The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation

The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation

Panteleymon Anastasakis
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 320
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    The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation
    Book Description:

    Axis forces (Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria) occupied Greece from 1941 to 1944. The unimaginable hardships caused by foreign occupation were compounded by the flight of the government days before enemy forces reached Athens. This national crisis forced the Church of Greece, an institution accustomed to playing a central political and social role during times of crisis, to fill the political vacuum. Led by Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, the clergy sought to maintain the cultural, spiritual, and territorial integrity of the nation during this harrowing period. Circumstances forced the clergy to create a working relationship with the major political actors, including the Axis authorities, their Greek allies, and the growing armed resistance movements, especially the communist-led National Liberation Front. In so doing the church straddled a fine line between collaboration and resistance individual clerics, for instance, negotiated with Axis authorities to gain small concessions, while simultaneously resisting policies deemed detrimental to the nation. Drawing on official archives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British Foreign Office, the U.S. State Department, and the Greek Holy Synod alongside an impressive breadth of published literature, this book provides a refreshingly nuanced account of the Greek clergy's complex response to the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. The author's comprehensive portrait of the reaction of Damaskinos and his colleagues, including tensions and divisions within the clergy, provides a uniquely balanced exploration of the critical role they played during the occupation. It helps readers understand how and why traditional institutions such as the Church played a central social and political role in moments of social upheaval and distress. Indeed, as this book convincingly shows, the Church was the only institution capable of holding Greek society together during World War II. While The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation elucidates the significant differences between the Greek case and those of other territories in Axis-occupied Europe, it also offers fresh insight into the similarities. Greek clerics dealt with many of the same challenges clerics faced in other parts of Hitler's empire, including exceptionally brutal reprisal policies, deprivation and hunger, and the complete collapse of the social and political order caused by years of enemy occupation. By examining these challenges, this illuminating new book is an important contribution not only to Greek historiography but also to the broader literatures on the Holocaust, collaboration and resistance during World War II, and church state relations during times of crisis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6203-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. A Note on Transliterations and List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    When asked how she felt about the death (January 28, 2008) of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, Vaso Kapsalidou, an elderly, retired Greek woman, responded, “ ‘He kept our faith and tradition strong and alive.’ … ‘At a time of instability, the Church was our haven.’ ”¹ These sentiments reflect the esteem the Greek people had for the archbishop. They further convey the prestige that the individual prelate and, more important, the office of head of the Greek Church has traditionally had among the Greeks. Archbishop Christodoulos’s tenure as head of the Greek Church was not without controversy, but during his...

  6. 1 Historical Background: Church-State Relations from the Ottoman Period to the Eve of World War II (1453-1939)
    (pp. 16-34)

    Traditional interpretations of the autocephalous Church of Greece have, since its establishment in 1833, presented it as a tool of the Greek state. Wanting to reduce the role played by organized religion in political affairs, modern Greece’s founding fathers legally bound the church to the state and limited its role to spiritual affairs. Moreover, some secular leaders hoped to weaken the allegiance of the population to the church by substituting its religion with nationalism as the main criteria of identification. This assault on the power of the church and its influence in society met with limited success for several reasons....

  7. 2 The Making of an Ethnarch: A Biographical Sketch of Archbishop Damaskinos (1891-1941)
    (pp. 35-58)

    The two quotes above are indicative of the assessment regarding Archbishop Damaskinos Papandreou. The first quote appears in the first major biography of the archbishop authored by the Greek novelist and historian Elias Venezis. It focuses on the period of the Axis occupation (1941–44). The second is the opening sentence of a general biography written by Sephes Kollias, popular writer and historian. Both are significant studies of the archbishop, less so for their analysis of his life than for the documents they reproduced. More important, they are representative of the archbishop’s mythic image, created soon after his untimely death...

  8. 3 A Prelude of Events to Come: The Expansion of the Role of the Hierarchy in the Final Days of Freedom (April-May 1941)
    (pp. 59-78)

    This chapter explores the prominent role of the church during the waning months of Greece’s role as an active belligerent by chronicling and analyzing the powerful role local hierarchs played during the nation’s transition from independent state to occupied nation. Hitler’s decision to intervene in the Balkan theater sealed Greece’s fate, as the small Balkan country and its ally, Great Britain, lacked the resources and manpower to effectively confront the Axis armies. Awaiting the inevitable defeat of the army and occupation of their territory, political and military leaders continually involved local hierarchs in the decision-making process, a role far exceeding...

  9. 4 Unattainably High: Expectations of the Church of Greece During the Axis Occupation (1941-1944)
    (pp. 79-112)

    Even before forming his new government in Athens, Lieutenant General Georgios Tsolakoglou received advice discouraging him from pursuing this path. Prominent politician and later prime minister George Papandreou informed him that the church, not the military, should take the reins of power, as it did during earlier periods of crisis in the nation’s history. According to the general, Papandreou had already discussed the matter with Archbishop Chrysanthos, who he hoped would take on the immense responsibility tradition demanded of him: “Likewise, the politician Mr. Papandreou considered and recommended to the then Archbishop Chrysanthos the need for the revival of national...

  10. 5 The Fruits of Their Labor: Shielding the Population from Axis Excesses (1941-1944)
    (pp. 113-132)

    Led by Damaskinos, Metropolitan Agathangelos Xirouchakes of Kydonia and Apokoronou, and Metropolitan Gennadios Alexiades of Thessaloniki, the church hierarchy hoped to use their limited influence with the Axis authorities to gain concessions, primarily to protect the population from the brutalities of foreign rule. In particular, emphasis was placed on assisting those incarcerated or slated for execution by the Germans and Italians. From the beginning of the occupation, in particular in Crete, the Axis began using the policy of taking hostages and executing them for acts of sabotage committed against their forces. Thus, from as early as June 1941, the hierarchy...

  11. 6 Combating Famine and Destitution (1941-1944)
    (pp. 133-155)

    No issue concerned Damaskinos and his colleagues in the church more than the food crisis that developed within months of the occupation. The archbishop articulated the importance of the church’s role in combating the crisis in his enthronement speech and in his frequent correspondence with the occupation authorities and others. Out of their moral obligation to their flock, hierarchs, led by Damaskinos, played a fundamental role in providing welfare relief to the population. This role required church leaders to interact with a range of individuals, from Axis military and diplomatic authorities to resistance leaders. Soon, everyone from political leaders to...

  12. 7 The Path of Passive Resistance and Protest: The Response of the Church of Greece to Bulgarian Occupation Policies and the Holocaust (1941-1944)
    (pp. 156-187)

    The Church of Greece remained divided throughout the occupation on the issue of how to express its opposition to the occupation, especially excessive Axis brutality. A majority of the hierarchy preferred expressing their opposition through official protests to the foreign occupier and their Greek clients and/or through passive forms of subversion, such as providing refuge or false documentation to groups persecuted by the authorities, or, in a few instances, categorically refusing to cooperate with the occupation authorities in their effort to implement policies deemed amoral and detrimental to the well-being of the nation. Led by Damaskinos, this faction of the...

  13. 8 In the Spirit of Papaflessas: The Relationship Between EAM and the Clergy During the Axis Occupation (1941-1944)
    (pp. 188-230)

    Members of the clergy played a significant role in shaping the Greek War of Independence (1821–30), especially in its early years. Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras and Father Papaflessas, for instance, became synonymous with the revolution because of the active roles they played. For this reason, many members of the lower clergy who participated in the resistance assumed the pseudonym Papaflessas, and the leadership of the resistance movement, the National Liberation Front (Ethniko Apeleutheretiko Metopo—EAM) and its military wing, the Greek People’s Liberation Army (Ellenikos Laikos Apeleutheretikos Stratos—ELAS), included the names of these figures in their overtures...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 231-246)

    From the waning days of the Albanian campaign until the immediate post-occupation period, the role and influence of the clergy grew in scope and significance, as evidenced by the intervention of hierarchs throughout the country, from Spyridon’s involvement in armistice discussions in April 1941 to the emergence of Damaskinos as regent at the beginning of 1945. The resurgent clergy from Spyridon to Ioakeim of Kozane fought for the preservation of Greek sovereignty and culture as they understood these concepts. Even for those who supported the communist-driven EAM/ELAS, their faith continued to play a central role in their everyday life. This...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-324)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-340)
  17. Index
    (pp. 341-350)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-352)