- The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation by Panteleymon Anastasakis
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...