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Father Andrew's church
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-03-20 08:38:49
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priest01I’m not a religious person, on the contrary – and I have mention it often before – I’m an atheist but with great respect to the believes of the others. I grew up in a country where religion is a big issue, from birth we are all orthodox Christians baptised when we are still infants and I grew up in an time era when schooldays were six instead of five and Saturday meant church – you had to go - before the lessons and Sunday school was a must.

I grew up in a family that had a very strong personality grandmother – typical Greek all the way – with strong religious believes that included our family priest; father Andrew who I often had the sense that he was member of the family since he was there in all the important events. A unique figure that I still remember fondly wit his long white beard and his orthodox cleric long black dress and I have a lot of anecdotes about the man.

He was always there when a big dinner was served – that was before the time priests started going around with huge Mercedes Benz – and he never said no to another glass of the house red wine. He used to put everything in the same plate, starter, main course and desert saying that they all go to the same stomach anyway. And he was a very patient man. He had to deal with me and my cousins in our revolutionary pubertal era and that back in 60s when dissenter was a must.

The man was poor and he was not the exception, he was the rule. The very little he was getting from the state despite the fact that he had a family that included two kids was going to the poor. The man was going from door to door literally begging for help for his orphans, for the poor of his parish and whenever you would visit him in his house there were a number of people eating, sleeping or just been there. People he settler, fed and gave love.

He was a simple man, not complicate, not an intellectual; perhaps that was his way to communicate and he was one of the first people to accept my atheism without trying to pressure me despite his connections with my family. On the contrary in some …disagreements I had with my grandmother he took my side excusing my acts. And he did talk with me, not as a priest but as a family friend or better as an elder friend who had strong opinions and we were both aware of them. And he was political, he could understand the pains of the poor and he could sense the wants of the youth. He was getting angry with the government and the corrupted politicians and he was upset with a public that was suffering under a dictatorship and he did so without hiding, loud aware that he was risking evens his freedom.

He was the first to explained to me what agnostic means and he was surprisingly the first to identify my ideas, not the ones I quoted but the ones I actually had in mind as part of a “gifted atheist” as he used to say. I saw him for last time sometime in late 70s and then again even though living abroad I returned to Greece just to be in his funeral and say a last goodbye believing that in that way I was honouring the man who honoured me with his friendship for so long.

priest02_400Remember that the man, the priest I’m talking about was a very simple Greek priest, like the ones you too often see in touristic photographic albums from Greece or you might have seen on one of the Greek islands you visited. A man, I’m not sure if he had finished the secondary school who spoke mainly with his heart and his actions. I remember one day in his very simplistic way he told me that he accepts my atheism but I should never become what I blame, before saying that I’m an atheist I should understand Christianity – for him Christianity was the main issue – and it was a beginning for me to read and try to understand not only Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism but it was a beginning to try to read and understand every philosophy and I confess despite all these years of studding I’m still in the very beginning of reading, understanding is another case.

Perhaps father Andrew put a very romantic idea about the clerics in my mind but I like to believe that that’s how they are or better that’s how they should be. I used this personal story – and I think I said more than I was planning – to explain what the figure of a priest represent in the hearts and the minds of the people doesn’t matter if you believe or not. And these people when they sensed or felt their calling they knew very well what they were doing and what they were up to. Nobody forced them and I’m sure none of them decided to become a priest for the career. As I understand it this man put himself in the service of the people ignoring his dreams, wishes and wants and this is very honourable.

And then browsing the news the last couple of month all too often I read about scandals in the church. Scandals in Rome and Ireland, scandals in Germany and USA; financial scandals, sex scandals, crime scandals. And I’m speechless and angry. Angry because every time I read something like that I feel that they dishonour the memory of a man who was what a church man should be doesn’t matter the faith. And I’m getting angry because in the conscious of the people is not his bowed figure that will stay but the arrogant figure of a priest in a court room that tries to hide his face!

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Emanuel Paparella2010-03-20 12:01:53
As I wrote elsewhere under the article by Jack Wellman on the proof of Christ’s resurrection, nobody will ever be persuaded to believe in God by Aquinas’s five proofs of the existence of God; those proofs will at best produce the god of the philosophers (Plato, Spinoza, Descartes, just to mention a few) which some misguidedly end up narcisistically worshipping, unaware that such a god (the product of one’s mind) is not the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac with whom one has a personal relationship, but a mere idol, the product of one’s mind. In effect they have become idolaters. Then one understands Nietzsche’s assertion that “god is dead.” That kind of god is in fact better dead than alive. It was in fact a Greek Orthodox bishop, whose name escapes me, who said that when you pray to the living God, it is like entering a dark cave knowing that a tiger dwells there,…and Kierkegaard who had much to say of the abuses of religion mentions “the leap of faith” transcending reason and rationalizations…

On the other hand, there is a better chance that one comes to the intuition, that there is a God and he is benevolent, by witnessing the example of some of the thousands of Christians through out the ages, which we call saints. Not all of them are on the altars; in fact most, like father Andrew are the living saints that one does not easily forget and remind us that the unedifying bad example of bad priests is an abuse of religion, but as Aquinas taught us “the abuse does not take away the use.” Any rational person of good will can assent to that proposition, even be atheists and the agnostics among us, I dare say.

In that wonderful novel by Ignazio Silone Pane e Vino (Bread and Wine), a priest arrives at the village but he is not a real priest, he is merely trying to escape the Fascists. At first he has guilty feeling about deceiving the good people of the village. After a while, as he performs his priestly duties he becomes aware that all Christians are called to share in the priesthood of Christ by service to their fellow men and alleviating human suffering and injustice. After a while the guilty feelings go away and he has an epiphany in what it means to be a Christian.

Eva2010-03-20 19:30:51
Paparella; "that kind of god is in fact better dead than alive". So how many Gods are there, according to you? And is there a "right" one?
I'm asking you because I know that religion is a topic close to your heart. I normally don't 'dare' to get into these discussions, because I certainly don't have any documented facts to back up any of my words.
The closest I could 'brand' myself to any belief, is I guess agnostic - which in my mind means believing there is 'something' there, some kind of higher power or whatever you want to call it, but without being able to define what that something is.
What I do know is that I'm sooooo utterly fed up with people claiming to do things "in the name of God" - whatever religion, I don't care. It somehow seems to me that you can do anything bad you can think of, and then claim it's all done in the name of God, and everything will be forgotten?
You can rape, kill, start wars, betray those closest to you - but if you're doing it for "God", then well fine.
I'm not only talking about holy wars here, I'm thinking of day-to-day basis things - about being a good person - which for me would be the very basic thing for a religious person.
Actually, that's how I try to live - and I can't be defined on paper to belong to any church or religion. I try to be 'good'? Try to treat people around me as I would like to be treated, and all that? Simple, really. Respect others?
I think a lot of people in the world today calling themselves 'believers' is all bullshit - please pardon the language.
In my mind, the "masses" never even reflected for a second on what or who God is - they just follow the rest of the masses.
Which is fine, I guess, if that makes them feel good. Fair enough, not all can have the calling of a priest.
But. I get sooo upset with "religious" people rectifying their actions in the name of God. Whatever the religion.
OK, so Paparella, sorry I don't mean to put you personally on the spot here, not at all - like I said it's merely because I know you know a lot about these things.

I guess my little outburst here today has a lot to do with the Pope's "apoplogy" today, to the rape victims of Irish Catholic priests in Ireland. Which for some reason really pissed me off.

To me, that it just too little, too late.

And he's the head of the church???

How many years has it taken him to publicly say "I'M SORRY"?

Again, I don't want to pinpoint any church or belief here, but this happened to be the perfect example of my ouotrage against any church today.

Like Thanos in this article, I have great respect for the beliefs of others, but I'd personally like to see and hear of more people like Father Andrew.

And I'd like the church - any church - to show some more humility towards their own beliefs. Before they go out and condemn others.

Where is the simple GOODNESS of people today?

Emanuel Paparella2010-03-21 01:36:23
Hi Eva, points passionately argued and well taken. As soon as one asks what kind of god do you believe in? one is attempting to reduce Her to a rational category of the mind, an idol of sort, a product of one's reason. In that sense god is dead and better stay dead. The Greek archbishop I mentioned seem to me more on track when he points out that God is not an aspirin or a crutch and the Church is not a failed support system either; that the metaphor of the tiger in the cave that one enters in trepidation intimates how wild and transcendent and uncategorizable God's nature is. To have a personal relationship with her/him takes what Kierkegaard calls "the leap of faith" beyond mere rationality. Philosophy cannot supply it, not even that of Aquinas. The Dai La Lama never mentions God exactly because to name Her is to make her an idol, but he does believe that one does not justify her/his his existence on whether priests behave well or not, on whether or not one discerns good in the world, but begins with oneself by looking within oneself. On the other hand you have Ssntayana the agnostic philosophy who believes in a cultural religion and a mythological god who once quipped: "there is no god and Mary is his mother." Which is to say, if there were no God we'd have to invent one. That too sounds to me like the god of the crutch or the aspirin for one's troubles. Marx dispatched that kind of god expeditiously and he was right to do so. Meanwhile the tiger burning bright awaits in the dark cave...

Emanuel Paparella2010-03-21 02:35:29

Eva, the link above leads to an aricle on the subject of the nature of God that may be of interest to you.

Eva2010-03-21 20:08:14
Thanks Paparella, that was food for thought.

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