Church of Greece’s efforts

On Saturday I talked to a local Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Veronis, who gave me a list of websites to explore further the role the Orthodox Church in Greece assumes in the lives of persons with disabilities. I found that there were websites which were partially translated into English, with the parts relating to such ministry untranslated. I’ve found a report which explains the Church of Greece’ reluctance to publish the Church’s good works. [As Jesus said, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret may reward you.” (St. Matthew 6:3-4)]

Its just that we Orthodox in America have much to learn from the Orthodox in places like Greece and Russia as to how to live a 7-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day Orthodox Christian life in all aspects of our lives, including how we are to incorporate persons with disabilities into the life of the Church, serving them and receiving their service.

As to the websites shared previously, the degree to which Orthodox Christian involvement is implied rather than stated as well as the degree that secular values have intruded  will have to be discerned carefully.

Here is a Greek report, which, though not from the Church itself, is very illuminating. It is entitled on “Welfare, Church, and Gender in Greece,” by Effie Fokas & Lina Molokotos Liederman: In the Bibliography there are some references to reports from the Church that are available in the Greek language. (See especially “Ekklesia tis Ellados [Church of Greece] 2001 Martyria tis Agapis. To Filantrhopiko kai Koinoniko Ergo tis Ekklesias tis Ellados [Witness of Love. The Philanthropic and Social Work of the Church ofGreece]. Athens: Dept. of Publications of the Church of Greece.)

Here are some excerpts from this non-Church 51 page report:

“Beyond state benefits and the informal but important care provided by the family, social needs that are not fully satisfied by the family or the state are usually filled by private or voluntary sectors (international organisations with Greek branches, such as the Red Cross, SOS Children’s Villages, etc.) and the Church. Therefore, the Greek case is a good example of the Southern European welfare model, with a classic underdeveloped state welfare sector coupled with the important role played by the family and women in providing essential social care. In this bi-polar model, the Orthodox Church is a third source, offering a wide array of social services, including the provision of support services for women and the family (see part II). The Greek example is schematically described as a triangular welfare model (state-family/women-church), in which the family and women seem to act both as providers and receivers of social care.” p. 298

“Finally, there are a variety of state financed programmes for persons with disabilities (such as disability benefits and boarding houses for semi-independent living and full-time living for disabled persons, as well as, activity centres and summer camps for persons with disabilities) and other vulnerable groups (refugees and asylum seekers and Greek Roma communities) in collaboration with NGOs.85.” (P. 301)

“Before highlighting the Greek Church’s actual social work, it is important to note a tendency for it to not publicly promote its welfare work, primarily because it takes place at the level of local interaction between the parish priest and individuals. Furthermore, the Church considers publicising its social work to be contrary to the principles of philanthropy and the Orthodox ethos.190 Therefore, the Church’s organisations and monasteries involved in social activities also tend usually to act locally and informally and, thus, to avoid any type of public visibility of their social work, seemingly being more interested in offering social services rather than receiving public recognition for their work; in this way, they also tend to have an inward focus and operate in a closed network with minimal cooperation with other non-religious organisations involved in similar activities.” P. 318

“The Church’s social services are put into action by local parish priests and other religious and non-religious staff (paid and unpaid laymen and laywomen), working for the Church in various capacities. Moreover, the Church benefits from a large network of volunteers it has created; according to 2001 statistics, the Church has an active network of approximately 23,000 people who are utilised and mobilised on a regular basis, offering their services to the great variety of social services provided by the Church … including … “Christian Solidarity”: charitable funds established by the Archdiocese of Athens and other metropolises; they provide locally, at the parish level, material and other types of support to a variety of individuals (elderly, single mothers, people with special needs, etc), suffering from poverty and financial and social exclusion, such as shelter and food (“soup kitchens”/sisitia), scholarships, child and elderly care, blood donations, etc. In 2003, there were 1,839 such funds. … People with special needs: assistance to individuals with special needs (for example, the blind) including medical care, financial assistance, psychological counselling, institutional care, training and professional occupation and leisure, as part of a wider effort to improve their insertion and integration into Greek society. Some local metropolises, which are active in this area, employ a large number of individuals with special needs (such as in the painting of icons, in gardening, in cooking and kitchens, etc). (pp. 319-322)

Of special interest in this report are the sections “Orthodox Theology and Social Service” (pp. 309-312, 22-25 pdf version) and “Welfare Provision by the Church of Greece” (pp. 315-323, 28-36 pdf version)


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