Workshop for Greek Orthodox Clergy on the Holocaust and on combatting antisemitism

Drawing in charcoal on paper, by Alex Kurliansky, Auschwitz extermination camp, WWII

The General Secretariat for Religious Affairs in cooperation with the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, the Jewish Museum of Greece and YadVashem organized a workshop, addressed to Greek Orthodox Clergy, on the Holocaust and on combatting antisemitism. The first part of the workshop was held online, on May 24 and 25, with the participation of 16 priests, while the second part will take place on site, at YadVashem, after the pandemic outbreak is over. — The workshop is part of the program of the IHRA Greek Presidency 2021, in the context of its top priority which is Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust.

Secretary General for Religious Affairs, George Kalantzis, Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, Zanet Battinou, Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies of YadVashem, representing YadVashem, Dr. NoaMkayton, and Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, welcomed the works of the workshop.

Speeches were delivered by Ms. Garyfallia Miha and Rabbi Moshe Kohn on behalf of YadVashem, Ms. Anastasia Loudarou and Ms. Maria Vasilikou on behalf of the Jewish Museum of Greece, and Fr. Filotheos Maroudas on behalf of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios of Argolis honored the workshop by his presence and delivered a speech on his participation in the March of the Living.

The opening speech, by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis is as follows:

Your Eminence, Reverend Fathers, Honorable Dr. Georgios Kalantzis, General Secretary on Religious Affairs in the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Honorable Dr. Noa Mkayton, Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, Honorable Ms. Zanet Battinou, Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece,

Dear colleagues,

It is with great joy that I greet the Online Training Seminar on the history and educational significance of the Holocaust for Greek Orthodox Clergy, co-organized by the General Secretariat on Religious Affairs of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, Jewish Museum of Greece and Volos Academy for Theological Studies. I am conveying to all of you the wishes and blessings of our Bishop, His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, who, as is well known, has often spoken on issues related to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Volos Academy for Theological Studies, which nowadays completes 21 years of continuous operation and since 2014 is recognized as a Research Center by the Greek state, functions as an open forum for thought and dialogue between the Orthodox Church, the broader scholar community and the society. In this respect, the Academy organizes annual thematic programs, series of studies, international seminars, conferences, lectures and publications. In order to meet its objectives the Academy cooperates with numerous academic and scholarly institutions, ecumenical, interreligious, and civil society organizations, publishing houses and academic journals. As a result of this scholarly activity, the Diocese of Demetrias and the city of Volos have become an international meeting place for encounter and dialogue.

Among the topics addressed by Volos Academy a very important part is the critical and self-critical approach of the relationship of Orthodoxy with contemporary issues and challenges such as pluralism, otherness and the struggle against all forms of racism, totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. In this context, Volos Academy for Theological Studies, along with the Holy Diocese of Demetrias decided to organize and host programs and activities related to the Holocaust and also to cultivate closer relations with both the Jewish Communities and the Jewish Museum of Greece. This decision was inspired by the examples of Greek hierarchs, clerics and ordinary believers such as that of Damaskinos, the Archbishop of Athens, Chrysostomos, the Metropolitan of Zakynthos, and Joachim, the Metropolitan of Demetrias, who contributed to the rescue of many members of the Jewish Community of Greece and are included in the “Righteous Among the Nations”.

As examples of such activities of Volos Academy we can mention: 1) the hosting of seminars of the Jewish Museum of Greece on the topic “Teaching the Holocaust in Greece” in 2012 and 2019; 2) the hosting of the central Commemorative event for the victims of the Holocaust in the city of Volos in 2018. The keynote lecture of this event was delivered, in the presence of the President of the Hellenic Republic, by Mr. Hans-Rainer Hess, anti-nazi political activist and grandson of the notorious founder and commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Rudolf Hess; 3) the organizing, in the school year 2018-19, of the Educational Pilot Program for Students of the first and the second class of High School titled“The Narration of the Holocaust through Art and Local History”, which included visits of the students and teachers at the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Jewish Museum of Greece and the Jewish Synagogues of Athens and Volos. One of the results of this Program was the publication of a relevant album (Volos: Volos Academy Publications, 2019) including works of the students who had the experience to participate in the pilgrimage to Auschwitz. This album was presented in October 2019, during a major event held in the University of Thessaly in Volos, organized by Volos Academy in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Volos, the Directorate of Secondary Education of Magnesia and the University of Thessaly.

Apart from these, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Volos Academy, Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, has made various interventions on the issues under consideration, such as, par example: 1) a lecture delivered at the occasion of the National Day of Remembrance of Greek Jewish Martyrs and Heroes of theHolocaust in the city of Larisa, in 2015; 2) participation, in May 5, 2016 in “The March of the Living,” at Auschwitz, where Metropolitan Ignatius was also invited to light the first of the six torches in the memory of the victims of the Holocaust in the Birkenau extermination camp, honoring this way the Orthodox Christians who rescued thousands of Jews, thus putting the words of the Gospel into practice; 3) the organization, in May 2016, of an event in his honor by the Central Council of the Jewish Communities in Greece, and Volos Jewish Community, “as an expression of recognition for his work in favor of interreligious dialogue, the struggle against racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism”. On the occasion of this event, His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius delivered a keynote lecture in the crowded amphitheater of the University of Thessaly entitled: “Christianity and Judaism: Historical stimuli from the history, the theology and the practice of the Orthodox Church”; 4) a presentation entitled “‘Do Not Leave Jerusalem’. The Orthodox Church and Judaism,” at the International Conference on Holocaust and Bioethics held in Dortmund, Germany, 2019. The conference had the blessing of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and was organized by the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust (New York) and the Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics (Haifa), in cooperation with the Orthodox Parish of Saint Apostles in Dortmund, whose Rector is Rev. Dr. Philotheos Maroudas.

The current Online Seminar is organized in the same perspective with the aforementioned activities, aiming in building mutual acquaintance and mutual respect, and more particularly focusing on the further training of the Greek Orthodox Clergy in topics related to the Holocaust.

During times of intense suspicion and even hostility of Christians towards the Jews, the Russian Orthodox nun Maria Skobtsova did not exclude them during her difficult ministry in the Nazi-occupied Paris, considering them children of the same God. Mother Maria replied to the compromised Christians and the sympathizers of the Nazi regime, who claimed that the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis was an issue that did not concern them: “There are no issues which are Christian or non-Christian. […] If we were true Christians, we would all wear the star.” Consistent with this stance and the theological perspective underlying it, Mother Maria took huge risks which ultimately cost her own life. She provided shelter and food, hideouts and fake baptism certificates to the persecuted Jews, in order to assist them to escape the Nazis. As a result of these activities she was arrested by Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp in Germany. The same fate was shared by some of her associates, such as her own son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin and Ilya Fondaminsky, who helped Jews in the German-occupied Paris to escape to escape to safer areas in the free French south, also providing them with fake baptism certificates (all of the above have been proclaimed Saints and Martyrs of the Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in 2004). Mother Maria went so far as to take the place of a Jewish detainee in the gas chamber at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, and to die for her sake just a few weeks before the final collapse of the Nazi regime and the release of all the camp prisoners. After twenty centuries of confusion between Christian and anti-Semitic discourse in the West and the East, which in the tsarist Russia took even the form of violent pogroms (especially after the end of the service of the Passion and the Crucifixion of Christ on Good Thursday), St. Maria, and some other important Christian figures both in Western Europe and in our country, experience in practice the reconciliation and brotherhood with the Jews through martyrdom, the genuine repentance and the awareness of the common biblical root that connects Jews and Christians.

Volos Academy for Theological Studies is inspired by this bright example of Mother Maria, but also by the more familiar cases of the Greek Bishops, clerics and ordinary believers we mentioned earlier.

With these thoughts in mind, I greet the present Training Seminar, wishing fruitful and creative reflections and work, and hoping that such initiatives will multiply. At this point, just before concluding this short address, allow me to offer my warmest thanks to all of those who contributed to the preparation of this Seminar:

The General Secretary on Religious Affairs of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs Dr. Georgios Kalantzis, as well as his Advisor Mrs. Vassiliki Keramida, for their trust in the work of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, as well as for the excellent cooperation and support.

Dr. Garyfallia (Lea) Micha, Head of Section for Balkan Countries, Greece and Cyprus, European Department, International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem for the excellent cooperation throughout the preparation of the Training Seminar.

Ms. Zanet Battinou, Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece for the excellent, as always, cooperation.

The associates and staff of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Rev. Dr. Philotheos Maroudas, Rev. Dr. Amphilochios Miltos, and Ms. Valila Giannoutaki for their tireless assistance in the preparation of this online Seminar.

The speakers of the Seminar, for their participation and for the effort they invested in their presentations which, I am sure, will open new paths in approaching the topic under discussion.

Last but not least, all of you, the clergy –and your bishops– who confided in us and accepted our invitation to take part in the Training Seminar on the Holocaust.

Best wishes for a successful seminar!”