainly, this devaluation and the weakening of the sanctity and ontological value of the human person could never leave unchallenged the Church of Christ, the teaching of which is an inexhaustible source of all Christian effort to preserve the value and greatness of the human being .

Truly, the Church as the Body of the embodied Word of God has reason and opinion on the current critical situation because it has not ceased to an integral part of history. The Church of Christ, although in the world, is not “of the world” and can only care for and transform the world, for whose salvation it is bound and working for. Inspired by the expectation and preaching of the Kingdom of God, the Church does not neglect the problems of the world, but instead participates in the trials, pain and anguish of the modern man, without distinction of race, sex, age, social status or other experiences , for “there is no Jew, nor Greek, nor a free man or slave, nor male or female,” that is what both guarantees the Church’s greatness as well as its goodness, its inclusiveness. It is therefore that the Church wishes to guide Her flock, utilizing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, through the trials of life, so that God’s peace “lives forever” with the world through love and compassion.

The deepest crisis however is the current forfeiture of intellectual values and culture of modern European, for which the historical dysfunctions of the divided ecclesiastical expressions of Christianity are not irresponsible, In this spirit, the development and the stability of an unrelenting, sincere and uncompromising inter-Christian co-operation or conciliation to address contemporary critical issues, such as the economic and refugee crisis, is undoubtedly necessity, but also a unique historical challenge. The Christian Churches, with their common mission, can both express the common principles of Christian faith and, on the other hand, influence the new evolution of European culture in a dynamic way, while looking decisively, not reactively, to the modern challenges of the helping unite humanity without linking linguistic, racial, social, economic and religious backgrounds.

Besides, the realities of our times do not allow the Church to have an ambiguous, one-sided , or unbridled participation in the vortex that is the modern man’s daily trial. On the contrary, it implies the immediate realization and effective approach of this new reality, which requires the activation of all spiritual authorities and the co-operation of all Christians in every area of voluntary and charitable work.

The Orthodox Church has the primary duty of bowing Her ear to the voice of the suffering with evangelical humility, with spiritual, intellectual and social approaches towards injured persons sympathizing with him to give true hope and to heal his wounds. The Church has a sacred duty to support or even applaud anything that serves peace, opening the way to justice, brotherhood, true freedom, respect and mutual love among all peoples who make up a single family called humanity, while condemning diverse conflicts and wars due to religious fanaticism. Besides, these gifts of peace and righteousness appear where Christians have been making efforts today, working towards faith, love, and hope in Jesus Christ.

In this spirit, the Church can not remain indifferent to the financial situations and social injustices that affect the whole of mankind, as their negative effects are not only about the microcosm of each, but they are linked to the wider social context, since ” the individual “and” society “are in mutual interaction. On the contrary, in fulfilling its salvific mission to the world, it insists on the need for the economy to rely on a moral base and to be led by man according to the teachings of St. Paul ” by laboring like this, you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” On the other hand he takes care of every human being, offering vigilant support to everyone who needs help, since, according to J. Chrysostom, “the Church is a healer, one must provide not only the proper medications to others but must heal even ones self, taking upon oneself the injuries of the other.”

In aiding the traumatized people of God, the Church of Greece, under the direction of His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus, there has been an organized and systematized approach through a network of parish charitable activities, resulting in the creation of a national charity network of purely ecclesiastical agencies. This network was a truly revolutionary way of solidarity, which managed to deliver fruit in the most complete and transparent way, covering most of the basic needs of our fellow citizens. At this point, the establishment of the Charitable Organization of the Archdiocese of Athens “MISSION” has been aiming to strengthen vulnerable social groups and improve their living conditions, as well as aiming at better organization and service of the above network, promoting transparent overall management. Through the multiple programs that have achieved great success thus far, whether it be at the level of refugee accommodation, basic needs such as food and essentials, or in the operation of structures relating to the care and care of elderly or minors, etc., the Holy Archdiocese of Athens through its collaboration with the various Holy Metropolises has managed to fill large parts of the gaps created by the crisis of 2010. In this way, the Church of Greece has pointed to the whole of the world the value of Christian solidarity, and the “philotimo” of the Greek people. Besides, in every person the Church sees the image of Jesus Christ. Rich, poor, native and foreign, everyone enjoys the same care of the Church. As the famous saying of Elder Apollo goes, “ When I have seen my brother, I have seen my Lord.”

Of course, this complex crisis continues to overshadow Europe, causing feelings of reasonable uncertainty, pessimism and concern about its future and the well known mantra of a Europe unified physically and ideally.

The problems of the political management of the crisis by the European partners include the rise of nationalism, demagogy and xenophobia, and have coupled with the elimination of important concepts or values such as cooperation and solidarity, undermine the fundamental principles of the European vision and have weakened a high level of support that historically Europe has had in the process of integration, promoting European general distrust and transforming the European Union into simply a compound of unrelated governments, not a united citizenship of Europe.

Europe has indeed gone into a debate about its future, the EU’s structure is not easy to understand it combines both the regional European level and the local national level of each member state. But bearing in mind that the European Union has often been built up in crises, difficulties and hardships, I believe that the current critical situation is not enough to eliminate or even limit up the future of Europe. Of course, restoring confidence, reaching consensus and creating a sense of security is difficult to achieve at a time when information, the role of media world wide has never been so accessible, but so difficult to understand. The future of Europe is a decision for all of us to make.

The European Union is called to regain its missed orientation, it must look for its lost goal, the one imagined by its inspired founders, namely a union of citizens, an association of member states dominated by stability and peace, of course not only at a humanitarian or economic level, but also at a peoples level. We therefore have a fundamental duty, all those who represent civil society, to move in this direction, by imitating what the Church of Greece has clearly demonstrated during the crisis, namely, to keep this a society of united citizens, while maintaining social cohesion, remaining firm in the Greek reality. In this sense, it is my belief that it is necessary for other European countries to understand through their religious organizations that their reason must be directed precisely in this direction, namely to maintain social cohesion. On the other hand, if we really want to look finally at the desirable union at the political level of the European venture, there is indeed a need for a lasting struggle which, as a goal and pursuit, will treat man not only as a number but also as an economic dimension, , where there will not only be financial needs but also spiritual needs.

Consequently, the impact on the management of the economic and later the refugee crisis makes it imperative to have a European restart based on fundamental human values such as love, solidarity, cooperation, peace among peoples, and respect for the value of the person . What we all need is undoubtedly a “peaceful revolution” that abolishes despair, generates hope, and leads us to think as a society of people and not as autonomous units, that is, that we be guided by a unified “us” and not a bunch of individual ” I”s. This hope is realistic. It is faith and trust in God and our neighbor. The man who believes in God is not worried about anything, he fears nothing, not even his death. Belief, courage, freedom, determination, hope, optimism, meaning of life, mental and spiritual wealth must be our core if we want to hope for a better and healthier future.

After all, for the European vision to be strengthened and survive it must above all be accessible to all member states for the benefit of all peoples. That is why we call on all to work towards a fairer and more social Europe, based on our values. So let us therefore leave behind what has passed and focus on what is ahead of us. The Apostle Paul says “forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead.”

Ο Μητροπολίτης Νέας Ιωνίας, Φιλαδελφείας, Ηρακλείου και Χαλκηδόνος ΓΑΒΡΙΗΛ