Conversations about Hellenism
In March of 2003 my father faxed me a copy of a twelve page speech he delivered, I think to the Hellenic Federation of Communities, on “The Future of Hellenism in South Africa”. The cover page of the Stathoulis Group of companies, with its logo of the village house, was spotted with a secretary’s note “for your perusal”.
I perused the speech, and filed it away. I have revisited it a few times. When I went through all his other speeches that he had on file, this one stuck out in length and structure: I suppose it encapsulated his dream: Hellenism. The speech came at a time when the Greek Orthodox Church was actively recruiting members of non-Hellenic background and baptising them into the church. He starts off the speech with a preamble that hints at this issue, and reflects on the interwoven relationship of the Greek Orthodox religion and Hellenism.
He then defines faith, religion, folklore and organised Hellenism. The introduction states “religion and faith has become inseparable from custom and in some instances, folklore, as in all countries and nations”. Before closing the introduction he says “it must be remembered that the Hellenes are an old nation having passed through many evolutions through to Christianity… therefore, it would not be correct to try and preserve Hellenism, when denying areas of tradition passed from ancient times.”
He then discussed the Orthodox Church in South Africa, and the interrelationship and interdependence of church and community and tradition. The following section discussed the changes since apartheid fell. It discusses the loss of many Greeks and the few that remain, in the realm of the churches newfound fervour of missionary work. “The perception of how the church is going about its business and how it is affecting Hellenism is creating a lot of concern and problems” is written in bold type. My father predicts that the church followers and benefactors in South Africa will become “less and less”. Before he closes the speech he discusses missionary work, acknowledging the importance but falling back on the definition of Hellenistic roots.
In summary he stresses the importance of the church in the Greek community and the negativity of the church bargaining with communities by threatening removal of Greek priests who do not agree with policy. These were the same Greek priests who were the very foundation of Hellenism for the Diaspora.
He closes with an appeal that “the church must utilise its power and organisation to do what has been done for Hellenes in the past and not to be the cause of Organised Hellenism to become part of South African History”.
Like all things Greek, the failing strength of Hellenism in the Diaspora has multiple causes. In South Africa the church seems to have added to the problems.
I have uploaded the full speech below if you wish to read it.