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Hellenic thought and ecumenical perception as preparators for the gospel

Theological Studies

The birth of Christ

The Pastoral Dimension of Mixed Marriages

"Hellenic thought and ecumenical perception as preparators for the gospel." by Konstantinos Skouteris, Professor at University of Athens.

Christianity was born in a historical environment that was shaped by three worlds: the Judean, the Roman and the Hellenic. These were not just three different ethnic groups; they were essentially three differing mentalities which, during the era of Christianity's genesis, had paradoxically preserved elements of their chaotic contrasts, while simultaneously displaying a disposition for tolerance, co-existence and even for reciprocal embracing. Their contrasts were attributed to the fact that each of these worlds had an exclusive and entirely unique historical course of its own, such that defined its particular physiognomy.

(1) Judaism had raised the Torah to the heights of an absolute measure and criterion. It was that by which the Jews regulated their religious, moral, political and social behavior. Furthermore, the perception of a "chosen" people had created in the Judean world a theologically certified feeling of ethnic pride and a vivid sense of superiority.

(2) Despite the phenomena of concretism and the occasional weaknesses that appeared in its system, the Roman State generally concentrated on its structural unity, which it strove to safeguard by means of an austere and unbending Roman legislation.

(3) Shielded behind its principles of philosophy or even its secular religious tradition, the Hellenic world had relatively earlier formed a kind of aristocracy and exclusivity of its own. The classical era's expression that "every non-Hellene is a barbarian" was an epigrammatic statement of a feeling of superiority and an arrogant mentality.

While the Judean, Roman and Greek worlds may have comprised three irreconcilable - in a sense - magnitudes, three self-contained historical entities, they nevertheless also provided the prerequisites for coexistence and reciprocal accommodation. In fact, one can actually trace these three major historic phenomena, one after another, as each one played its individual, decisive role in the unification and the shaping in general of the physiognomy of the world at the time.

The first phenomenon was the opus of Alexander the Great, who succeeded in uniting Hellenism by creating a vast cosmopolitan empire, imposing the Greek language and subsequently Greek education and Greek civilization to such a degree, that culturally different peoples competed to assimilate the Hellenic intellectual tradition which was considered - and indeed was - exemplary of a superior civilization and of supremacy.

The second event - both historically and in order of significance - that contributed decisively towards the unification of the world - albeit externally - was the notorious Pax Romana, which, as we know, is linked to the person and the opus of the August Octavian. Augustus' policy aspired to elevate Rome's prestige. His targets were two: to put aside past inconsistencies and to move forward by renewing political institutions, thus laying the foundations for a new regime of peace.

There is a third historic phenomenon whose significance is irrefutable when seeking to accurately evaluate the period and the place in which Christianity was born. It is the phenomenon of the Diaspora. When speaking of the "Diaspora", we refer to the dispersion of the Jewish element beyond the boundaries of Palestine; an event that is acknowledged as significant, not only as an aspect of Israel's history, but also as an aspect pertaining to the propagation of the Gospel. This dispersion, this "propagation throughout every kingdom on earth" as mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Deuteronomy 28,25; Nehemiah I 9; Judith V 19; Maccabees B' A'27; Psalms; Isaiah 49 6; Jeremiah 15 7 & 41 17; John 7 35; James A 1; A' Peter A1 ), has definitely a very long history. It originates quite early in time: as far back as the Assyrian and Babylonian movement of populations ( 721 and 597 b.C. ). During its first phase, the Judean Diaspora developed in areas skirting the Euphrates River, later permeating the entire Roman Empire, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. According to Philon, in Alexandria alone and its periphery during the New Testament era, there were at least one million Jews. The Jews of the Diaspora more or less maintained their ties with Palestine; however, they also became influenced by external factors, predominantly by the Hellenic civilization. On the other hand, these proselytes were in fact bolstering with their presence the status of universality and the co-existence of peoples.
A characteristic profile of this phenomenon is presented by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, when he refers to the pilgrimage of Diaspora Jews and proselytes to Jerusalem on the occasion of the Pentecost: "There were" , he writes, "Jews residing in Jerusalem; pious men from every nation under the sky…. Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, the Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, also local Romans - Jewish and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs." ( Acts, II:5-11 ).

An important and decisive role in the configuration of the Christian setting should undoubtedly be attributed to Hellenic thought and Hellenism's perception of universality. Hellenic intellect and the Greek language as potentials provided new perspectives for the gospel's message. Besides, the Hellenes' ecumenical mentality was well tuned to the universality of the evangelical word. On these two trajectories of intellect and ecumenical perception, Greece essentially embarked on the threshold of Christian tradition and effectively assisted the transition of the evangelical word into an environment of spiritual aristocracy, and culturally into a cosmopolitan environment.

(a) Basic principles of Hellenic thought and philosophical systems

Greek thought prior to Alexander the Great - from Homeric times through to the ages of Plato and Aristotle - was characteristically self-contained. Hellenic creators, poets, storywriters and philosophers all expressed themselves within extremely specific boundaries. It would not be an overstatement to say that Greek thought in general was aristocratic. Anything non-Hellenic was by definition inferior. The expression "every non-Hellene is a barbarian" was, as already mentioned, a summary statement of a sense of superiority that verged on the boundaries of racism.

1. Hellenic thought during this period steadfastly oriented itself towards a political and philosophical way of life, especially at its highest peak during the classical era, in the fifth and fourth centuries b.C., when it was imperative that the direction all citizens should follow was to pursue public issues and be involved in a responsible intellectual search for the truth. In Greece, the city-state appeared to be the place wherein philosophy was ministered to. Thus, the pursuit of public affairs and dialectics being the paths leading to virtue and the truth, were the elements that singled out the Greek citizen from the barbarian or the slave. In Athens especially, a citizen was discerned by his intellectual interests; he was not preoccupied by personal affairs as much as he was by public issues. In his "Laws", Plato categorically forbad citizens to apply themselves to matters that could distract them from the philosophical and political way of life. "Let there be no indigenous citizen who will occupy himself with creative arts……; the male citizen who saves the city is the one who seeks limited craftsmanship, along with an ascetic lifestyle and an abundance of lessons….."
Unlike the Greek citizen, a foreigner was considered in Greece to be the person who lacked education, and was a stranger to politics and philosophy. Unlike the Greek citizen - who possessed a theoretical perspective for seeking out the essence of things that are and of things that forever are - the non-participant of Hellenic education was discerned by his interest in minor things, such as the insignificant and practical professions. It is not without significance that in Greece, any manual labour whatsoever was destined for migrants and serfs, that is, for those unacquainted with the Greek state's intellectual foundations. Any Greeks who became involved in such occupations would lose the others' general respect, given that they were essentially pursuing the lifestyle and the professions of the uneducated; of those who were ignorant of political issues.

2. The persistent interest of Greek philosophers - especially Plato and his student Aristotle - to discover through theoretical research "the true essence, that eternally thus is" gave rise to a new direction and philosophy of life which later proved especially useful in Christian theology. This orientation of Greek philosophy towards dialectics and a theoretical lifestyle, with its scorn for all other pursuits that interfered or competed with intellectual requirements, brought about a lifestyle that focused exclusively on the essential. This philosophical direction sought to identify - amidst the diversity and the liquidity of phenomena - that which is integral and unvarying; that which remains immobile within motion, while being itself the motive force. "That which forever keeps in motion whatever is moving, itself being eternally motionless" . This gaze towards the one single thing whose nature it is to remain ever intact and unalterable, this unswerving orientation of Greek thought, comprised the foundation of Greek society. Thus, any progress, any social change or action that took place had to be based on a steady point of reference. "It is imperative that something immobile exists, unaffected by any changes" . In other words, Greek thought began from this being, this stable and unchanging factor, when determining the character of phenomena. It is obvious, that such an axiom is in effect a theological principle.

3) There are two fundamental elements of Hellenic thought to which we should turn our attention. They interest us, because they eventually filtered into patristic theology and naturally, were cloaked by an evangelical integrity. These elements were the significance of vision and of theory. Most assuredly, vision and theory are interlinked concepts, and Hellenic intellect - especially as displayed by Plato and the Stagerite - had significant observations to make on them; observations that defined the character of the Greek soul.
In the Hellenic world, vision was considered the sense, which - more than any other - assisted in the acquisition of knowledge. "All people by nature desire to acquire knowledge. Proof of this, is their appreciation of the senses….. and mostly, the medium of the eyes; not only in order that we may do things, but even without the intention of doing something, we desire most of all to observe." Vision is the prerequisite of memory; memory is the prerequisite of experience, and experience is the prerequisite of science and art. Apart from its significance and symbolism in the gnostic process, vision was a fundamental element of Hellenic mentality. Philosophical quests, social behavior, political acts and the arts, all had vision as their central axis. Philosophical study was theoretical; its aim was to extract a theory. It is understood however, that theory presupposes some sort of vision or insight. Social and political life on the other hand was understood as a chain of experiences. However, we know that experiences are linked to vision, via memory. Finally, in Greece, art was undoubtedly more related to vision than any other of the senses. Sculptures, architecture, even the theatre, are all spiritual creations in which one can discover beauty visually.
Vision presupposes light. Light is that which activates vision. For Plato, the eye is characterized as "the most sunlit of all organs of the senses" , exactly because of its ability to utilize the power of light. Thus, the sun is not vision, but the cause of vision; it is manifested in vision. In Hellenic thought of the classical era, the analogy of light to truth is underlined. Just as light invades the eye in order to illuminate vision, similarly truth, the utmost good, invades the human mind in order to illuminate it. The depiction of light and the sun assists us in comprehending the superiority of good and truth; just as the sun is not only the activator of vision, but is also the fountain of life, thus the ultimate good - truth - more than "brightens" human conscience: it is the cause of existence.
In classical Greek thought, the relevance between light and vision, truth and theory, gave a metaphysical dimension to the perception regarding the world and human conduct. From within this world, man savors the hereafter; he attempts to visualize that which is beyond his limits. He endeavors to incarnate the idea and to give shape to essence. This is basically done through theory, which is the orientation and the medium of intellectual behavior.
The concept of theory denotes the Greek soul's inclination to give essence to the forms of this world, to transfigure the ephemeral into something eternal, to idealize the world. Theory also has a reductive character, because with it, the human persona surpasses itself and becomes engaged in "philosophical nature". Theoretical insight becomes a basic purpose in life. Just as man becomes conscious of his environment through vision, likewise with theory he acquires a sense of the beyond. With a philosophical, theoretical lifestyle, man remains outside everything conventional and illiberal. "To such a person, not even death seems formidable" . Essentially, theory confirms the relationship between divine and human, it states the possibility of communion with the world beyond. Theory ensures a citizen's integrity, since it is a projection of intellectual magnitudes in a nation. It is an intellectual virtue that supports the nation; its absence leads to decadence and personal alienation. "It is inappropriate for someone to leave divine theory to tend to mortal issues, as it makes them appear extremely obtuse and ridiculous…."
Justin, the philosopher and witness, in his dialogue "To Tryphon the Judean" discerns four directions in the one science of Greek philosophy. The Platonic, the Perambulant, the Stoic and the Pythagorean schools comprised the most significant expressions of Greek philosophy. One could include amongst them the Epicureans, despite the fact that in both the ancient Greek world and even moreso in the Christian world, the Epicurean system was considered worthy of scorn.

(a) In Plato's system - at the peak of the ancient Greek world - (429 - 347 b.C.), ontology and dialectics have a prominent place. Platonic ontology has been aptly characterized as the foundation stone of all other branches of philosophy. The conception of the term "being" : an existence beyond human awareness and the distinction between the "imaginable" and the "visible" cosmos comprise the basis of Platonic philosophy. Those that belong to the «imaginable» cosmos are the objects of Plato's dialectics and have been named "ideas" or "forms". The soul also belongs to these "forms" , but it happens to be trapped inside the tangible cosmos, until it returns to its proper place, after man's logic has prevailed over the other two human forces: anger and desire. Until that time, the soul will undergo successive reincarnations. With his dialectics, Plato attempts to define the association between the various "forms" and the association between "ideas" or "forms" and temporal-spatial reality. These associations, whether between "forms" or between "forms" or "ideas" and temporal-spatial beings is described by means of a series of terms, such as "participation", "communion", "association" , etc. Naturally, benevolence has a unique place amongst "forms". It is without actual substance and is perceptible by God, as are all "forms" . Behind the tangible world and the world of "forms" there exists the creator. "Hence, this very handcraftsman not only makes every kind of vessel, and everything that grows forth from the earth, every animal and everything else, but for all these, he also provides the earth, the heavens, the gods, and everything within the heavens and everything within Hades below ground". Plato's philosophical principles met with a certain reticence by his first pupils, which was the reason his successors in the administration of the Academy focused more on the study of ethical problems, while the successors of Plato's successors in their attempt to confront the more optimistic Stoic gnosiology were carried away by a skepticism that was foreign to the overall philosophical direction and research of the Academy's founder. Undoubtedly, Platonic ontology was better utilized during later times; moreso, when Philon the Jew decided to use Plato's teachings regarding ideas and forms in order to express concepts referring to God. In Philon's system, ideas cease to have an existential and self-subsistent character, and are henceforth understood as definitive categories of God. Plutarch, who came shortly after Philon's time and obviously on account of his close ties to the Greek religion which he had ministered as a priest, gave Platonic philosophy an even more theological content, and he utilized it in his own way. Mid-Platonic era Plutarch regards the purpose of philosophy as being the quest for - and the discovery of - God who is the source, and from whom truth springs. A person's soul has the potential for access to, and the beholding of God, but the prerequisite for this was be the abstinence from vice. Plutarch preserves the three Platonic principles: God - idea - matter, however, he clearly gives them a theological significance, which is the reason that his entire philosophical perspective is considered a transition from philosophy to religious science. During the years that Christianity had already made its appearance, the neo-Platonists describe a philosophical course that could be characterized as a synthesis of Platonism, mid-era Platonism and neo-Pythagorism. In the Neo-Platonic philosophical proposal, one can also discern traces of Aristotelian, Stoic, even Christian and Jewish views. To the neo-Platonists, Platonic dualism is preserved, albeit its center of gravity has shifted. While Plato unfolds his perception of a republic, which he exalts above the individual person, the neo-Platonists give emphasis to every individual, who is capable of pursuing the union with God through an ascetic, ethical life, through mystical experience and ecstasy of the soul. In this manner, philosophy in neo-Platonism dons the robe of mysticism, and it was for this reason that neo-Platonism was accused of inducing "the suicide of philosophy".

(b) Along with the Academy, the Perambulant School ( as Aristotle's School was called ) comprised the two fundamental magnitudes of Greek philosophy. Aristotle has been characterized as the "most systematic, methodical and multilateral mind of the ancient world" . His work is indeed multilateral and manifold, given that it covered every conceivable area of knowledge. In the field of ontology, Aristotle submits an alternative interpretation to that of Plato. Indeed, he discerns a weakness in Plato's attempt to comprehend the tangible world as an image and a replica of the imaginable world, given that he has assumed reality to be separated into two planes. However, this separation of the essence, into an imaginable essence and a tangible essence, does not give any reply to the question concerning the essential; it simply transfers the problem to yet another plane. This transfer again does not comprise an answer; instead, it requires another transfer to a third plane, thus leading us into infinity. This criticism of Platonic ontology led Aristotle to project an answer to the question of essence, which presupposes the acknowledgement of the tangible world. In this way, Aristotle attempted to examine essence within specific objects. In his attempt to find the essence of beings within tangible reality, Aristotle gave a special emphasis to matter. Matter represents a being's potential for existence, while its form (the species) denotes its presence. Matter and form consequently always comprise the component elements of every being. Matter and form always coexist; the existence of the one cannot be presumed without the other's parallel existence, just as it is impossible for the soul to exist without the body. Aristotle does not accept creation from prior nothingness; he supports the view that the genesis of a being - whether natural or designed - signifies the conjunction of matter and form in a specific place and time. "one being, composed of matter and form". Any being whatsoever commences to exist, upon the completion of its transition from matter (its potential to exist), to its form (its species), or, in other words, to its actual presence. While Aristotle however so closely conjoins a being's existence with matter, his philosophy cannot, by any means be considered materialistic. His perception of form or species represents a higher standard of philosophy, which in no way bestows priority or supremacy to matter. Aristotle's philosophical conception gives priority to the species, which is the stigma that qualitatively defines a being. The form or the species is not just the tangible part of a being; it is the principle that is activated so that the being becomes what it is.
In human reality, the soul ( as an instrument of its bearer and with its disposition to act, especially with the mind that it has at its disposal ), defines the superior character of mankind. The soul is "the constancy of the physical body that potentially bears life" . With its chiefly intellectual capacity, the soul raises man to the divine plane despite the various hardships he is subjected to, on account of his physical hypostasis. "There is nothing divine or blissful in humanity, which deserves merely to be studied, except for the mind and wisdom that is within it; this only is - in our opinion - immortal and uniquely divine. And despite this power's ability to communicate, albeit life is by nature wretched and laborious, nevertheless, it has been graciously provided so that amongst other things, it can believe that man is a god" . In Aristotle's thoughts, especially in his Metaphysics, the purpose of man's existence is his participation in divine bliss. Divinity as a pure intellectual form can only be approached through intellectual living. Now, intellectual living - a "life according to the intellect" -becomes a reality for mankind, thanks to a move towards man by God himself, who transforms the potentially intelligible to something that is actually intelligible. "There is something which forever keeps in motion whatever is moving, itself being eternally motionless" . The divine mind is the motionless motive force that activates the human mind. Intellectual labour, the concentration of the mind, is understood as a divine ability by which man certifies that something divine exists within his very being. "If the mind must be something divine to man, then living according to the mind must be divine living for mankind" . It is a given fact that in Aristotle's thought, God does not appear as an essence outside the world and beyond intellect, as was the case in Platonism; instead, God is in fact the very essence and the effect of intellect and life. The intellectual function appears as a divine potential, as a function that imposes "a superior life for a human; it is not for man to experience it, but it is something divine that exists within him" . Obviously, this visualization of intellectual living being a divine act and potential leads Aristotle to understand theology as the first among evaluated sciences. "It is certain that there are three kinds of theoretical sciences - physics, mathematics, theology. Therefore, the best kind of science is the theoretical kind, and of them, the latter (theology)" . Albeit Aristotle's work was continued by his pupil Theophrastus and Straton of Lampsacus ( his successor in the Perambulant School ), we cannot claim that it had an effect analogous of its importance in the immediately ensuing years. Following Aristotle's death, the Perambulant School pursued the path of specialization, something that Aristotle himself had proposed with his system. As a result, metaphysics fell into second place on account of the priority given to rationalism, as compared to musical, botanic and other sciences. Aristotelianism presented a more religious character much later, during the 2nd century A.D. when Alexander of Aphrodisea returns with a more absolute approach to Aristotelian ontology in order to stress that God is the one who transforms the potentially intellectual to actually intellectual. However, it is too late to resurrect Aristotelian metaphysics. New systems, mainly Neo-Platonism, had gained ground and had imposed their own philosophical principles.

(c) The Stoa - the philosophical school - that was founded by Zenon of Kitium around 300 b.C., had a peculiar influence on the shaping of Christian thought. It is of course a well-known fact that the Stoic system appeared to be evolving; in its first phase, during the period of the "ancient" Stoa ( from Zenon to the middle of the second century ), interest focuses on three major philosophical problems: (1) the logical, which included gnosiology, logic and rhetoric; (2) the natural, which included ontology, nature and theology and finally (3) the ethical. In its second phase (the second and first century b.C.), the Stoa - the "middle" Stoa as it was called - reviews certain of its teachings, obviously under the influence of Platonic and Aristotelian ideas. Towards the end, during the third phase, the Stoic system - the "late" Stoa - confines itself more to the philosophical questions related to ethics rather than ontology. A basic chapter of Stoic philosophy is considered to be the teachings that pertain to the Logos. The Logos is considered to be the connective power of the universe. The entire world is subject to this connective power. Naturally, the Logos is not understood here as simply an external force, but initially and chiefly as that reality which penetrates and sustains the innermost parts of beings. It is the Logos of beings; it is the soul of the universe, without which the structure of this world would collapse and decompose.
The world is essentially "an animate being, both intellectual and logical" ; the human Logos is now a part of the overall Logos; it is discernible by its "innate" Logos and its "verbal" Logos. Man has the capacity to intellectualize because he is composed of the same elements that the universe is composed of, and because he is subsequently a carrier of the Logos. The universal Logos, just as the subsequent human Logos, is something impersonal; it relates to fate, providence and natural laws. It relates to fate, because everything is subject to the inevitable necessity that is preordained by the principle of cause and result. It relates to providence, because God has ordained both the matters of the world and the matters of mankind with benevolence. Finally, it relates to the natural cosmos, because everything is subject to a natural process, a course predefined by nature. Fate, providence and nature essentially all converge in the reality of God, who relates to nature. Physics and metaphysics coincide in this case.
In Stoic philosophy there is only one single essence: either that of nature, or of God. This is why the Stoics' entire system has been characterized "monistic" . The basis of Stoic monism is matter, since the spirit is nothing more than a composition of fire and air. Hence Stoic monism is materialistic. However, because nature and God are related, the Stoics' materialistic monism takes on pantheistic proportions. In the ancient Stoa, the prevalent idea was that the world is not eternal, but is subject to an end "by fire" . However, because nature as a continuous entirety comprises the only eternal essence, the world is reborn only to terminate in another dissolution over and over again. Thus, the Stoic universe differentiates itself from the static Aristotelian one, by appearing to possess a dynamic expansion.
In later years, the perception that the cosmos is not eternal began to recede. Poseidonios of the Middle Stoa had already abandoned the "end by fire" theory and supported the eternity of the cosmos, which he separated from God, whom he considered to be personal. With the passage of time, the Stoic system became more elastic, while the perception of a personal God found in Seneca the Roman one of its most fervent advocates. On the other hand, the Stoic teachings on natural laws were considered to be quite close to the Christian teaching.
In the pantheon of Stoic philosophers, Epiktetos naturally holds an important place. Epiktetos was perhaps the most theological of all Stoic philosophers, despite the fact that his interests did not lean that much towards the theoretical side of philosophy. According to Epiktetos, the universe is the work of God, and the grandest proof of God's providence is the world's order and harmony. He taught humility and the awareness of one's impotence, which he considered the best path for the comprehending of philosophy. Born in the class of slaves himself, he would emphasize man's liberty, but chiefly from vices; he upheld that everyone should preserve their liberty untainted. He also upheld indifference in the face of death, misery and illness, because all these were not unrelated to signs of providence.
With Marcus Aurelius the Stoa reached as far as the imperial throne in Rome. The Stoa's ideas on the equality of mankind, on brotherhood and universality passed into philosophy and the conscience of the Roman state, which, in fact eventually became an ecumenical empire.

(d) Pythagorism was a system that combined religion and science. The very founder of this School, Pythagoras, was dedicated to the worship of Apollo; apparently, this is why the Crotonians related him to the Hyperborean Apollo. In the Greek province of Croton in Lower Italy where Pythagoras established himself, he founded a religious community with others of the same ideology. Within this community was the commitment to uphold certain religious, moral, political and social behavior; furthermore, in order to become a member, one had to previously undergo trials that tested one's confidentiality.
According to Plato, that which distinguished the Pythagoreans was their "way of life" . With their ascetic lifestyle, the Pythagoreans' aim was catharsis (cleansing). Through silence, self-control, fasting and every kind of spiritual exercise, they aimed to attain freedom from their body, which - because of all its weaknesses - hindered the development of their spiritual powers. Included in the methods of catharsis were music and gymnastics, they were a form of preparatory education that was necessary for one to live in a non-carnal lifestyle. We also find teachings on catharsis in the Orphics; however, the emphasis there was given to rituals whereas here, catharsis had a spiritual and moral character. The communal life of the Pythagoreans became the training ground, both for personal deliverance from evil, as well as for brotherhood. Brotherhood was not limited to people only, but presupposed a general reconciliation with the entirety of nature. The animal and plant world participated in this kinship and friendship. A basic teaching of the Pythagoreans that related to their sermons on reconciliation was their faith in reincarnation. Depending on the way one had lived their life, they would pass after death, into another - higher or lower - level of life.
A principle of basic significance in Pythagorean philosophy was numerics. With numbers, one could define transcendental reality, and virtue was nothing more than a numerical combination. The Pythagoreans arrived at numerics, through their preoccupation with music. Their observations on musical instruments and the relation between the length of a chord and the sound it produced, led them to the conclusion that with numbers one could explain all cosmic phenomena. In the Pythagoreans' system, the number had cosmic and theological gravity. According to Aristotle, it was the Pythagoreans who first detected the significance of numbers. Numbers were "by nature first" ; they also comprised "the origins of beings" . In the Pythagoreans' thoughts, numbers functioned in a manner totally different to water in Thales' philosophy, or infinity according to Anaximandros, or air according to Anaximenes. Numbers differed by nature to matter, albeit associating with it, defining it, and forming it.
It is Aristotle who preserved the corpus of the Pythagoreans' cosmic theory. One must seek the essence of beings in numbers, rather than in fire, earth or water. In studying numbers, one can discover the laws that govern the universe, given that all beings and phenomena are characterized by numerical relations. With numbers, both celestial and transcendental harmony can be explained. Initially, the Pythagoreans discerned in numbers two couples of elements: the "odd and the even" and the "finite and the infinite" . Later on, the numeric principles were designated, in ten pairs:
Finite - infinite
Odd - even
One - many
Right - left
Male - female
Stationary - Moving
Straight - curved
Light - darkness
Benevolent - malevolent
Square - hetero-dimensional

The ancient Pythagorean School vanishes somewhere in the fourth century b.C. to appear later, during the second and mainly the first century b.C., with a new front. In the renewed School of neo-Pythagoreans, the Pythagorean teachings appear combined with views and beliefs from other philosophical trends. This new School's characteristic is its intense religious direction and eclecticism. Familiar names of this period are Moderatus, Nigidius Figulus the Latin, Apollonius Tyaneus, Numinius and others. In fact, the latter played a decisive role in the approximation between Platonism and Pythagorism, hence he has been justly considered the precursor of Neo-Platonism. The famous quotation "what is Plato, other than an Attican Moses?" is attributed to Numinius.

(e) The Epicureans comprehended philosophy, chiefly as a means of regulating everyday life. The object of philosophy was a practical one: it sought to give measure to life, consequently, morality became the most prominent branch of the Epicureans' system. Physics, logic and epistemology had a mere supplementary significance and were useful - to the extent that they participated - in comprehending that there was no intervention by supernatural forces in endocosmic reality. Epicure's stance towards the metaphysical was therefore negative because in it, he detected the factor that upset human serenity. The fear of life after death, the perception of immortality of the soul and the existence of gods that avenge and punish, were all causes of concern and disturbance. However, serenity and peace were - according to the Epicureans - the necessary prerequisites for the enjoyment of the good things of the world. Man must first overcome his fear of the gods and the superstitions about punishment, in order to enjoy the absolute good, which is none other than pleasure. "And it is for this reason we say that pleasure is the beginning and the end of blissful living; because we acknowledge it to be a primordial, inherent commodity and the principle behind every kind of reaction and withdrawal; furthermore, it is also our terminus, inasmuch as it is a result of our passion for regarding everything as benign" .
Epicure's aim was to combine virtue with pleasure. Thus, when he referred to pleasure, he had exempted "the pleasures of the prodigal and those that lie within luxury" . When pleasure harmonizes with virtue, it acquires another quality. A prerequisite for true pleasure according to Epicure is "imperturbance", "sedateness", "fearlessness" and "painlessness" . On these are based "sober intellect" and prudence, elements absolutely necessary for pleasure to be complete. "One cannot live a life of pleasure without sedateness and justice, nor a life of sedateness and justice without pleasure; virtues are an inseparable part of living pleasurably, and pleasurable living is inseparable from them." The Epicureans upheld that the gods who exist as superhuman beings have no interest in worldly matters, but live in absolute bliss and serenity within the boundaries of their own sphere. Gods have bodies just as humans do, hence the ability to describe them with their particular forms; they eat and drink, they associate amongst themselves and express themselves verbally. However, they could not possibly be perceived by humans, apparently because the images of their forms that could reach humans were exceptionally fine. Besides, this is the reason the Epicureans had assumed a negative stance towards every myth pertaining to gods. Of course providence was also out of the question. Gods are objects of respect in the Epicurean system, only to the extent that they are considered examples of that blessed state which the wise are invited to attain.
The turn towards the riches of the world, the materialistic in general direction of this system and especially the primacy of pleasure, were the reasons that made Epicurism seem an inferior philosophical system and be shunned by Greek philosophers as well as Christian writers.

(b) The ecumenical significance of the opus of Alexander the Great

With Alexander, Greek thought goes beyond its narrow boundaries and exclusivity. It has now crossed the threshold of the universe. The expression of the classical era that "every non-Hellene is a barbarian" is re-defined during the Hellenistic years, into "those partaking of our culture are Greeks " . Thus, the sense of superiority over barbarians no longer focuses on the fact of one's origin, but rather on the fact of one's participation in the cultural tradition. One who is born a barbarian can now become a true Hellene. A barbarian - according to this new reality - is the one who is devoid of Hellenic education. Alexander's unique contribution lies in his uniting of Hellenism on the one hand, and on the other, his opening the way for the Hellenic spirit to permeate new environments and to transform the traditions of miscellaneous peoples.
His campaigns and conquests ( 334-323 b.C.) brought Alexander as far as the source of the Nile and beyond the Indus rivers. Thus was created a truly cosmopolitan, universal empire, based on the Hellenic language, on Hellenic institutions and the Hellenic humanitarian legacy in general. The new cities that were founded became centers for Hellenic education and cultural centers where the Hellenic civilization met with and enhanced the local ones. In this way, an empire with definite Hellenic elements and hyper-national prospects was created. Alexander's immense and truly unprecedented contribution lies in his assimilating into the Hellenic mentality the hyper-national and universal element, as well as in his grafting of the entire known world at the time with Hellenic thought and Hellenic civilization.
Alexander's opus itself comprises a landmark, both in Greek history as well as Hellenic cultural tradition. The migration from the classical Hellenic era into the subsequent Hellenistic years is accompanied - as we mentioned - by a transcendence from a mentality of exclusivity, as well as a parallel cultivation of a universal ideology. Education, philosophy and cultural values in general, are no longer an exclusive privilege of the citizens of a Greek city-state as was the case during Plato's time; they are now offered without discretion, in new historical environments.
Of course a familiar fact that should not escape our thoughts, is that Alexander's campaigns did not encounter any cultural vacuums. On the contrary, in many cases his conquests brought Hellenic thought and cultural legacy to some remarkable, existing cultural traditions. In Egypt, Syria, Persia and Mesopotamia, well before Alexander's time, other noteworthy civilizations were already flourishing. The influence of Hellenic cultural tradition on the civilizations of these countries is a well-known and indisputable fact. What occurred with Alexander was essentially an embracing of Hellenism with those local civilizations. When we say "essential" embracing, we mean that the conquerors did not simply transplant their civilization; they also embraced those cultural elements, customs and traditions, even the religious beliefs, of the peoples that they had conquered. In this way, a bond so strong formed between Hellenism and the conquered peoples, that in most cases they could not be torn apart. Furthermore, the founding of new cities by Alexander's successors and descendants - with mixed compositions in which the Hellenic element was naturally predominant but with space enough for the local element - contributed significantly towards the Greeks' putting down roots in those foreign lands.
The Hellenistic era was charged with the spirit of co-existence and hyper-national unity. Within this atmosphere of inter-embracing between civilizations and customs, the trend towards religious mingling gained more and more ground. In an environment that desired to be universal, religious unity became even more self-evident. Various perceptions and religious beliefs of various hues and origins comprised a new reality, whose characteristic was conciseness. We often observe a growing respect and recognition for something that in other eras and under different circumstances would have been shunned. "And who is he that has not acknowledged the barbarians' wisdom? Has he not likewise succumbed to atheism, or had doubts about the gods, about whether they exist or not, or about whether they care for us or not?" This religious mingling of assorted teachings was very often spiced with a variety of philosophical teachings, which also proved to be supports of religious faith. Thus, historical coincidences, in parallel to the cultural, commercial, social and political relations, gradually imposed a religious eclecticism during the Hellenistic era, which led to religious co-existence.
Religious co-existence was not rarely expressed by the acceptance of religious beliefs of various cultures; it was truly an era of inter-faith communication. Personalities of the ancient Greek pantheon related to deities of other peoples. Venus and Ceres for example related to Isis of the ancient Egyptians, while Zeus related to Serapes - lord of the earth and the abyss in the Babylonian religion. Redeemer gods, such as Asia Minor's Cybele and the Syrian Adonis were paralleled to the redeemer gods of the Greek religion such as Aesclepius, Dionysus and Demeter. From the moment that polytheism became a religious fact, Greeks had no difficulty in adding new deities to their own pantheon, or in renaming their own deities. The characteristic of the Hellenistic era -especially during the latter years - was the lack of any interest for a strict, confined religion. On the contrary, traditional religions opened their doors to new religious beliefs and espoused new worships and teachings. The phenomenon of religious mingling walked side by side with philosophical eclecticism and not rarely, the two were combined.
Undoubtedly, the rash of secular piety was attributed to this opening, where human-deism had a central place. Humanoid gods were an evolution of ancient hero-worship. It is well-known that in ancient Greece it was an established custom to posthumously elevate men who with their potency and power had protected the city, to the status of heroes and to bestow upon them honors befitting demi-gods.
In the ancient Greek pantheon, heroes had a place somewhere between humans and God. Human-deism during the Hellenistic era was one step above hero-worship. In human-deism, secular piety sees the presence of God Himself residing in the actions and the successes of certain people. Thus, the kings of the Hellenistic era ( and later on, those of the Roman era ) were either deified, or identified with the gods of Olympus.
This turn of religious faith towards a sovereign lord is already familiar, since the time of Alexander the Great. Alexander himself was believed to have been born " of divine transubstantiation" , while the Egyptians regarded him as the incarnation of God the most high, or as the son of Zeus of Ammon, who was worshipped as ruler of the world. There were of course reactions at the time, over the deification of a king. Plutarch has preserved the information that "Lysippos the sculptor reproached Apellene the artist, because in the image he had painted of Alexander, he had placed a thunderbolt in his hand" . The deification of monarchs passed down, to Alexander's successors and descendants.
Following the death of his father Ptolemy I the Lagos or Sotiras (Saviour), Ptolemy II the Philadelphus established a special type of worship for him - the worship of "god the saviour" . This worship later included his mother Bernice after her demise, whom they worshipped as a goddess in the state's religion together with her husband; this was the religion of the "savior gods" . Ptolemy II did not hesitate to deify himself and his sister also; they were both worshipped as "sibling gods" . From Ptolemy III onwards, kings and queens enjoyed divine honors. An Egyptian inscription characteristically refers to Ptolemy IV the Eminent as " an eminent, pleasant god, descended from King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, both parent-loving gods" . The apotheosis of kings is also familiar to the Seleucid and Attalide dynasties, where one distinguishes parallel and proportionate religious expressions.
The issue is, that the apotheosis and worship of a king comprised a connective element in the Hellenistic era's state. The person of the god-king left no margins for dissolution, since all subjects of the state were obliged to participate in the state's religion and to display their respect towards the god-king in practice. The deification of a king during the Hellenistic years had, as we said, its roots in the hero-worship of ancient Greece. Beyond this however, it is an undeniable fact that monarchal deification was amplified by similar convictions of peoples from the east. We must note here that during the Hellenistic years, one observes a general admiration of the religious spirit of the East. Phenomena of apotheosis of a king and king-worship can be found in the ancient Babylonian religion, as well as in the religion of the Assyrians. Information has been preserved that from the very ancient times, the Babylonians "regarded the majesty of the king equal to that of God" .
The ancient Egyptians also considered the Pharaoh to be God's representative, an incarnate God, son, or the incarnation of the God Ra or Horus or Aton. The same applies for the Persians. Alexander the Great is said to have written to Darius the phrase "To the great God, king Darius, greetings" . Origen gives us the information that in Phoenicia and Palestine the phenomenon of deification was not unusual: "It was offhanded but quite usual to say ‘I am a god, or the child of a god, or a divine spirit'" .
It is self-evident, that the phenomenon of god-kings belongs to the more general religious direction and philosophy of the Hellenistic years; it states on one hand the religious tolerance and the multiplicity that reinforced the unity of the people, and on the other hand, the attempt for unification of the state. The deification of kings indeed comprised a symptom of the Hellenistic religious concretizing, which began with Alexander the Great and continued with his successors and descendants, and passed down to the Roman Empire. This re-merging and connecting of various religious traditions - beyond having helped the solidification of ecumenical and supranational principles, appeared exceptionally useful in the preparation and acceptance of the Gospel. The "Orientalising" of the Greek religion and the "Hellenizing" of eastern religions in essence led the world into a new phase of expectation. Religious concretism, despite its multiplicity and its contents, proclaims a common and supranational quest for the One God who is beyond all discriminations and disruptions and who is comprehended as the connective and unifying power of the world.
The opus of Alexander the Great has been evaluated as a labour of supranational and ecumenical significance. The blunting and near eradication of religious opposition, the common exploitation of cultural commodities, the discoloring of racial and social discriminations, as well as the institution of the Greek language, all provided unity to an entire world and prepared it to become the vessel of a new message, a new "regime", where "Greek and Jew, circumcision and foreskin, barbarian, Skythian, slave, free are not distinguishable; instead, everything is Christ and Christ is in everything" (Colossians, 3 11).


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