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A century of change. The National Schism, which in the World War I era pitted Greek liberals against Greek royalists, split the nation for generations, nurturing xenophobic fears and hatred for change and the unknown. As an organ of the state, the church during this period was marked by catatonia, as its members, including members of the episcopacy, bolstered the positions of competing political rivals.

The Old Calendarist movement, described as a protest against the Orthodox Church’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1924, was also a staunch royalist, anti-Communist movement that even divided the U.S. Greek Orthodox community.

The deeply rooted antagonisms of the National Schism were contributing factors in the disastrous military breakdown in Turkey that led to the exchange of populations in 1923; the collapse of numerous governments and the rise of a military dictatorship between the two world wars; the ruthless civil war that followed World War II and the often violent exchanges between republicans and monarchists up until the establishment of a parliamentary democratic republic in 1974.

Somehow during this turbulence, renewal movements blossomed within the Orthodox Church of Greece. Among the most prominent, Zoi combined traditional monastic spirituality with an active apostolate, not unlike the charism of the Augustinian or Benedictine communities in the West.

At its height in the mid-1960’s, Zoi counted more than 130 members, mostly theologians (of whom only 34 were priests), who worked to reanimate the Greek Orthodox clergy and laity, emphasizing personal piety. Though Zoi and its sister movements are no longer growing, they have profoundly influenced the leadership of the church of Greece.

For the past 25 years, Greece has been relatively stable both politically and economically. Divisions in Greek society have healed, somewhat, but fear of outsiders, particularly the Turks, and a reticence for dialogue continue to plague it.

When Archbishop Christodoulos assumed leadership of the church in 1998, he pledged to increase the church’s role in society, extend outreach to the young, eradicate xenophobia and racism and affirm Greece’s role in Europe.

The archbishop’s warm reception of Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s jubilee pilgrimage in 2000 has opened the church further, affirming the role and contribution of the Orthodox Church of Church in an increasingly unified Europe.

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Michael La Civita is the executive editor of ONE magazine.

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Tags: Christianity Orthodox Church of Greece