It started with an arrest so farcical the facts seem to defy belief. In October, a 27-year-old man on the Greek island of Evia was arrested and charged with “blasphemy and insults against Elder Paisios and Orthodox Christianity” for setting up a satirical Facebook page lampooning a deceased monk held in high regard by pockets of the media and political parties.
The Hellenic police claim the arrest of was prompted by “thousands of complaints” though curiously it came shortly after Christos Pappas, an MP for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, implored the government to stamp out the “blasphemous” page.
In a play on the Flying Spaghetti Monster meme and the traditional Greek dish pastitsio, the unnamed 27-year old renamed the monk Geron Pastitsios and created a Facebook page complete with made up miracles “Geron Pastitsios” was said to have performed.
When these miracles were repeated verbatim as the acts of Geron Paisios by right-wing politicians and media, the embarrassment was palpable. Embarrassing people might not be illegal, but blasphemy is still on the statute books in Greece.
The relationship between the church and the increasingly violent Golden Dawn hit the news again shortly afterwards outside the Athens premiere of Terence McNally’s play Corpus Christi. The Greek Holy Synod condemned the play — which depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men — as blasphemous.
At the opening, priests stood side by side with Golden Dawn members. One culture critic, Manolis V from Lifo magazine, claims he was attacked by several bystanders, including one he identified as Golden Dawn’s Ilias Panagiotaros. Throughout the attack, the police did nothing — nor did the watching priests and nuns intervene. Instead the Bishop of Piraeus, flanked by five Golden Dawn MPs, reported the play’s producers to the Hellenic police for “malicious blasphemy”.
In Corinth, a city which has been a hotbed of Golden Dawn activity, the party recently opened up new offices. To mark the opening, Greek Orthodox priests performed a blessing outside their headquarters. Not two months earlier, in August, Golden Dawn were involved in a violent standoff over a migrant centre in the city.
Some priests know from personal experience that your enemy’s enemy is not your friend. Golden Dawn may be socially conservative, but they are also notoriously violent. The Metropolitan Pavlos of Siatista, an important church figure, has came out against Golden Dawn, saying:
We all have to take a clear stand on the Golden Dawn issue … we have to preach the word of God, which has nothing to do with the acts committed by members of Golden Dawn.
The cleric has since reported that his comments have drawn death threats and menacing phone calls threatening to “burn the commie”.
In response, nine bishops across Greece have come out against Golden Dawn stating [translated]: “All men are our brothers”. It’s a small comfort, but at this stage, anything that stops the neo-Nazi party from gaining a foothold in each part of the Greek state is to be welcomed.
Dawn Foster works for the Guardian’s Comment is Free. She tweets at @DawnHFoster