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Panteleymon Anastasakis, The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation. New York: Fordham University Press. 2015. Pp. xiv + 349. Cloth $55.

In the 1940s, war, occupation, and eventually civil war shook all the institutions of Greece, tore at the social fabric of a largely traditional society, and destroyed the lives of many. The decade from the autumn of 1940 to the end of 1949 also brought new ideas and new personalities to the fore. Panteleymon Anastasakis concentrates on the period from the spring of 1941 to the end of 1944, highlighting the life and actions of Demetrios Papandreou, who became Archbishop Damaskinos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church during this time.

Anastasakis sees culture and religious identity as being at the core of Greek society. Thus, he begins the book with a long look back in time to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. In a short chapter that runs from the Ottoman conquest to 1939, Anastasakis makes four points. His first contention is that it is the church that preserved the remnants of Hellenism after the Fall. Second, the positive role that the clergy (such as in the case of Papaflessas) played in the Greek War of Independence provides a parallel to the acceptance of the church’s role by those parish priests who sided with the resistance during the Axis occupation. Third, once the independent nation-state of Greece was established in 1832, the church, as an instrument of nation-building, became subordinate to the state. Fourth, despite being closely tied to the Greek state, the now autocephalous but politically weakened church retained the support of the people. Thus, according to Anastasakis, the church’s present is already determined as the past is projected forward.

This all-too-brief historical sketch would have benefited from a discussion of a significant development for Greece in the early twentieth century that would add to our understanding of the church’s state on the eve of World War II, namely, the fact that before the political schism which occurred between Venizelists and anti-Venizelists during the Great War, Greece grew significantly in size. The Balkan wars in 1912–1913 added New Lands to the north, and the Great Island, Crete, was united with Greece. The New Lands—Epiros, Macedonia, and Thrace—belonged to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate in Constantinople. It was not until 1928 that an agreement on transferring religious authority in these regions was reached between the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Patriarch. As for the church of Crete, it already had a long history of running its own affairs. When war began in the fall of 1940, then, ecclesiastical localism was a reality that Damaskinos, the Archbishop of Athens and of All of Greece, had to face. [End Page 169]

But the purpose of the sketch is really to assert that the church would play an important role in the resistance to the occupying powers, giving legitimacy to all those who fought in it, while retaining its own authenticity as a conservative force in the nation at a time when new secular currents flourished.

Before embarking on a narrative of events relating to the activities of the church during the Axis occupation, particularly those of the clerical hierarchy, the author devotes a chapter to a hagiographic account of Damaskinos’s early years before he considers in the next chapter the role of the church hierarchs during the final days of freedom, April and May of 1941 (59). In the latter chapter, the focus is on specific hierarchs: Metropolitan Spyridon of Ioannina, Metropolitan Eirenaios of Samos, and Archbishop of Athens Chrysanthos. Anastasakis’s account of Damaskinos up to his selection as Archbishop of Athens, succeeding Chrysanthos, clearly shows the close relationship between politics and religion.

The main point of the chapter is that in this time of crisis church hierarchs were forced to act on their own. Anastasakis notes that literature on these early months is limited (61–62). (When it comes to the role of the church, this is true for the entire period of the war.) But historiographic strides have been made particularly in the last few decades to mitigate this dearth of scholarship, and the author dutifully lays out these various interpretations in extensive endnotes.

Church hierarchs acted on their own, as Anastasakis sees it, because the people had lost faith in governmental leadership. Taking a stand in the face of the approaching catastrophe that enveloped the country, the actions of individual hierarchs clearly show the basic dualism that emerged in the church’s stance regarding the Occupation. For instance, as Anastasakis notes, Spyridon of Ioannina believed that it was better to surrender and end the struggle against what he saw as an overwhelming enemy in early 1941. He was accused of defeatism, but Anastasakis sees a logic in his position.

Bishop Eirenaios of Samos, on the other hand, was originally more concerned with having a local functioning authority to deal with war and occupation. He later was more conciliatory to EAM (the National Liberation Front). The actions of individuals like Spyridon, who later became Archbishop of Athens on the death of Damaskinos, and Eirenaios exemplify the opposing outlooks of cooperation (including collaboration) or resistance that confronted churchmen.

Before turning to a treatment of specific problems with which the church was involved during the Occupation, Anastasakis considers how the hierarchs confronted the dual dilemma—collaboration or resistance—by bringing up the church’s past. As in Ottoman times, he argues, the Orthodox Church had an ethnarchic task of preserving the integrity of the nation (80). For Anastasakis, Damaskinos, enthroned as archbishop on 11 July 1941, exemplifies this task when he chose a policy of cooperation with the collaborationist government of General Tsolakoglou and the German authorities. Wary of foreign ideas, such as communism, but politically astute, Damaskinos did not openly oppose EAM or its military arm ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army). Mindful of the need to actively support the population in this time of acute social and economic crisis, the archbishop supported the social work of EOCHA (National Organization of Christian Solidarity) and sought to blunt the German arrests of and reprisal policies against the population; and, as he points out, there were even some civilian German [End Page 170] officials who recognized the negative impact of these policies on the population. In general, Anastasakis paints a positive picture of the church as an institution seeking to preserve the nation, even if the nation was a society that had largely disintegrated.

In separate chapters, Anastasakis then delves into the church’s response (both hierarchs and lower clergy) to the famine that struck Athens and Piraeus in the winter of 1941, Axis policies regarding local populations and the growth of the resistance movement, the destruction of the Jewish communities, the fate of the Greek church in the Bulgarian occupation zone, and the EAM/ELAS resistance.

In dealing with the famine, Anastasakis describes the relief efforts of the church through EOCHA. But EAM also was active through EA (National Solidarity). And so the church was concerned not only for its flock but also about the rise of radical movements (134). Clearly, there was political competition within the work of social welfare.

Anastasakis considers the role of the clergy in the fate of the Jewish communities alongside the experiences of Greeks in the Bulgarian occupied areas. While applauding Damaskinos’s efforts and those of other clerics to impede the deportation of Jews, he also notes the failure of other metropolitans to act, as well as EAM’s activities in helping Jewish leaders escape from Athens.

Acknowledging that other scholarly works have already set out the basic points in the relationship between EAM and the church, Anastasakis seeks to paint a more detailed picture (190). Patriotic local clergy sympathetic to EAM sought to improve the life of their flocks, as well as their own (often) poor circumstances. Both EAM and clergy sought a modus vivendi, but their relationship was made difficult by their opposing worldviews. Anastasakis uses a biographical approach to illustrate the efforts of both pro-resistance clerics (Metropolitan Ioakim of Kozani) and anti-resistance figures (Spyridon of Ioannina).

All of these issues posed a challenge to the church, its authority, and what stand it would take. Anastasakis shows the range of clerical responses from active involvement to passivity, from collaboration to a “cooperation … of necessity,” in the author’s words (114). Just like the rest of society, the clergy was also divided in its responses and actions regarding these issues. It was not just the specific personalities, however, but also specific locations that mattered. The clearest example of the latter was the existence of a large swath of territory under the authority of the EAM/ELAS resistance in central Greece by 1943—a development that might have been highlighted by the author in dealing with the issues.

By 1945, matters had come to a head. Damaskinos was now regent, standing in for the king as Left and Right faced off politically and militarily in Greece. In Anastasakis’s view in the Epilogue to the book, hierarchs like Damaskinos had fulfilled their ethnarchic role during the Axis occupation. Anastasakis also recognizes the political cost to the country in the decades that followed the victory of the Right, but he justifies the church’s record during the Occupation, both the clergy on the Right and those who supported the Left, as working to preserve the integrity and values of the nation (246). But the question remains: what was the content of the nation now that two contrasting visions existed?

This monograph demonstrates that the author has brought together a wide range of sources, including early writings, some of which, he notes, are one-sided, [End Page 171] as well as recent scholarship. However, more careful editing would have eliminated repetitiousness and strengthened the book’s critical synthesis of the material.

Gerasimos Augustinos
University of South Carolina
Gerasimos Augustinos

Gerasimos Augustinos is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina. His current research interest concerns the development of nationalism and identity in Greece.