In Defense of Compassion

by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias (Volos, Greece)

This piece was originally published in Greek in the newspaper “Τα Νέα” on Nov. 9, 2019. English translation courtesy of Soo Town. The Greek original is available here.


History is filled with the abominations of humanity and the dismal fate of those peoples who embraced them. The Church has always, under all circumstances, stood in opposition, constantly proclaiming that, in the face of globalized problems, the only contribution which is consistent with its ideals is faith in the God of love and the directly proportional faith in and love for human beings, and especially the forgotten and discarded by the powerful of this world.

In the life of every organization there are fundamental values which enable it to endure over time and preserve its identity. The Church is a theanthropic organization, whose course through history is supported by the ethos and values revealed by God himself, through His incarnation in human form.

The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in the fact that the central character in its worldview is not God, nor his desire to impose His authority and power on humanity. The central character in God’s historical activity is humankind, with the basic purpose of bringing out the value of human beings and the achievement of a life of high quality with fulfillment, emotional riches and the preconditions to enable them to release themselves from corruption and follow the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, in eternity. Our people proceeded for centuries with these principles and values and it was this strong humanism—in essence “theohumanism”—which enabled them to survive against apparently superior worldly powers.

For the Church, the serious issue of refugees and migrants is first and foremost a humanitarian question. In other words, it is an issue which touches its fundamental principles and values. While the concepts of “principles” and “values” are not identical, they have one thing in common: that they are the starting point, not to be relativized or counterbalanced against outside criteria—geopolitical, national, diplomatic, economic—which are possibly significant, but secondary.

At the moment that a destitute human being is struggling for survival in a sinking boat, at the mercy of politicians and slave traders, the Greeks, as all Christians who wish to remain consistent with the principles and values which they inherited, act with compassion and humanity, two elements of a culture which is deeply Christian and, if we take into account the ancient times, also deeply Greek. First they will extend a helping hand, first they will offer care, first they will rescue; and only after this is done, will they think, consider and fight for measures which will, without compromising the above values, provide solutions for the wide range of problems which undoubtedly accompany this phenomenon of our times.

In any case, it is the defense of precisely these values which rescues the reputation of and gives value to the entire European culture, which has become a refuge and “Promised Land” for millions of people throughout the world. This fact in no way negates the indescribable responsibility of the great powers for the situation which prevails in some countries, where pain and horror are born on a daily basis. On the contrary, it makes it all the more necessary for the fundamental Christian values of European culture to find supporters and exert a more active influence on political decisions. Only pressure from nations who have “digested” these values will be able to spread this humanitarianism outside as well as inside the walls. And if this humanitarianism gets destroyed, the consequences will affect not only immigrants, but also those who, in the name of national and cultural “purity,” reject them.

In short, it is not immigrants who constitute a danger, but rather the inhumane stance towards them. Walls may be built, barbed wire set up and mines laid, but these will enclose within them creatures who imagine themselves safe while being essentially inhuman. Political, diplomatic, and organizational measures are necessary, as well as measures to keep the situation under control, and they should be serious, systematic and consistent. However, they must also be continually informed by the humanitarian principles of Christian culture which has so far proved that it is able to absorb foreign elements without alteration of its identity and without putting its future course at risk.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.