Orthodox Church emerges as a leading social actor amid Greece’s economic crisis

Although affected itself by the economic crisis that Greece has been experiencing since 2009, the Greek Orthodox Church has become an active source of social support for impoverished people, thus seizing an opportunity to position itself as a relevant institution in contemporary society, writes Lina Molokotos-Liederman (Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, January–March). As a consequence of the shortcomings of the Greek welfare system, families have played an important support role in times of need, but as the traditional family structure has been losing its strength in recent years, families have become less able to provide help in a number of cases. This has reinforced the already existing role of the church in providing social welfare—a role that is actually recognized in Greek law. The church may come to play the role of a “second family” in times of need, providing unconditional moral and social support—not only to its members, but also to migrants and refugees.

There are national coordinating bodies for church welfare work, but practically all efforts take place at the levels of dioceses and parishes, with a dense network that reaches even remote areas having a weak presence of public social services. There have been efforts to professionalize the church’s work through its NGO Apostoli in cooperation with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). This professionalization is not devoid of risks, since it also aims at identifying people who are really in need to prevent abuses, in contrast with traditional, unconditional Christian philanthropic work. The charitable contribution of the Greek Orthodox Church has been widely acknowledged, but there have also been criticisms, for instance from progressive circles that feel that the church is merely addressing symptoms instead of facing the root causes of the crisis through social activism. There have also been some debates within the church itself about its mission and priorities. According to Molokotos-Liederman, current experiences might emphasize the need for a process of reform and modernization as well as reflection about the role of the church as a partner of the state, possibly leading it to more autonomy in an era of growing secularization.

(Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, https://www.cairn.info/revue-archives-de-sciencessociales-des-religions.htm)