The Mosque That Wasn’t There: Ethnographic Elaborations on Orthodox Conceptions of Sacrifice

Dimitris Antoniou
From the beginning of the 1990’s thousands of Muslim immigrants started to settle in Athens, at a time when the Greek economy had begun to prosper and the prospect of greater European integration was looming (Antoniou 2003). This was a time of great optimism marked by the beginning of a Greco-Turkish rapprochement, the rise of the stock market and the vision of the Athens 2004 Olympic games that would prove to the world the country’s democratic stability, cultural achievements and infrastructural advancement. It was in this context that successive Greek governments tried to respond to allegations regarding the absence of religious freedom in the country made by various NGOs, the US Government, the EU and the international press. [1] One of the most common accusations was crystallized in a cliché phrase: ‘Athens is the only European capital without an official mosque.’ Thus a new image of a modern, European, ‘multi-cultural’, and rather more Islamic Athens had to be projected. Part of this endeavor was an initiative taken by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish a central mosque in the capital city.
When the bill reached parliament, a heated debate commenced. Despite the controversies, on the 30th of June, 2000 the building of the mosque was approved. This would have been a place of worship, study and information, to be constructed in the town of P, almost 20km from the center of Athens (Antoniou 2003: 168). Nevertheless, it was never built. To paraphrase Pierre Nora (1996), it existed only as a lieu de fantasme, a site of fantasy. Some years later, in 2006, the government once again declared its determination to establish a central mosque in the capital. The plans however, had somewhat changed, and P was no longer considered the ideal location (Papahristou 2006).
In an effort to explain why this project failed to materialize, many blamed the Orthodox Church of Greece. These accusations were not only found in the Greek media, but indeed transcended national boundaries. A fairly creative encapsulation of this assumption is offered in the form of a drawing in a Turkish newspaper article entitled ‘Atina’daki cami tartışması semboller savaşına dönüştü’ (‘The debate on the Athenian Mosque has turned into a war of symbols’, Arslan 2003). The drawing presents a structure reminiscent of the Parthenon on top of which there is both a cross and a crescent. The structure itself constitutes a framework for an inscription revealing to readers who is responsible for the non-establishment of the mosque in Athens: The way to the Athens mosque passes through the church (Atina camii’nin yolu kiliseden geciyor). The meaning of this inscription is further elaborated in the main body of the article:

[Athens] is the only capital in Europe that does not have a mosque, because the strongest institution in the country is the Church. The Orthodox Church is against the building of the mosque. Subconsciously there is the thought that one day the Turks will come back. For this reason a very simple matter of worship is turning into a crisis.
QP DAntoniou_Fig 1

Figure 1. ‘The way to the Athens mosque passes through the church’ [scanned reproduction]

Interestingly enough, in the little town of P, in various academic fora and international organizations, a similar assumption could easily be noted. Many seemed to believe that the official Church would automatically oppose the construction of a mosque in Athens. This was also the case with European Commissioner Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles who met with Archbishop Christodoulos in order to discuss the mosque issue in June 2002. After completing his short visit, the commissioner produced an interesting report for the consideration of the European Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly where he stated:

A question related to that of places of worship is the lack of an official mosque in Athens where, apart from the Greek Muslims, several thousand Muslims of foreign origin live as a result of the heavy migration flow. At present these worshippers, according to the report which I received from several NGOs with official confirmation, meet in clearly unsuitable places such as flats, basements, garages and other private premises. When this question was raised, the Secretary General for Religious Affairs — as well as Archbishop Christodoulos — assured me that he had no objection to the building of a mosque, but invoked potential local resistance. I appeal to the solidarity, spirit of tolerance and good will of all concerned to pick out a place readily accessible to worshippers on which to build a mosque for Muslims established in Athens District (Council of Europe 2002:6).

The Commissioner’s meeting with the leader of the Orthodox Church was also attended by many Greek journalists who recorded and subsequently incorporated into their articles parts of the Archbishop’s welcoming speech to the European Commissioner:

We, being Greeks, were subjected to the [rule of the] Turks for 400 years. And this occupation (katohi) by the Turks was paid for with sacrifices in blood. We had hundreds of victims who were sacrificed for the freedom of this land. Our religion played the primary role in protecting our language, history, religion and identity, for at that time it had no political power. In the mind of the Greeks, everything Islamic is Turkish… Thus there is this hatred which, I would say, we do not cultivate. We are trying to silence it and this is also known to the government. For this reason, [the government] has chosen a place outside the city of Athens [i.e. P], so that [the Muslims] are not right in the middle… we are afraid that such a mosque right in the centre of Athens with a minaret… and a muezzin who will be heard five times a day performing the prayer, will provoke a reaction from the Greek people, the extent of which we cannot know (Tsatsi 2006).
As we can see, the Archbishop adopts a ‘psychoanalytical’ perspective concerning the mosque issue. The Greek population constitutes a homogenous body which reacts in the same way for the same reasons. The complicated mechanics of the public psyche are, for him, easily explained. In this particular case, the opposition to the establishment of a central mosque stems from the memory of a ‘Turkish occupation’ which lasted for ‘400 years’. This lengthy period has apparently caused a severe trauma, a lasting wound inflicted upon the Greek psyche. This is what Halbwachs (1980:52) describes as collective/historical memory: to imagine the memory of an event you have never witnessed. Thus present day Greeks cannot forget the ‘Turkish Rule’ even though they never experienced it.
For the Archbishop this national remembrance also creates a kind of ‘permanent after-effect’. In the case of the Greek collective trauma that he describes, this passes from one generation to the next and unfolds in a two-stage process. First it leads collective cognition to an immediate identification of ‘everything Islamic’ with ‘everything Turkish’. Then it causes a reflex reaction whose exact form and extent cannot be foreseen. In order to avoid the triggering of such a process the Archbishop suggests hiding the mosque from the public eye. Even though he is not against it, as the European Commissioner is quick to point out, he prefers an almost invisible mosque lost in suburbia.
It is for all these reasons that the above quotation from the Archbishop’s speech deserves analysis and attention. Indeed, there are many more thoughts that one could share simply by studying his discourse. Nevertheless, in the context of this chapter it is important to identify the official church’s stance regarding the issue in question. Like the people of P and the Turkish journalists, the European Commissioner seems to believe that the church might represent a serious obstacle to his attempts to support the construction of an official place of worship for the capital’s Muslims. But the Church does not oppose the construction of a mosque in Athens. Its representative, the Archbishop, shares with the European Commissioner his concerns, lectures him on Greek history and collective memory, but does not seem to disagree with the main idea. Quite the contrary, he appears to endorse this governmental initiative. This became very clear, in February 2002, nine months after Christodoulos’s meeting with the Commissioner, when the Church’s Holy Synod voted in favor of the construction of a mosque in Athens. [2]
So it is only reasonable at this point, now that we are studying the Church at the level of perception, to ask why people of diverse social and educational backgrounds appear to think in a similar manner, why they anticipate the same reaction and, most importantly, what exactly is meant by the term ‘Church’? In an attempt to answer the first question I could point to a number of recent works discussing the origins of the Church of Greece, its identification with the nation, its traditional opposition to anything associated with Turkey (even the Ecumenical Patriarchate), the fact that it is not legally separated from the Greek state, the politics of Archbishop Christodoulos — and his gradual emergence as one of the most ‘outspoken guardians of national identity under imminent threat’ (Mavrogordatos 2003:130). The works of several Greek political scientists like Stavrakakis (2003), Prodromou (2004), Chrysoloras (2004), Mavrogordatos (2003) could provide adequate proof to that end and at the same time offer a thorough treatment of contemporary church-state relations.
However, when it comes to answering the second question, we should keep in mind that the research praxis of political science to a large extent excludes ethnography. Thus the church is usually portrayed only as a sum of internal mechanisms and formal institutions (i.e the Holy Synod) operating in the shadow of one man — Archbishop Christodoulos. Naturally political scientists are not interested in the ways in which Orthodox Christianity is lived, experienced, perceived and fantasized not only by clergy but also by laity. When these scholars refer to the ‘church’ they mean ‘the official church’, the ‘Holy Synod’, and/or Archbishop Christodoulos. This is by no means a point of criticism, but rather one of clarification that takes into account a discipline’s limitations and tradition of research. After all it is political science and political philosophy that help us think of the official Church as a political entity which as we shall see provides refuge to diverse points of view.
So now my task is to bring the afore-mentioned perceptions to the level of ethnography, to give ‘a human face’ to fragments of ecclesiastical discourses. One man instantly comes to mind: Kostis. His narratives and actions constitute only one example of the many possible ways in which individuals perceive, experience and transform theological teachings and traditions into concrete actions. In terms of a political metaphor, I would like to think of him as an individual who finds himself in the ideological extreme of a political party but still manages to operate under its roof.
I first became interested in Kostis’s case when one day in 2004 I saw him on television saying that he had built a chapel on the site on which the mosque was supposed to be built. During that televised panel discussion he also noted that this chapel is dedicated to ‘the Savior Jesus Christ’ and that it temporarily fulfills an old promise the Greek nation had made to Mary, usually termed in Greece Panagia, the ‘All Holy One’. Later I discovered that Kostis was referring to the so-called ‘Tama tou Ethnous’ (the Nation’s Vow). [3] The term refers to a church that the revolutionary hero Theodoros Kolokotronis and other Greeks had promised to construct during the years of the epanastasi (uprising against the Ottomans). [4] Almost a hundred and fifty years later, during the time of the military dictatorship (1967–1974), the idea of fulfilling that old promise was endorsed by Despoina Papodopoulou, Colonel Papadopoulos’s wife and the brigadier Stylianos Pattakos who established a committee headed by the then mayor of Piraeus, Aristeidis Skilitsis. [5] Soon several architectural contests were launched, a special fund was created (The Special Fund for the Construction of the Holy Church of the Saviour), and many fund-raising campaigns took place throughout Greece from early 1970 to autumn 1972. [6] Some architects found the idea appealing and submitted plans and models to the organizing committee. In addition, many Greek citizens were asked to make monetary contributions. Yiannis Latsis, a Greek shipping magnate, also contributed a large sum of money for the establishment of the ‘Tama tou Ethnous’ on Tourcovounia (the Turkish mountains), the location in Athens that the regime had designated for its construction.
There is undoubtedly a parallel between the central mosque in Athens and the ‘Tama tou Ethnous’: Both of them were never built. This was exactly the point that caused much distress to Kostis. He was upset with the government’s loss of memory, its disrespect to those fighting for independence, and its preference to build a mosque rather than a church. There is a double strategy employed here by him. On the one hand, the little chapel on the top of the hill creates a ‘helleno-christian’ geography. On the other hand, it constitutes a concrete reminder of a battle that takes place at the level of imagination. In this context, the ‘Tama tou Ethnous’ clearly becomes a counter-fantasy.
Both my father and a good number of friends could not see the rationale behind a meeting with Kostis. They would all agree that he is a rather problematic individual and were quick to predict a social catastrophe in the form of a big fight between him and me. Pou pas kai blekis? (What do you find yourself involved in?) my dad would say. Dimitri prosehe, o theios Kostis ine fanatikos. Paei me to palio (Watch out Dimitri! Uncle Kostis is a fanatic. He follows the Old Calendar). Grigoris, my architect friend, would concur. Despite all these warnings and shared concerns, my first meeting with him was facilitated by the person who worried the most: by coincidence my father — a medical doctor too — ran into Kostis in central Athens and informed him of my intention to discuss my research with him. It was, I felt, the kind of situation that Clifford Geertz (1972:184–85) discusses in his famous essay Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight, i.e., an unforeseen event that affects the dynamics of ethnographic research. In the case of Geertz the unforeseen appears in the form of a police raid. As he and his wife run away from the policemen, they finally manage to enter the seemingly impenetrable cosmos of the Balinese village and be accepted as guests. In my case — although less adventurous — a coincidental meeting set up the framework of research and the appointment was arranged. Thursday evening at his office at nine.

Thoughts from the waiting room (on social geography and decorative plates)

As I enter the surgery’s waiting room, I immediately notice the particularity of its social geography. To put it bluntly, Kostis’ patients look different from those of my father’s. They seem less educated, economically disadvantaged and obviously religious. There are two elderly nuns, one priest and a man also waiting. The man must be working in the fields — I can tell from the stains of mud on his trousers and the white truck parked outside. [7] I must also constitute a spectacle for them, I think. It is very clear to all of us that I have entered a world to which I do not belong. They see difference in my clothes, my glasses, my new cellular phone, the notebook that I carry, the very way that I say to them Kalispera (Good afternoon)! I take a seat among them, thinking that it will take quite some time before I finally meet Kostis.
In the room there are a large couch, four chairs, a small television showing the evening news and a coffee table placed right in the middle. It is fully covered with several days’ worth of newspapers I have never seen before, called Athenaike Protovoulia (Athenian Initiative) and Ellinorthodokso Kinima Sotirias (Helleno-0rthodox Salvation Movement). [8] On the walls I see a collection of decorative plates with local embroidery patterns, a colored picture of an elderly woman baking bread and a framed black and white picture of the church of St. Sophia in Istanbul with the note pali dika mas tha ‘nai (ours once more).
This was certainly not the first time that I had come across a reference to the famous Byzantine church during my fieldwork research. On the contrary, St. Sophia seemed to play a central role in the debate over the establishment of a mosque in Athens. It was a clear case of collective memory. Thus direct references to its current state were easily traceable in television, radio programs, online debates, and articles published in local and national press. [9] The statements of Stelios Papathemelis, a former minister of education and Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki are particularly telling in this regard. Both of them have argued that there should be a quid pro quo from Turkey as well as that the Greek government should allow the operation of a mosque on condition that St. Sophia is restored to its status quo ante and used as a church by the Orthodox (Records of Proceedings, 15 June 2000). In this way, it emerges as a symbol of mosque opposition, imbued with symbolic value. Its power challenges the mosque proponents to approach the mosque issue through the norm of reciprocity. The rationale behind its usage could be crystallized in the following question: If the Turks do not have any respect for Greek symbols, why should the Greeks allow the existence of a Turkish symbol (i.e. mosque) in their capital city? In this case of reciprocity as remedy for the memory of loss, I want to turn to the psychoanalytic perspective of Volkan and Itzkowitz (1994:47) and suggest that such references represent a ‘Greek inability to mourn over the loss of Constantinople’. If mourning is considered a necessary stage for coping with actual or imaginary loss, then its lack clearly signifies a Freudian ‘melancholia’ or what in this context we might term ‘social depression’.
With these kinds of thoughts on my mind, I find myself waiting for almost two and a half hours. No regret, however. This is useful time for observation, I tell to myself. It seems that the waiting room contains only depictions of a faded world Kostis is trying to preserve and also all the fears and wishes he had ever entertained. Perhaps there is a lot to be learnt from this transitional space which might be as telling as my imminent discussions with Kostis. A few minutes later, the door finally opens and Kostis by a way of welcome says: Dimitraki agori mou, ti kanis? (Dimitraki, my boy, how are you?). Oh I’m fine, thank you. Nice meeting you, I reply. I cannot help but notice that right from the beginning, he is very keen on attaching the diminutive suffix –akis to my name. I have now become Dimitrakis mou, ‘my little Dimitris’. Is this my father’s fault?
As I was to find out, Kostis was not a man of few words. During that first meeting he wasn’t very interested in interlocution, but rather in posing himself rhetorical questions and repeating endless monologues which were constantly interrupted by phone calls. The meeting lasted for many hours far into the night and a great many things were said concerning his humble origins, his mother who worked hard in the family’s bakery and instilled in him the traditional values of religion and family, the importance of studying the lives of the neo-martyrs, [10] the activities of an Orthodox association of which he is the president, the plans of the ‘New Order’ and the impact of globalization on Helleno-Christian tradition, the Turks’ evil nature, the ‘Tama tou Ethnous’, the building of a chapel, the ‘miracle’ of carrying and erecting an 8-meter high metal cross on the hill on which the mosque was supposed to be built and the superiority of Greek chromosomes.
Kostis was so passionate in his discussion of the Church that one might almost say that his devotion to the Orthodox faith and his deep love for his mother had somehow become one in his mind. [11] There was also a strong sense of disappointment and betrayal conveyed by his narrative. On a number of occasions I was told that people are no longer interested in the preservation of ‘our’ faith and tradition and that present-day Greeks are in state of ‘functional hibernation’. What about the Church? What about the local bishop? Wasn’t it in 2003 that he had had a rather polemic message regarding the mosque sent out to be read at the end of a Sunday mass in all churches of his diocese, I asked, showing him that I was also knowledgeable about the debate. [12] Then I received a surprising answer: Who do you think wrote it, said Kostis while pointing at himself. I must have met with Agathonikos more that ten times, he said, and started recreating a series of dialogues with the local bishop: Your eminence, this is an important issue. They are planning to build a mosque in your area! You have to do something! I understand your concerns, said the metropolitan, but I met with the Archbishop last week and he said I shouldn’t take any initiatives. Let’s meet some time soon to discuss this again!, replied the bishop. And I kept on going to his office, with books and evidence, Dimitraki mou, warning him of the oncoming danger. I guess at some point he had had enough of me and sent out the document I had drafted for him, Kostis continued. But I wrote it! I wrote it, he said.

The sacrifice of Agathangelos: an illustrated story of Old Calendarism

On the desk in front of me is a magazine that Kostis gave me to study on my first visit to his office. This was the trophy from a meeting that lasted for more than five hours. It is a relatively small magazine measuring about 25 by 15 centimeters, printed, however, on paper of the finest quality. It is named after Agios Agathangelos, the esfigmenitis (Saint Agathangelos of Esphigmenou, a monk from the Esphigmenou Monastery in Mount Athos). [13] According to the Synaxaria of the Eastern Church, Aganthangelos (originally named Athanasios) was a young sailor from Thrace. He was forced to embrace Islam and after a short period of preparation for martyrdom in Mount Athos embarked on a death pilgrimage to Smyrna in order to suffer a martyr’s death at the hands of the Turks. In accordance with his wish, he was beheaded on the 19th of April 1818 at the age of nineteen. [14]
One possible way of understanding this kind of willing self-sacrifice (Cf. Alexiou 1990:110) is simply by identifying it as a case of mimesis of the sacrifice of the early Christian martyrs of the Roman times (hence the term neo-martyrs) as the Kontakion [15] of Agathangelos indicates:

‘Ως τῶν ὅσίων ζηλωτήν καὶ ὁμοδίαιτον καὶ
τῶν Μαρτύρων μιμητὴν και ἰσοστάσιον
Ἀνυμνοῦμεν σε συμφώνως, ‘Οσιομάρτυς.
As (you) being the Saints’ zealot and their fellow and the imitator of the martyrs (emphasis mine) and equally significant amongst them we praise you in unison Saint martyr.

In this sense the neo-martyrs’ mimesis is an act of imitation. Nevertheless, Nagy in his exploration of this concept in his study of the song of the nightingale reminds us of a second and deeper meaning of mimesis. That of re-enactment:

… both re-enactment and imitation are genuine aspects of the older conceptual world of mimesis. If you re-enact an archetypal action in ritual, it only stands to reason that you have to imitate those who re-enacted before you and who served as your immediate models. But the ultimate model is still the archetypal action or figure that you are re-enacting in ritual, which is coextensive with the whole line of imitators who re-enact the way in which their ultimate model acted, each imitating each one’s predecessor (Nagy 1996:56).

Nagy’s insights on mimesis help us understand the sacrifice of Aganthangelos not only as the historical product of a renewed tradition of martyrdom but also as an act of re-enactment that establishes a link of blood to Jesus’ archetypal death on the cross. [16] This is affirmed through a close reading of the saint’s Megalinarion: [17]

Πῦρ τὸ ζωηφόρον ἒνδον λαβών, ὅλως ἀνεφλέχθης, τῇ ἀγάπη τοῦ Ιησοῦ·
ὅθεν καὶ ἀθλήσας, Αὐτοῦ τὸ κάλλος βλέπεις, ὡς πάλαι ἐπεθύμεις, ὦ ᾽Αγαθάγγελε.
Having received inside the life-giving fire, you were utterly inflamed
with the love of Jesus; From which you derived the courage and the strength for martyrdom, and it is His beauty that you gaze upon (emphasis mine), as you long ago wished Agathangele.

There is no doubt that the brutal death of young Agathangelos is one of the many examples modern Greek history (actual or imaginary) has to offer concerning the sacrifice of one’s own life both as an ultimate manifestation of faith and dedication to the causes of the Greek nation. As in the case of almost every neo-martyr, it constitutes a peak moment of convergence between nationalism and religious faith that in turn establishes a link of blood to Jesus’ own sacrifice on the cross. In that sense refraining from keeping the memory of a neo-martyr’s sacrifice alive constitutes a double betrayal.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Rums of Smyrna purchased Agathangelos’ relics right after his martyrdom and buried them in the tomb of the neo-martyr Demos (†1763). Almost twenty-five years later (in 1844), his head, his right arm and feet were returned to the Esfigmenos monastery on Mount Athos, thus following a long tradition of purchasing, donating and circulating human remains for religious purposes.
The magazine’s cover-design consists more or less of a picture of a fresco depicting the martyrdom of several monks in Mount Athos entitled The holy [fathers] of Mount Athos who became martyrs at the time of the Patriarch Vekkos, the Latin-minded (Oi Agioi Agioreitai Ociomartires epi Patriarhou Vekkou tou Latinofronos Martirisantes). [18] The fresco is thematically divided into four quadrants which narrate their own history of violence, sacrifice and state cruelty. Byzantine soldiers are shown decapitating and hanging monks in front of the church of Protato and the Vatopedi monastery (first and fourth quadrant), burning alive those living in the Zografou monastery (second quadrant), and drowning monks in the sea of Chalkidiki (third quadrant). And all of this takes place in the presence of the highest civil and religious authorities, the Byzantine emperor and the Patriarch Ioannes Vekkos (who is standing in front of him). In a way, this depiction of profound suffering and subsequent martyrdom ordered by a Latin – minded patriarch perfectly corresponds both to the subtitle of the magazine Martiria Agonizomenis Orthodoxias Agioreiton Monahon (Witness of Struggling Orthodox Monks of Mt Athos) and its content.
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Figure 2: ‘The holy [fathers] of Mount Athos who became martyrs at the time of the Patriarch Vekkos, the Latin-minded’ [scanned reproduction of the cover of Agios Agathangelos o Esphigmenitis]

Almost all of the articles appearing in Agathangelos portray Archbishop Christodoulos and Patriarch Bartholomew as traitors who like Ioannes Vekkos seek union with the Church of Rome and are ready to accept papal supremacy and the validity of the Latin doctrine on the procession of the Holy Ghost through their involvement with the ecumenical movement (cf. Kitsikis 1995). [19] The Greek state, for its part, also appears to be governed by ‘the victims of Globalization’ and advocates of the ‘New Order’, a new global reality aiming to erase the Helleno-Christian tradition.
It is no surprise that Agathangelos is published by Esfigmenos monastery. This constitutes the spiritual center of the so-called Palaioimerologitai, Old Calendarists, a group of Orthodox Christians which continues to follow the Julian Calendar despite the official Church’s decision to adopt the New Style Gregorian Calendar in the year 1924. As Ware (2002:3) has argued, ‘for this group, the Julian Calendar possesses a profound symbolical experience’ and ‘is seen as the touchstone of loyalty to the Orthodox faith in its true and full integrity’. Nowadays the Palaioimerologitai have their own bishops, parishes and monasteries that are totally independent from the New Calendar State Church. They identify themselves as Gnisioi Orthodoxoi Christianoi, the true Orthodox Christians of Greece. Nevertheless for the Orthodox Church the Palaioimerologitai are not considered schismatics but simply devoted Christians obsessed with the preservation of insignificant traditions (see Ware 2002).
As I leaf through the pages, I come across an article written by Kostis. In it, he refers to his successful efforts to prevent the construction of a mosque in P, his televised skirmishes with Muslim spokesmen and leftists and, most importantly, the authorities’ reluctance to support him. What is the official position of the head of the prefecture? What is the official position of the local bishop? Kostis challenges his readers to ask themselves. He seems to know all too well that with the exception of the ‘true Christians’ everybody else is a traitor. Yet, this does not prevent him from meeting with Church officials and asking for their help.

Second visit with Kostis.

On a later visit to Kostis’s office, when I enquired further about his contact with the official Church, I learnt that in the summer of 2003 he had managed to meet with Archbishop Christodoulos himself. As if in affirmation of this fact, he put before me a 10-page long text dated the 25th of August. This was the speech he had prepared for that meeting. I leafed through the document from beginning to end, only to realize how similar this was to the document we were discussing in our previous meeting. Perhaps Kostis was sincere after all.
From the texts I have so far collected, I can attest to the particularity of his writing style. Kostis’s texts are polemic in nature, aiming at the awakening of the Orthodox Greeks, incorporating security and strategic considerations, popular religious beliefs and didactic references to both the ancient and more recent revolutionary past. It is easy to identify Kostis’ insistence on using specific phrases and arguments against the construction of the mosque. He always seems to suggest that the ‘Islamic complex’ will be too big (35,000 square meters), that it will eventually be transformed into a center of propaganda and that it will soon constitute ‘a New Mecca’. Nevertheless, this kind of material is always supposed to look academic and scientific. It therefore includes citations and references taken from Old Calendarist magazines and nationalist pamphlets that he seems to collect in great numbers. Every text is personally signed by him at the end: Dr. Kostis, Medical Doctor, University of Athens, Ph.D.
Tell me more about the meeting with the Archbishop, I said. I was in charge of the ‘epitropi agona’ (campaign committee) the mayor and I had put together, and in that capacity I was able to arrange a meeting with Christodoulos in Agia Philothei, he started telling me. I had tried really hard to organize that meeting and I had told both the Mayor and the vouleftes (members of parliament) to meet in the coffee shop early in the morning on the day of the meeting. No one had replied to my messages and when I went to the coffee shop I thought that it would only be myself and some other members of our association meeting with the Archbishop. [20] Naturally everybody came, despite their initial reluctance. Who would miss that opportunity, the whole publicity? I saw Paraskevas (the mayor), who was originally very skeptical about that meeting, coming down the street and I shouted at him in excitement: Ela re Nikoli, ela re dimarkhe, pos tha pame khoris esena. (Come Nikoli, come Mayor. How are we going to go without you?). And so we went, Dimitraki mou. Christodoulos kept us waiting for two and a half hours. He really did not want to meet with us. I guess he thought (the Archbishop) that we would get tired and leave, Kostis continued. Eventually he appeared: Eylogeite Makariotate, Eylogeite (Blessings, Your Holiness, Blessings) I said, only to be interrupted by the local New Democracy MP who knew nothing about our efforts. And then Nikolis started talking. Remember, this is the guy I had had to convince to join us. It did not occur to him that he was the mayor, that this is what he was supposed to do.
The Archbishop replied — you know, talking and saying nothing at the same time — along these lines: Mother Church understands your concerns and will stand by you in your attempts to empower Orthodoxy and disseminate the message of our Lord, Jesus Christ and so on. I got so upset at one point that I interrupted him, said Kostis. Your Holiness, I have prepared a text to read and with your permission I would like to do so. And then Dimitraki mou, I read for thirty minutes and all of them were standing. Ohi tha tous afina (would I let them go that easily?). Whenever I think of this meeting, I get so angry that my blood pressure goes up. But you know what? It was for the best. Because the next day I was able to say that everybody supports our activities, the mayor, the MPs, the people of P but the truth is, Dimitraki mou, no one really cares.
Interestingly enough, the strategy employed by Kostis was extremely effective. By being able to mobilize reluctant local authorities, he was able to fill a representational void, to fight a battle that few people wanted to engage in, to become the living metonymy of the ‘rebellious’ locals of P in TV panels and documentaries. Even the Archbishop himself believed that the people of P and the surrounding villages were ready to actively oppose the establishment of a mosque in their area, and some days after his meeting with Kostis and the ‘campaign committee’, he sent a letter of complaint to the minister of foreign affairs. This was published in Ekklisia, the Church’s official magazine, and describes the church’s ambivalent position: In principle, it supports the construction of a mosque in Athens; however, it also takes into consideration local reactions. When I showed that article to Kostis, he was not surprised. As he explained to me, he was well aware of the fact that the Church engages in doubletalk. This practice, however, was explained on a basis I had not anticipated: What did you expect, he told me, they are all faggots!
As I now understand what he was witnessing in all of his meetings was a concise effort on the part of the Church to protect its interests. In particular, what caused him much distress was the realization that the Church is also a political institution, that Church officials were interested in reducing the possible ‘political cost’ of their actions, and were thus engaged in a series of delicate negotiations with different individuals and institutions. In that context he was right in pointing out that the Church of Greece is also economically connected to the state, since it receives revenue from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the institution that is in charge of constructing the Mosque in Athens. [21] For Kostis there are also financial considerations that might condition the official Church’s discourse and interestingly enough this profound dissatisfaction is expressed in the form of sexually charged terminology.

Sacrifice and the institutional production of ambivalence

In this chapter, I have tried to examine the politics of the official Church regarding the mosque debate through my encounters with Kostis in order to show that its position was less rigid than popularly believed. It is in this context of institutional ambivalence that his narratives fit and reveal a different kind of church than the one usually described by political scientists and historians: A lay church that disagrees, criticizes but at the same time interacts and utilizes official Church authorities, while also being instrumentalized by them.
There is no doubt that for Kostis the imaginary mosque in P is an uneasy site of fantasy to which he clearly resists. In order to do so in an effective manner, he first attempts to identify the Church’s position regarding the issue at question and to convince his interlocutors that he is actually representing local anti-islamic sentiments. During this endeavour both he and I become increasingly confused as to how the Church will respond to the following question: Do you support the building of a mosque? We expect a ‘yes or no’ type of answer, a binary opposition. Nevertheless, we ask the wrong question. For the Church on many occasions says yes and no at the same time. The answer seems to depend on the interlocutor: If it is the European Commissioner for Human rights, then it is a yes. If it is Kostis asking, it might be a no. We have seen for instance Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki expressing his dissatisfaction with the government’s decision and asking for a quid pro quo from Turkey, even though he is well aware of the Church’s decision to allow the construction of a mosque in 2002. Archbishop Christodoulos on the other hand agrees to the establishment of a Muslim place of worship on the condition that there will be no reactions. Nevertheless, this is what Žižek (1989) would describe as ‘real — impossible’ in the sense that there will always be some source of opposition.
It is thus obvious that there is something at stake that prevents Church officials from conveying a clear and unqualified message. Without a doubt the very nature of the mosque controversy created space for diplomatic maneuvers. In other words, the state’s decision to construct an official place of worship for the capital’s Muslims did not touch upon the creed of eastern Orthodoxy, and in that sense, the official Church’s discourse did not have to express an absolute and nonnegotiable certainty. But this is exactly what enrages Kostis: the realization that the Church is also a political entity with a long-established diplomatic mechanism which, as he would sometimes say, worries about the possible political cost of its decisions. History, however, has also taught Kostis that sometimes it is the leaders of the Church who harm it the most, like in the case of Ioannes Vekkos.
At these moments it is the duty of the “true Christians” to safeguard the faith and if necessary fight a war from within. So what would then be the ideal way for the Church to deal with this troubling issue according to Kostis? I have now come to realize that the story of Agathangelos and the cover of the Old Callendarists’ magazine are far more important than what I had originally believed. Following the pattern of sacrifice that the neo-martyrs’ stories offer, Kostis would like the Church to sacrifice its political and economic interests stemming from its relationship with the Greek state and the European Union. As in the case of Agathangelos whose death signifies in the collective memory and imagination of the Old-Callendarists ultimate dedication to Orthodox Christianity and to the causes of the Greek nation state, he seems to assume the necessity of a symbolic sacrifice as a prerequisite for safeguarding Orthodoxy and Greece.
Kostis’ adherence to a particular theology of sacrifice with clear political implications is also reinforced by long established motherhood attributes of the Orthodox Church, which are encapsulated in the popular term “mother Church” used by Archbishop Christodoulos in response to the campaign committee’s considerations regarding the mosque. In the beginning of my ethnographic narrations I alluded to Kostis’ respect for his mother who instilled in him the traditional values of family and religion and referred to the work of Hirschon who has described in her ethnography of Asia Minor refugees in the Kokkinia district of Piraeus the role of women as that of a “domestic priestess”, an intercessor of the sacred at the household level. This ethnographic observation I would now like to connect to Alexiou’s work on sacrifice where it is mentioned that “the noun θυσία, together with the verb θυσιάζω/θυσιάζομαι, has the positive connotation of giving up one’s interests or oneself for another, especially in the context of what a mother will do for a child” (Alexiou 1990:117). This combination of anthropology and philological knowledge allows us to approach the centrality of the concept of sacrifice in this individual’s cosmology through a different angle and in this way to witness an infiltration of the religious into domains usually considered secular.
In this regard the case of Kostis offers us a possible link to the work of other anthropologists who have managed to show how the Cartesian dichotomy between theory and practice, in our case religious beliefs and political activism is a troubling one. The works of Stewart (1989, 1991) and Hirschon (1998) for example “have persuasively argued against the conceptual separation of church doctrine from folk practice in Greece” and also revealed “the persistence of Orthodox concepts in the organization of social space—even amongst supposedly atheist urbanites” (Herzfeld 2008:153–154). This kind of research wonderfully reminds us how one could be shaped by Orthodox traditions without fully realizing it. In a similar, yet unexpected manner, this ethnography suggests that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross constitutes not only an archetypal example for armies of martyrs but also impacts the very way Kostis formulates political stances on a seemingly unrelated issue.

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[ back ] 1. See for instance Eleutherotypia 2005.
[ back ] 2. See Kalokerinos 2002.
[ back ] 3. For an interesting parallel case of a national ex-voto, that of the basilica of Sacre-Coeur, see the work of Raymond Jonas 1993.
[ back ] 4. Theodoros Kolokotronis was the principal Greek commander in the uprising against the Ottomans. In the contemporary popular imagination, he undoubtedly constitutes the par excellence symbol of pre-national resistance to the Turks.
[ back ] 5. On 21st April, 1967, a group of relatively junior officers mounted an efficiently executed coup, the purpose of which was to ‘forestall an imminent communist seizure of power’. This was engineered by two colonels, Georgios Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos, and a brigadier, Stylianos Pattakos. For more information see Clogg 1992: 162–163.
[ back ] 6. For more information see Raftopoulos 1989:98–99.
[ back ] 7. These first impressions affirm Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina’s descriptions of old calendarists belonging to the poorer and less-educated strata of society. See Ware 2002.
[ back ] 8. It is obvious from its content, that Athinaiki Protovoulia supports George Karajaferis, a politician of the extreme right who has established his own political party (LAOS).
[ back ] 9. See Interview with Metropolitan Anthimos by Nikos Papahristou, ΣΚΑÏ Radio Station, 1 August 2004. Available online from: (accessed on 13 June 2005). For an online discussion see (accessed on 13 June 2005), for an article appearing in local press see (Attiki Gi, December 2004). For an article appearing in national press see (Eleutherotypia, 26 July 2004).
[ back ] 10. ‘ “Neo-Martyrs” were those who chose to die, often in horrible circumstances, rather than compromise their Orthodox Christian Faith. Most commonly they had reverted to Christianity after embracing Islam and thus were regarded by the Turks as renegades.’ See Clogg 1992:57.
[ back ] 11. It is important to refer at this point to the work of Hirschon 1998:220 who highlighted the sacred dimension of female domestic activity in the following way: In many rituals in the home, church, and cemetery, women play the central role. The house itself is accorded attention—the iconostasi is kept stocked with holy substances, the kandili is lit for festivals and Sundays, the courtyard and interior is scented with incense. In these observances the woman can be seen as a ‘domestic priestess’, the house manifesting its sacred dimension. In other activities, especially pilgrimage, the woman’s role parallels that of the Most Holy One, the Panagia, who is seen as intercessor, as Mother of God and of all the world (1998:220). The term ‘domestic priestess’ used by this scholar corresponds beautifully to Kostis’ accounts of his mother and her role in “instilling in him the traditional values of religion and family.”
[ back ] 12. This document was sent by Bishop Agathonikos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki on the 27th of November, 2003 to all churches of his diocese with the note that it should be read on Sunday, 30th of November 2003.
[ back ] 13. Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in northern Greece. It is home to twenty Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a semi-autonomous monastic republic within Greece.
[ back ] 14. Synaxarion (pl. synaxaria) is the name given in the Orthodox Church to an abridged listing of feast days and compilation of hagiographies, ‘lives of the saints’. A Synaxarion roughly corresponds to the martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church and its content is arranged according to the ecclesiastical calendar. For more information on the life and martyrdom of St Agathangelos see Doukakis 1962:128–133; Mattheos 1968:367–395.
[ back ] 15. The hymn appointed to be sung after the sixth ode of the canons; it is generally followed immediately by its oikos. Both the kontakion and the oikos are derived from the early kontakion, which was a long poem, intended to be sung in church. It consisted of a short preliminary stanza, followed by some 18–24 strophes, each known as an oikos.
[ back ] 16. Since Nagy talks about re-enactment in ritual, one has to answer an obvious question: Does martyrdom constitute a ritual? In this context I would like to positively answer this question by referring to many cases of baptismus sanguinis (baptism of blood) of early martyrs, considered by the undivided church not simply a ritual but a sacrament.
[ back ] 17. Megalinarion is again a short hymn sung in the church in honour of the saint of the day.
[ back ] 18. Ioannes Vekkos, John Beccus to the Catholics, was Patriarch of Constantinople in the second half of the thirteenth century, one of the few Greek ecclesiastics who were sincerely in favour of reunion with the Church of Rome. It is for this reason that the Orthodox Church describes him as Latinofron, Latin-minded. For more information see Schaefer 1907.
[ back ] 19. The issues of Papal supremacy and the procession of the Holy Ghost are considered by Orthodox theologians to be the main theological reasons behind the schism between the two churches. See Matsoukas 1999:151.
[ back ] 20. The document that Kostis gave me was dated 25/08/03. This is when the meeting with the Archbishop took place.
[ back ] 21. More specifically Kostis was referring to the activities of “Allilegii” (Solidarity), a Humanitarian Aid Organization established by the Church of Greece which receives significant financial support from the Greek Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Over the last few years many articles have been published in the Greek press highlighting this financial interconnection between the Church and the State. See for instance Petropoulos, M. & Lontopoulos, N. 2006.