Saturday 20 January 2018

Fallen Angel

Phylax, by Kostis Georgiou, a 8-metre high sculpture displayed in Palaio Faliro near Athens, was torn down on Wednesday night. A group of 13 black-clad individuals tied it to the back of a truck and drove away, pulling it down. The bright red sculpture shaped like an angel has been the subject of intense protests by religious conservatives and far right groups since it was installed on December the 5th. The statue had suffered two vandalism attacks before being torn down. The first act of vandalism was covering it with white paint. A couple of days later, unknown perpetrators cut the wires of the tram nearby, apparently thinking that they would cut the power that illuminates the Phylax at night.

Phylax in ancient Greek means guard, watcher and protector. The protesters argue that the image of the red naked man with wings is provocative and symbolises Lucifer, the Dawn-Bringer, the satanic Morning Star, and Devil - red is the colour of the devil, they argue.

Furthermore, on January 3 over 100 Christian residents led by one of the local priests marched to the site and demanded its removal. The protesters held Greek flags, icons and sang humns. The priest sprinkled 'holy water' on the statue in order to 'exorcise its demons'. The protest included an open letter written by the priest declaring that 'the sculpture is a demon and a soldier of Satan, that instead of being honoured must be despised as blasphemous to the holy trinity. It is an affront to Orthodoxy and the Christian faith'.

The final act was on Wednesday night. The wings of the sculpture are now broken.


There is no separation between the state and the church in Greece. For the last 600 years the church has embraced conservatism as its credo and has vehemently opposed any form of liberal social, political and cultural change.

Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox Church has long been not just a religious force but also an economic one, with a stake in the Greek National Bank, landholdings second only to the Greek government and has a clergy bankrolled by the state. There are more than 10,000 priests on state payrolls, who cost taxpayers $238 million a year. Tax breaks on the church's landholdings keep even more money away from government coffers at a time when the country is crippled by austerity. The Greek church and its monasteries don't have to pay the unpopular property tax, making the church exempt from austerity.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, the church was worth 700 million euros in 2008. Stefanos Manos, a former finance minister, reckons the figure is at least 1 billion euros. These figures however do not take into account the many parishes, some of which are very rich, nor property under the direct ownership of Greece's 80 bishoprics, which enjoy considerable independence. It also overlooks the wealth of 450 monasteries. 'There is no accounting system to detail the church's actual income, and no one really knows quite how much land it owns because there is no land register. This situation suits both the church and the state, because politicians are reluctant to upset the Orthodox authorities' says Manos.

The church is too involved in government life and a series of corruption scandals have dogged church leaders in recent years. Those include a thousand-year old monastery's land swap with the Greek government that cost taxpayers an estimated $130 million.

This is the context in which the controversy over Phylax is being played out. The economic and political power that the church yields in Greece has immense influence on its social and cultural life, particularly since the Greek people are one of the most religious in Europe. The Church is opposed to any form of abortion, is against homosexuality and strongly promotes traditional family values.

The Corpus Christi riots in 2013, where the Church united with the neo-fascist group Golden Dawn in their opposition to a play which depicted Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern day Texas is a good example of the role the church plays in Greek society today. Bishop Seraphim, of Piraeus, along with four of Golden Dawn's MPs, filed a joint complaint to stop the play's premiere. They lost in court but won in the streets by stopping Corpus Christi from ever debuting in Athens because conditions at the playhouse proved too dangerous for the actors.

Following the riots, in a public statement Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta praised the neo-fascist party as protectors of Greece's nationalist identity, calling it a 'sweet hope' for Greece's suffering citizens. In a separate remark, Bishop Andreas, of Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa, referred to Golden Dawn as the 'lads in black shirts, the good fighting lads'.

I don't think I need to say more....


You can read more about the Corpus Christi riots here  (second long paragraph). Or, Greece's Fascist Homophobes Have God and Police on Their Side, by Laurie Penny here .


  1. Is there a society anywhere in the world where one would actively wish to live? It is all so depressing.

    1. I can't think of anywhere that is not depressing, dangerous or wholly unpleasant at the moment, Avril. It's global, it's getting worse, and we do not know what the future holds. But, as Margaret Atwood said in the Guardian today, we should not forget the two World Wars or the fear of being blown up by nuclear bombs in the 50s. We just have to get through this.

  2. It is so sad that we as humans have achieved so much, and yet have changed so little. The drum I will continue to beat is that what everyone needs is a real education so that decisions can be informed - although, human nature may always find a way to skew the balance. Hey ho, we each have to do what we can.