Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Events and Society - Philosophy


Confronting our country's crisis spiritually
by Mr. B. Kostakiotes



Dear brethren,

I was asked to speak of the spiritual confrontation of the crisis that our country is undergoing.  However, before getting to that point, we must first diagnose what crisis we are referring to.  In my endeavour all these years to communicate with other people, I have perceived that the communication problem observed between couples, between friends, between colleagues, begins with people saying the same words but implying different things. Thus, if we don't provide definitions, it will be difficult to finally reach the conclusion as to whether we agree or not.

First observation:

During the previous two years, the Western world (and the Greeks only recently) discovered that there is a huge crisis in the economy. The prevailing sentiment is our agony - myself to begin with - as to "how we are going to tackle the situation".  Oh, really? You don't say!

So, where were we, during all those years of our own prosperity, when literally millions of people in the world were dying each year of hunger and thirst?  Where were we?  Quite simply, the matter didn't concern us, because it didn't concern our own homes.  We were merely reminded of the problem every year - around Christmas time, with all the dedications on television and the routine campaign supposedly by UNICEF.  No-one talked about crisis then, because Greece was among the 25 wealthiest countries in the world; but there - in those "third-world countries" (what a label!), it was a matter of death, and not whether there will be fewer mobile phones or cars... Honestly, have you ever asked yourselves what would be said by the subject of a country where he has no water to drink and food to eat, if he were to visit Greece - even today - and if we were to take him into our home and show him our belongings, and then complained that we are going through a severe economic crisis?  He would most certainly say that we have totally lost our mind.

Therefore, I have a feeling that if there is something that is being revealed to us with the present state of affairs, it is the deep spiritual poverty of both our society and each and every one of us personally.  For as long as we - and our family - are faring well, then there is no problem. The others are of no concern to us.  All that matters is our self.  Individualism in all its glory... the primary characteristic of our civilization...and therefore a spiritual crisis primarily.

But even this so-called "economic crisis" - what exactly is it?

It is the offspring of individualism, given that the cultural and the economic system are both absolutely individualistic: a basic cultural - economic formation.  Each one individually must strive to obtain "provisions", so that he might become "worthy", find a job that pays well, so that he can become an owner: of land, of cars, of mobile phones, of properties... whatever - as long as he becomes an owner.  We must not overlook the fact that ownership is regarded as one of the most important values of our civilization, which is why it has been secured and protected constitutionally. Thus, man goes through his modicum of a lifetime with one agony: to become an owner.  An owner of various knowledge that will enable him to become an owner of money, so that he can achieve ownership of mobile phones and cars... and eventually ownership of fame and glory...

This entire formation is based on the following, dominant notions: Individualism – reward - ownership.

Acquiring "provisions" means:  I acquire as much knowledge as possible. Individualist knowledge. It doesn't matter if I'm aware that the person next to me is going hungry, or if my neighbour needs company. It suffices for me to know what the capital city of Zimbabwe is, if that will benefit me for the acquisition of money.  Knowledge largely identifies with the usefulness that it provides - with how much it will benefit you.  A quest for useful things... utilitarianism. 

Having become an owner of "provisions", I presume I am worthy of - and demand - recompense.  But this is an entirely different matter: I don't think there is anyone who seriously believes that if meritocracy (i.e. one's personal talent and will) actually worked, any of those who govern us would have ever become prime ministers.... 

But, even in the hypothetical case that meritocracy did work, what does "meritocracy" imply?  It means that whoever is worthy will be rewarded, and whoever is unworthy will not.  Well, that's just fine for the worthy one. But what about the unworthy one?  Condemned.  So? What do we care?  We are among the worthy.  Individualism again, but it is an individualism that we don't mind, as long as we are inside the system.  Let the unworthy ones starve...  A society that is indifferent and cruel towards the unworthy...

Anyway, having acquired the necessary "provisions" and become worthy, we are "rewarded" with a good job, which in our civilization translates as a job that will allow us to earn good money.  Owners of money. This is the other agony: the acquisition of money. And here is where we must necessarily overcome the opponent (I mean my fellow-man), sometimes at all costs, so that we can acquire money.  (The Greek poet Elytis wrote the following about money:  Money is the first symptom of leprosy. The leper collects nonexistence and is pleased).  Then, when we do eventually acquire money, we again agonize over amassing more, so that we can become owners of mobile phones and immobile properties.  What is certain, is that our dominant concern is ownership, as the word denotes (Note: the Greek word for owner is ΙΔΙΟ-ΚΤΗΤΗΣ - analyzed as "possessing for one's self").  As long as these possessions are ours, not the others'.  Everything is individualism, everything has to do with usefulness, and everything is for blissfulness.

And where do we end up?  Into an endless agony, beginning from the first grade at school, through to the day we become pensioners (because after that, it is no longer easy to increase money and we occasionally turn to Religion), or even through to the day we die. An unending anxiety to achieve all these things, followed by a fear and terror of losing them...  Agony, anxiety and fear... These are the things that are spawned by this model of living; in which case, the much-coveted blissfulness is lost.

What a wonderful system.... a system in which poverty and deprivation of a large portion of the population, individualism and the agony to acquire material wealth and indifference towards the other are not a pathology - they are the physiology of the cultural model.  I hear it being said that politicians are responsible for the dire situation of the economy, because they have been stealing and in general not doing their job properly.  I say "no".  they did their job very well; they were absolutely faithful to the values deified by the cultural model that they serve. If man's objective is ownership, why shouldn't they steal?  Why shouldn't they wrong others, if that gives them ownership?  And these things don't pertain to "others" only; unfortunately, they also pertain to many of us. 

Someone once told me the following, my brothers:  "I spent an entire lifetime, 50 years, as a close friend with certain people - all of them churchgoers. Most of them extremely well-off, financially.  Good people. But they never once asked me (even though they knew I had financial difficulties): 'How are you managing financially, my friend?'... not to give me money - not at all - but just to ask me, you know..."   And I'm pretty sure that even here, there are people like that who have never been asked by me - not only about their finances, but also about the difficulties in their life in general....

We are children of the system, gentlemen - most of us - and its supporters.  We too spend our life with the agony of acquisition, and after acquiring things, we acquire the fear of losing them.  And that fear is what determines our life's stance.  Gentlemen, we have Peter himself who denied Christ because he was afraid of losing his acquired interests. Whereas the robber - who had nothing to lose - resigned, saying "Remember me, Lord, in Your kingdom".

And now, I need to talk about the spiritual handling of this model - which, as I said, does not pertain only to "others" but to me as well.  I am part of the problem - an individualist, a utilitarian, a bliss seeker.  Honestly, what can I say? More importantly, when I do talk about these matters (since most of us have been taught the answers from youth and are more or less familiar with them), I am accountable to my God, to those who raised me, and to myself.

The answer to the problem is, I believe, one.  I don't know any other.  It is to change the meaning that we have given to our existence.  This means:

Firstly, there is the remembrance of death; and immediately, the whole world is overturned - our entire world view collapses - and everything acquires its proper dimensions. There is one fact: the biological end. After which, everything that the aforementioned model professes, and all those things after which we struggle and agonize lose their glamour. They are futile and transient. You come to realize that this life of agony, of anxiety, is one purposeless madness.  The biological end will come, so why are we spending our short life span inside that madness?  My brothers, I have heard of many who committed suicide because they suffered financial ruin and lost their houses and the material wealth that they had, and this was regarded as absolutely normal by many - even by us.  Madness is considered a normal thing. To commit suicide over losing money!  You know, I have never heard of anyone falling apart because he hated his fellow-man, or because his neighbour died on account of his indifference. Much more so, because he lost Christ - the Eternal and the True.  Absolute madness...

Anyway - to get back to the subject - when we speak of the remembrance of death, we don't mean a passive memory that brings on inertia, despair and desperation.  Nor do we mean a nirvana.  We mean an active state which activates every corner of the mind, the heart and the body.  Realization sets in, and your existence begins to pulsate. But your passion for life now turns towards the real life; I am referring to the One Who is Life itself.  And Who is that?  It is the One Who is not ephemeral but eternal.  The One Who does not give us cause for agony, but joy.

Let me tell you something personal. When I was a "failure" family-wise, professionally and financially, when I had nothing at all and was an absolute zero according to the criteria of this society, I acquired only one thing: the remembrance of death.  And I felt fuller than I ever had before, because I had the One Who fills everything.  I would leave my one-room apartment where I lived, without locking up behind me and without any anxiety whatsoever, because I had nothing.  What I did have, no-one could steal from me.  So I would walk the streets, encounter acquaintances - many of whom pretended they hadn't seen me - but that didn't bother me. Because the One Who is omniscient knew me.  Later, I became a judge and was a recognizable individual, with fame, titles, money, material wealth... and I lost that remembrance of death. I lost everything, because I lost the Lord of all. When did I feel joy? Then, or now?  When was I going through a crisis?  When I possessed nothing, or now that I have possessions?

Let me return to the subject.  Who is Life?  Who gives meaning to my brief life?

To reply to this, one question suffices: Who is the conqueror of death? The One Who conquered death is the only One Who can show us the way to true life. No-one else.  And I no longer accept substitutes.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death… So, Christ comes along and vanquishes death. And what does He say?  "I am the Truth and Life". And what does Life tell us? "Whosoever wants to follow Me, let him renounce himself and follow Me..."

Hence, the first prerequisite : "Renounce one's self".  The absolute "me" of our cultural system becomes a full renunciation of our self, on the path to Christ.

Then: "Let him follow me". No clarifications. He asks for our complete surrender.  He asks us to trust Him. You either trust Him and follow Him, or you go your own way - the way of individualistic agony that our civilization invites you to.

And I ask myself, brothers: To what end is all that agony? We know that He feeds all the fowl of the sky, will He not take care of us? Could that agony finally denote an egotism and a lack of trust on our part?  Of course you will probably ask why people are dying of hunger - is it because they didn't trust Him? Gentlemen, we don't have answers to every question.  But trust: we either have it or we don't. That's it.  When we were children and our father told us that something had to be done this way, we didn't know why he said it, but he knew. So we trusted him, because we knew he loved us.  So, either we have a deep conviction that Christ loves us and will not abandon us, and that no matter what befalls us, He Who is Love has allowed it and therefore it is welcome, or, we follow the path of our personal self-sufficiency.  Trust also means that we surrender ourselves to Him.  A saint once said:  "Lord, I want to be with You, even in Hell".  That says it all.  I deposit my existence with Him Who is Life, and may He do whatever He sees fit.  Then an incredible calm overwhelms you... the agony that dominates our culture becomes a joy of encounter, because I have encountered Him and have associated with Him Who is Life.

Apart from trust, what else are we told?

No possessions. Acquire nothing.  Because the desire for personal property differentiates us ontologically from Him, Who keeps nothing for Himself.

What else has He told us?

That whoever has two garments should give away the one. Our culture tells us that whoever has 2 ships should acquire 1000. Who agonizes, and who, really, is happy?  Have you ever seen any extremely wealthy people - who comprise the social model - appear peaceful and calm?  Or do you perhaps see them permanently sullen, bent over numbers?  Then the antipodes: Can you ever imagine Elders Paisios or Porphyrios (and other monks of the same calibre) agonizing because they possess only one, frayed cassock?  And yet, we who have so many things, agonize so much over acquiring even more... plus, we also lose the joy of offering.

What else does the Conqueror of death tell us?

"Give us this day our daily bread..."

Who of us, my brothers, doesn't have that bread? Is that what we are agonizing for?  Let's be honest... We don't care about the bread, even though we thunder out the Lord's Prayer every Sunday... We care about anything material that the social model dishes out.  But if we did follow Christ, would we have any agony?

He Who conquered death tells us many more things, which of course can't fit into a brief introduction.  But, everything that He does say is summarized - I believe - in one and only statement:  "Love your neighbour". But what is far more compelling is: "Love your enemy".  Brothers, the stories that we're taught in school write about a whole lot of revolutions, and yet there is not a single mention of the most earth-shaking revolution: Love your enemy.  Honestly, can you imagine a world that would simply listen to what the One Who is Joy and Life told us?  Can you imagine a world where all people would love one another?  Would any of the things that we described as "crises" exist?  Or would we be talking about another world altogether?

Brothers, our cultural model does not stand up to repair. Its problem is ontological. As I mentioned earlier, all the problems that are born of the system we live in are not attributed to a pathology; they are its very physiology. Another manner of co-existence is imperative.  And that path has been pointed out, by the Victor of death: it is the manner of His existence - the Trinitarian, loving manner of existence. This means that Man, who was fashioned according to the image of God, can also become God by Grace, in order to conquer death (not the biological death, but death per se), and that he should attempt to experience in all these agonies - as much as humanly possible - a loving, Trinitarian communion.  In other words, attempt to co-exist lovingly with all his fellow-men, both friends and enemies.  Absolute fullness.

Even in this other manner of existence, all of us are invited: the worthy and the unworthy. Because God is Love.  God doesn't choose. Man chooses, freely: either he attempts this, and actually lives, or he chooses to be dead, even though he survives biologically.  Of course, given that man chose to be fallen - both as a person and as a member of an established collective group - he is unable to attain that way of existence perfectly.

But, even if that isn't entirely feasible, the way of life of the Saints surely is - when we  refer to a personal level, and the life of the Church is, when referring to a collective level. There can be no excuses here.  The Saints were the same as us. So, if they were capable of living a different life, so can we.  So let us follow their example and the example of the Church.

And in the end, why don't we just resort to the greatest potential that He granted us in order to associate with Him and our fellow-man? Prayer.

During the most solemn point of the Divine Liturgy and man's life, we hear the following words:

"Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all, and for all..."

That is the whole meaning.  Lord, everything is Yours.  Nothing is ours.  And it is You Who has granted everything to us.  Just as You granted Your Self to us.  Without anything in exchange and without discriminations.  To the poor, as well as to the rich; to the beautiful and to the ugly; to the young and to the old.  And we now offer what is Yours, to You: that is, our existence.  Do what You want with it, because it is Yours.  Because You are Love, Life and Joy, and we want to partake of Love, Life and Joy.


Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 25-10-2011.

Last update: 25-10-2011.