ATHENS — In October 2013, Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi,” was set to premiere in Athens. Both the conservative Greek Orthodox Church and the far-right Golden Dawn united in their opposition of the production, which depicted Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern day Texas.
Church leaders called the play blasphemous while Golden Dawn condemned it as a threat to Greek family values. McNally and the show’s actors remained trapped behind a gate to the playhouse, fearing for their lives as Golden Dawn supporters and radical Christians violently attacked journalists and leftist counter-protesters outside. McNally said Dawners, as they are known, called his mother to tell her they planned to send him home in a body bag.
The “Corpus Christi” riots are perhaps the starkest example of the Golden Dawn agenda converging with that of the conservative Orthodox Church – in that instance, united against the perceived spread of homosexuality.
Bishop Seraphim, of Piraeus, along with four of Golden Dawn’s MPs, filed a joint complaint to halt the play’s premiere. They lost in court but won in the streets by stopping “Corpus Christi” from ever debuting in Athens, because conditions at the playhouse proved too dangerous for actors.
In a public statement, issued after the riots, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta condemned some of Golden Dawn’s violent actions. But in the very same statement praised the party, as protectors of Greece’s nationalist identity, calling it a “sweet hope” for Greece’s suffering citizens. In a separate remark, Bishop Andreas, of Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa, referred to Golden Dawn as the “lads in black shirts, the good fighting lads.”
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which operates within a strict top-down hierarchy, each of Greece’s regional Orthodox churches are self-governing, which means they lack a unified message.
Some Church members reject Golden Dawn’s agenda as incompatible with Christianity.
“If someone comes to me with a Golden Dawn T-shirt to partake in Holy Communion, I will not give communion to him,” said Metropolitan Pavlos, of Siatista, in the documentary film “Golden Dawn: A Personal Affair.” The group’s teachings are “incompatible with Orthodox faith,” he continued. “One cannot be glad for a murder of someone because he is foreign and go to Communion.”
University of Athens sociologist Alexandros Sakellariou is surprised the Church doesn’t reject Golden Dawn for its pagan roots after he discovered a preference for ancient Greek Gods in Golden Dawn’s early campaign pamphlets. The Orthodox Church stands firmly against polytheism and has spoken out against those who practice it.
But many church clerics refuse to take a stand for or against Golden Dawn.
“The Church on the whole is not ultra-right, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic,” said Sakellariou, who wrote a chapter on Golden Dawn’s connection to the Church in a book on xenophobia and racism in the Greek State apparatus. But he finds it problematic that the church as an institution has failed to take a firm stance against Golden Dawn’s extremism.
Meanwhile, just this past March, Bishop Anthimos of Thessalonikini met with Golden Dawn’s leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, agreeing to jointly fight against the ‘Islamization’ of Greece allegedly brought on by immigration.
Though only 7 percent of Greeks actually voted for Golden Dawn in the 2015 election, the conservatism of the Church, which is a fundamental force in Greek identity, may help keep Golden Dawn’s violent nationalism alive.
This article is part of a GroundTruth Special Report called “Greece’s Crisis of Faith,” produced in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.