By Constantine Kotsiopoulos- Dr. of Theology.
Intervention at the Conference of the Society of Orthodox Studies.
New Idolatry - New Paganism
We are well aware that there are two directions in the Neo-paganistic circles. One is acutely antichristian and believes that Hellenism and Christianity are incompatible. The second, is more prudent and conciliatory, although accepting the harsh criticism of the former, against "Judeo-Christianity". It believes however in a continuous "Helleno-Christianity", in the co-existence of the ancient and Christian world, of course with the understanding that Christianity has not added many original ideas, but the greater part has been taken from or are modified ancient ideas.
On this point therefore, our criticism (of us Orthodox Christians) should be stated. We certainly know from history that George Plithon Gemistos, wished to revive the ancient Greek world, without this impeding him from providing support to St. Mark Evgenikos at Ferrara-Florence. He was in other words anti-unionist because he believed in the so called philosophical and historical continuity of antiquity and Orthodox Christianity. Of course even in this case we have an indirect and covered up undervaluing of Christianity, while he appears as a reflection of the ancient Greek world. In this stand of the Neo-paganists there is even the appearance (phenomenally friendly to Christianity) that it was not the Christian Greeks that destroyed the places of idol worship, but the Jewish Christians, thus introducing discrimination and racism in the hyper friendly Orthodoxy.
I believe that these views are more dangerous and for this it must be proved that "chaos" separates Christianity from the ancient Greek idolatric world. In Christianity there is no philosophical copying, only different comprehension of the ancient Greek philosophical terminology.
As proof I mention certain basic differences
1. In antiquity, destiny is above gods and people, while in Christianity there is no sense of fatalism, but only the Almighty free, personal God.
2. In ancient Greece, a god (as concerns the philosophers) was part of the eternal world (cosmic fire of the Stoics). God was simply a form giver and not creator of the world, since He formed the world from pre-existing matter. In Christianity the spiritual essence of God differs from the essence of worldly matter, and there is absolute distinction of the created and uncreated reality. God creates from nothing in the created reality without existing matter. "From the non-existing, you created us". As polytheism, so is monotheism of antiquity related to material worship (physiolatry) and pan-theism, something that does not exist in Christianity for we have no derivation of the world from the essence of God.
3. Only in Christianity we differentiate between essence of God. This way the danger of agnosticism as well as pan-theism is avoided because the inaccessible essence of God becomes available and accessible through His energies.
4. In antiquity we have a cyclic conception of the world where as in Christianity it is infinite and direct. In this way the vicious circle of pessimism in antiquity that is responsible for the idea of platonic re-incarnation, becomes a straight ascending, improving and optimistic march, since the end of the worldly time an "eighth day" follows, as a trans-historic and eschatological reality. In Christianity, history does not submit to the cyclically repeating rhythms of nature and fate, but has original and new experience states. This way the historic occurrences have a unique and non repetitive character.
5. In antiquity, evil acquires existence of entity, especially in the bipolar Manichaism. In Christianity it is considered as lack of good and has no entity.
6. In antiquity the body is devalued or overvalued. Plato considered it as a Sign (tomb) of the soul. In Christianity, the body as a creation of God is "very good" and man is considered a single psychosomatic being. The ancient Greeks accepted only the immortality of the soul, while Apostle Paul described the resurrection of the body.
7. In the social teaching we have the devaluation of women, the justification of the burden of slavery (Aristotel) and the man-centered consideration of things. Christianity proclaims the parity (but not equality) between man and woman, and the abolition of slavery (for there is no male and female nor slave or free).
8. In antiquity the faithful do not enter the sacred places, but only the surrounding places because they had the feeling of fear and apostasy of God. In Christianity the incarnation of Christ brings man close to God and man acquires the comfort and familiarity to enter the house of God.
9. At certain Orthodox churches icons of ancient Greek philosophers are place on the narthex (such as Socrates and Plato) but not in the main temple. It is recognized therefore their offer for the partial transcendence of polytheism and idolatry, as well as the significant philosophical concepts (sowing of the word), but its distance from Christianity remains significant.
10. According to Justin, philosopher and martyr Socrates, searches for one true God (a fact upon which he was condemned), but confesses the difficulty of the venture. Christ however comes with His authority to give flesh and bones to the quest for justice and victory over death.
The case of the singularity of existence of Heracletus, that unites opposites, creates a danger that could lead to an ethical, conceptual relativism and annihilism. The union of opposites is a matter dear to the philosophies of the Eastern religions. In both occasions, good and evil are brought together, they are related and are mixed. The result is that we have no concept of good and evil, neither will nor struggle to overcome and confront unjust, evil and grievous situations in people's public life . Exactly for this reason the stoic apathy has many resemblances and relations with the Buddhist apathy which leads to insensitivity and indifference. Here then there is a lack of sense of philanthropy, cooperation towards deficient and suffering fellow men. The Christian "I suffer with and mourn with" is unacceptable to Buddhism and stoicism.
This way it becomes clearly understood the frequent references of different Gurus to the ancient Greek philosophy (even though many philosophers, as example, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, separate the good from bad, virtue from vice and often refer to innocence), like that of Guru Razni, who declares that "the Greeks must condemn Byzantium and turn to ancient Greece.
Concerning what was said in the previous introduction for the canons of Carthagen (419ad) it is necessary to note the following: According to P. Boume, the provisions of Carthagen are rather demands instead of canons. Because the demand from the kings to eliminate "the relinquishing of the idols in all Africa". It appears they are the only canons that demand such and instead are an exception, considering all the other canons of the Synods avoid asking forceful action from the State to impose Christianity. Besides St John Chrysostom remarks that it is not right to destroy deception by coercion and force but "to work for the salvation of man with faith and the word"
From the magazine Theodromia
Practicals of the Scientific Conference at Thessaloniki, 25-27 May 2003