It is impossible to overstate the significance of this photo, of this meeting: This one photo takes 2,000 years of dogmatic belief, and turns it on its mitred head. The Greek Prime Minister is telling the “pope” of the Greek Orthodox Church that his followers — basically, all Greeks — must follow the rules of the government regarding the pandemic. The followers of the Greek church should be urged to take the vaccine, regardless of what the church teaches. Several months ago, while teaching in Greece, I saw stories in the media of the leaders of the Greek church defying some of the first science on the emerging pandemic, and continuing to offer the traditional eucharist of bread and wine with a single spoon into the mouths of whole churches of believers. “The eucharist cannot be stained with a virus,” they claimed, against all evidence.
This article, however, reads more like “chronicle of a death foretold”: A secular potentate informs the highest spokesperson for GOD, in the Greek-speaking world, that the church’s skills and tools for dealing with this massive health crisis — i.e., relying solely on the words of its texts and traditions, its non-scientific claims as to what constitutes worldly-power versus god-centered power — are insufficient. The church must follow the state, social norms, and worldly science. The church must heed secular authority on a matter of life and death. Full stop. “Get everyone to take the fucking vaccine, already!”
This is immense.
Of course, we all know that churches sometimes follow secular authority. But this is on a matter of life, directed to an institution which was founded on the stories of a charismatic peripatetic who convinced untold legions of followers of the power of his method — nay, his very divine birth itself — through legendary feats of healing ailments such as blindness, deafness, physical handicap, and mental illness.
Such a request, from the highest politician to the highest ecclesiastical figure, would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
And now, reflecting on the fact that the highest COVID death rates have been in the unvaccinated populations of the Bible Belt regions of the US, you can only do a face-palm and shake your head. “We are protected by the divine blood of Jesus,” one woman shouted at a CNN reporter last year. The organisations that most resisted “mask mandates” were churches. The public figures in the US who thundered against mandatory mask-wearing were prominent evangelical and Baptist ministers (and not a few Catholics). The states and politicians most apt to defy secular authority and peer-reviewed scientific consensus were all pledged loudly to their Christian “faith.”
That article in Greece’s largest newspaper gives me hope. If the coronavirus gave us any benefit, perhaps it has finally hollowed out the false authority of these crazed Abrahamics in the eyes of the modern world.
Thank God Almighty.