Παρασκευή, 21 Απριλίου 2017

Crisis & impact for the church in Greece. New challenges.


I.            The Orthodox Church as a "citizens' society".
Α.     The Orthodox Church is not characterized by boundaries with the rest of society. As discussed, the Church is also a broader "citizens' society". This means two things: 
First,  the continuous interaction between Church and State or society.
The ecclesiastic organization, as a part of society, is not only generally distinct for the positive and negative elements characterizing the same, but is also substantially affected at times by the economic, political crises or crises of any other form.
Second,  the members of the Church bear in full all the rights and obligations of Greek citizens. This practically means that the Christians as citizens must conform to the laws of the state, as to issues of organization, administration, taxation etc.
Β.    The Organizational structure:  Metropolises, Parishes, Monasteries 
These basic structures govern the operation of the Church as well as its spiritual, worshipping, charity and other events.

C.     Other Orthodox Communities and ecclesiastic jurisdictions in Greece:
Mount Athos (Άγιο Όρος), Old Calendar, Patriarchal Dependencies (Μετόχια), private hermitages etc.
In Greece, as indeed in other countries of Europe and America too, there are more than one ecclesiastic jurisdictions.
      The unusual circumstance in Greece is that the financial assistance of the Greek State operates unilaterally in favor of the official Church of Greece.  This happens because, the Church of Greece as a legal person of public law enjoys privileges denied to other religious communities.   Namely while, the priests of the "Church of Greece" are appointed by the state, which also pays their salaries, priests of other jurisdictions, e.g.. of the old Calendar, do not enjoy this privilege although they serve the religious needs of Greek citizens.  
ΙΙ.     The causes of the modern economic crisis in Greece
The prevailing view is that the causes of the profound economic crisis in Greece are exclusively economic.  However, the same observers agree that this economic crisis is related to the moral consciousness of citizens.

The relatively recent, but crucial, deterioration of the consciousness of citizens has facilitated, if not indeed created, the very economic causes of the crisis:  tax evasion, the set of   bribery / venality, and generally the widespread corruption in its various forms. 

 For example, tax awareness, is nothing else but moral in essence -social consciousness, since payment or nonpayment of tax obligation, shows the deepest moral attitude of citizens towards the "others", who finally become indeed the negative receivers of tax evasion.

However, we should not forget that the abovementioned attitudes come from members of the Church, where the "vast majority" of Greeks seems to belong, in accordance to the same.
Yet could it be that, exactly for this reason, our   Church should, instead of "whining" for the impact of the economic crisis experienced by the same, like secular organizations,  go under some self-criticism  as to the real (and not the fictional or imaginary, aka: convenient) extent to which its members are also true agents of an integral moral conscience? 

In other words, should we discuss the extent of failure of the Church, to inspire its leaders and members of a moral and social-friendly stance in their attitudes?

Yet,  how could a religious leadership lead its faithful to a moral and social-friendly Christian behavior, when it intentionally allows to be "corrupted".  

III.   Economic crisis impact 
Α. Today it is proven that the economic crisis   directly affects the entire operation of ecclesiastic organizations, with two main demonstrations. 
- In the internal organization, administration and managerial operation, with subsequent failure to continue their smooth operation, due to the reduction of financial revenue.  The collapse of the state mechanism and the significant reduction of sponsoring by the Greek state to the Church, made the continuation of its establishments that were mainly funded by the state, particularly difficult.

- In their pastoral activity (pastoral care/treatment of people).
This is because, when the operation of a non-profit organization (such as the Church of Greece) is also based on voluntary financial offers from its members or third parties, the reduction of such contributions, makes it impossible for the Church to respond to its "operation of providing" for the weakest members of society. 
Suddenly, entire sections of the charity and social activity of the Church deteriorate, with direct impact - even as to issues of survival- on our fellow men who receive utilities from the ecclesiastic organization. 

B. The funding of ecclesiastic organizations

There are two categories of ecclesiastic organizations based on the way their are funded.

a.Organizations funded by the state budget, such as e.g. the Metropolises, the Parishes, the Ecclesiastic Academies, the Monasteries of Mouth Athos.
b.  Organizations operating by self-funding, such as usually monasteries, religious charity associations, nongovernmental organizations, various charity institutions, and the parishes of the Old Calendar, that do not belong to the Church of Greece.

It is a fact, that the present economic situation has a direct adverse effect mainly on the first category.  There is a problem in the continuation of operation of the establishments of the Church of Greece and it is imperative that they adjust to the new circumstances in order to survive. 


Revenue from other sources must be found, so that the loss of revenue from the State, that is continually reducing its funding to the Church, will be replenished.


{It is interesting that the Bank of Greece asked in 2011 that all available capitals of ecclesiastic bodies be transferred to a Joint Account of all Public Entities, kept in the Bank of Greece, so that they can be invested in Greek State Bonds, as provided by two Public Entities laws of 1950 and 1997. The Church of Greece had an intense reaction, based on decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that recognise the Church as having the legal form of a Public Entity but not as being a governmental organisation.  Finally the matter was settled by legislative exception of the bodies of Church (law 3986/2011)}.


Examples of new adverse economic measures 

1.       Appointments of priests and ecclesiastic clerks 

According to the new measures, priests and the ecclesiastic clerks that are paid by the state budget, in order to be appointed are subject to the ratio 5 departures to 1 recruitment. (Where 5 departures are deemed from the entire public sector, not only from the Church). This rule shall apply until the expiration of the Medium-Term Fiscal Development Program.

This in practice means, that every year, depending on the departures of the previous year, the Interior Ministry approves new positions for the entire Greece based on the 5 to 1 ratio (which was 10 to 1 for year 2011)   These new positions, are allocated by his same decision to each Ministry.  Then every Ministry allocates the positions given to each office and body of thereof.  Thus, e.g. if 1000 positions are approved for the Ministry of Education and Religion, the Church shall have to wait out of these 1000 positions that some may be allocated to it in order to appoint the priests that it needs.  However from the same positions teachers in elementary schools, high schools and Lyceums must also be appointed.

2.       Funding termination.

The Ministry of Education has announced that it shall proceed to the termination of funding for Ecclesiastic Academies. These are the productive schools of officials of the Church and issue degrees of various cognitive subjects of interest to the Church (e.g. Theology, music etc.) 
The Church of Greece, at the moment is unable to undertake the cost for the support of the six Ecclesiastic Academies that are active and operate in the country.

            3Increased taxation of the ecclesiastic property and donations.
Under a new law the ecclesiastic property shall be taxed (law 3842/2010) with a tax rate three times higher than the applicable one for Public Entities (namely three thousandths instead of one thousandth). Only properties used for operational and religious purposes are exempt of the tax.  (e.g. churches, monasteries)  Therefore all properties that may not be used, often because the State has declared their expropriation but has no money to proceed to the expropriation and that have the Church as their formal owner for decades, without the latter being able neither to sell them or use them, since they are seized, are subject to the tax.

Under the same law, the rents of the Church from its property, are also taxed with a tax rate higher even than that of private owners (law 3842/2010), namely with a 20% rate annually.

Furthermore the tax exemption for those donating property and money to the Church is abolished and they are now taxed with a 0.1% rate for donations and inheritances over 1000 euro’s. It is a fact that after the reactions of the official leadership of the Church of Greece the tax rates for donations (to churches - monasteries) were reduced to a minimum, from 10% and 5% to 1% and 0,5% respectively. The result is naturally that this new taxation, small as it may be, discourages people from assisting the charity activity of the Church.

              4.  Cuts in salaries and financial hardship of priests
The program of the state for the reduction of salaries in the public sector, also includes the clergy.  It is typical that even deacons, parsons and preachers "rioted" for the cuts in their salaries and appealed to the Council of State for their cancellation.  According to the press, these include members of the clergy, who also have a clerk position in the Public Sector (teachers, various clerks, etc.)


After the new measures, according to the single payroll (L. 4024/2011), priests also holding a second position in the Public Sector, Public Entities and Local Governments, shall now receive the total of the pay for their organic post and only 30% of the pay for the second post where they are employed.
After the reductions of salaries, and the reduction of the financial capacity of the faithful to assist the priest, priest are now unable to financially meet the demands of their work.  Particularly priests in the countryside, that has to travel and cover their own transportation costs, increasingly face this problem, the extent of which we cannot foretell.  Many people fear a "devastation" of priests in the countryside, since they will not be able to cope with the increased cost of transportation and the costs to support their families.


IV. Will the economic crisis also have positive results for the Church in Greece?

For the first time in modern Greece, the notion that the State shall always cover all expenses of the Church is being questioned.  This new reality has already produced a number of responses by the Church, some nascent or focused on secondary issues, whereas some others portend more fundamental changes.

1.      Non-salaried priests
 Some Metropolitans have already started to ordain volunteers-priests, namely non public officials. These new members of the clergy, either have revenue from another private employment, or accept receiving a very small financial aid from the local church so as to permanently serve the needs of a parish.  Yet it is not certain whether this will result in a future improvement of the "quality" in the clergy in Greece or deterioration. 


2.       Abolishment of the mandatory vestments of the clergy?

         The new generation of the clergy that are no longer "public official", but may have priesthood as second employment cannot be "obliged" to mandatory vestments of the clergy, as it happened to this day. Already various professionals who accept to serve as priests too, go to their jobs in their usual attire, and serve as clergy on holidays or on Sunday for the Holy Mass.  This fact may prove to be a positive development, in the sense that new members of the clergy and new girls who had a "problem" with mandatory vestments, shall no longer hesitate to help their churches as priests and priest's wives.

3.       Self-funded Church
The economic crisis also leads to thoughts for the complete reorganization of the economics of the Church.

Α. For the first time the need for an increase of revenue is now obvious, and this is a necessary requirement for the survival of the Church. Thus a debate has already started for the creation of Church businesses aiming at the acquisition of resources. 

Β. The replanning and reorganization of the economic system is also deemed necessary for the taking of immediate decisions, in order to cover expenses:

- For studies and preparation of candidate priests and theologians teachers
- For the funding of salaries of priests and ecclesiastic clerks
-For the increase - creation of capitals due to loss of revenue due to taxes
-For covering needs of charities and institutions of the Church
-For the maintenance of churches/ building new churches, and care for significant ecclesiastic monuments.

 Combating corruption.

The hardships of the crisis, give the opportunity to the Church of Greece to face the necessary self-criticism. This is a splendid opportunity to combat corruption, particularly in the NGOs of the Church that have already been accused for great economic scandals.
The meritocracy in the recruitment of officials, the strict inspections in the economics of the ecclesiastic organizations, the training of special officials, the control of management of the inheritances and many more, may have become the most necessary goal today than any other time.  Particularly for reasons of survival, but also so that the Church may set the example, that its officials can be at the same time moral and useful to the society of citizens. 

V.  Islam in Greece. A new challenge and prospect?

A new issue for Greece is the change in the populations and the presence of other religions.
For example, with the presence of the Muslim migrants and refugees in Greece, many believe that things are simple.
This means that we lack the proper knowledge and approach to this matter.
Helping the populations of the migrants without losing out is not just a matter of food, health and housing for the homeless refugees or migrants.
Right knowledge of their cultural environment from which they come is needed.
How many know that today in Greece we have five or six different Muslim denominations, which are not amicable between them?
How can someone help one Muslim community and be ignorant of the other? 
(Sunnites, Shiites, Druses, Alevis, Ahmadiyya, Bektashi, are not quite the same).  Nor can each one be left uncontrolled to present themselves publicly as the representative of the “Muslims of Greece”.

It seems that the proper cadres needed by the Hellenic State for Public Services, for the schools, but also the properly trained Priests that the state Church of Greece requires simply do not exist. Is anyone dealing seriously with this problem? Also is any ecclesiastical organization considering the new prospect of missionary work and catechism of all those who approach an Orthodox Christian society?

What is required is the immediate recording of the needs of the new reality, the planning and preparation of suitable programs, before an uncontrollable chaos breaks out in the society of Greek Orthodox citizens and there is alteration of the Greek – Christian tradition that has been preserved for centuries.

Conclusions.

1.      The Orthodox Church of Greece, as a society of citizens, has suffered a significant impact of the economic crisis of the last years.  This issue is already of concern for the faithful and the ecclesiastic leadership. 
2.During the crisis, the society of citizens, and particularly its sensitive groups are threatened by a deprivation of the charity work of the Church. An immediate and vigorous response is needed.
3.      The negative impact of the present crisis can shrink the social role and work of the Church of Greece and its Organization in the long term.

4.      The present crisis, creates a significant opportunity for an essential improvement of the church, that will go beyond its administrative structure and operation and shall include fundamental values, such as meritocracy, transparency and  accountability and more than that its perfect alignment with the teachings of Christ, its founder.

5.      Unless the Church takes immediately specific decisions and measures to cope with problems, it may be directed to isolation and marginalization of its role. 


6.      The call for renewal is clear. The approach to change must come from deep introspection, analytical evaluation of the current operational modes, creativity, fervent prayers, and, most important, through the grace of God Almighty.


*AHEPA, Webster University, Culture Center, Athens, Greece, 20 Απριλίου 2017.
**first edition: "Economic crisis & impact for decision making for the church in Greece", WSCF, Bratislava,  Slovakia,  31 – 3- 2012




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