The Debt We Owe to Enduring Greece (Bicentennial of Hellas)

The Debt We Owe to Enduring Greece (Bicentennial of Hellas) March 28, 2021

Athens is a home of all who desire to know. There is a diaspora of Greek people spread out all over the world, but there is a diaspora of the heart for Greece. There are those of us that owe Greece a debt culturally and intellectually?

For the Christian, Athens is the city where Saint Paul began the salvation of philosophy. When the Parthenon was dedicated to the true Virgin, not merely Athena, then a process began that would produce revolution in knowledge. From Athens, to Antioch, to Alexandria, to Aksum, a faith that seeks understanding and an ethic built on love spread to the entire world.

Rootlessness prepares the way for tyranny. The tyrant cannot stand competition. He desires absolute obedience, adulation. The roots that a person gains from family, homeland, history, and a global Church prevent tyranny. When the tyrant demands we sell out, then we do not have to be very good to say: “Never our mothers. We will not sell out our mothers.”

Our biological families are easier to remember, but we must recollect our intellectual mothers and fathers. Where did the good ideas begin? What is the wellspring of certain concepts? What is our mental patrimony and what debt of honor do we owe?

Surely, at least in Christendom, there is no doubt that Greece, Hellas, is a mother of all who know. Our New Testament is in the Greek language. The Septuagint, the favored Old Testament translation of the early Church, is in Greek. Saint Basil and Saint Augustine understood the virtue that could be learned from Homer and the great Greek classical writers. They urged students to study those works and so formed the basis for the classical, Christian education that would shape schools from Moscow to Oxford to the Americas. If we speak of theology, biology, cosmology, philosophy, then we begin in categories created by Greeks in words borrowed from Greeks.

When the Western Mediterranean world fell into ruin for a time, the Greek speaking Romans sustained a classical higher education for one thousand years. The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) planted the seeds of the Renaissance in Florence and the rest of Northern Italy. They created a commonwealth of nations including Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia that have enriched world culture. When conquered, the Greeks persisted and provided a doughty example of cultural courage. When conquered, they often became the educators of the conquerors.

The grown child that lives in a house his father built, speaking the language he learned from his mother, running a business built by a grandparent owes gratitude and care. Once a group of college honor students went with Hope and me to Athens. We climbed a high mountain and from a splendid little church looked out over Athens. We could, naturally, see the Parthenon and the classical structures that are echoed all over America. That is not the direction I liked best. Instead, I turned to work a day Athens, full of churches and business. This is a living city and not a shrine to the past.

The persistence of Hellas was encouraging. A nation can be subjugated for hundreds of years, yet endure if that people know who they are. Living Athens, loud car horn honking Athens, the city that looked like (at that time) it could never pull off an Olympics in time, but did so gloriously, that Athens was a lesson. Be of good cheer. Anyone with the intellectual DNA of Pericles, Plato, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Holy Basil can never be defeated.

That is most encouraging in dark days. Democracy can be lost, recovered, lost again, but each time brought back in a more perfect manifestation. That is the lesson of Greece to her diaspora of the heart.

If we forget Hellas, we lose ourselves. There is a debt that we owe.

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