By Nico Bougas — Originally published in Assist News Service
Some 57 people from various countries were detained by local police in Greece last Saturday, July 27, 2013. The reason? They were distributing New Testament scriptures to the local population.
This may seem bizarre, but a group of priests of the Orthodox Church in Greece have mounted a concerted effort to prevent the distribution of copies of God’s Word in modern Greek to homes throughout northern Greece.
For the past week nearly 400 volunteers from 25 countries have gathered in a town near ancient Philippi. They are participating in a mass Bible distribution project called Operation Joshua 6.
Although the New Testament was written in Greek, very few Greeks own a copy of the New Testament, and even fewer have ever read it. If they do have a copy, it is likely to be in a form of older Greek that most contemporary Greeks would not understand. The Bible is viewed as a book which can only be understood and interpreted by the local priest, theologians or academics.
However, Greece does have its own Greek Bible Society which produces Bibles for the Greek people. This includes a modern translation which has been approved by the Greek State church. Three prominent bishops of the church sit on its board while other members of the board are also members of the Greek Orthodox State Church. This modern translation is the edition which is being distributed by Hellenic Ministries during their Operation Joshua campaign. It contains endorsements from 4 patriarchs of the Orthodox Church from around the world.
Included with the Orthodox approved hardbound copy of the New Testament which has been translated and produced by the Greek Bible Society is an audio version of this New Testament read by a prominent Greek Orthodox member.
Also included is the personal story of a Greek whose life was transformed by the message of the gospel from a life of gambling.
Included in the Bible gift bag, is also a disclaimer to point out that this is a Christian group that holds to the teachings of the Bible and of the historical church creeds. In addition people are encouraged to read the Bible and to attend their local church.
One would have thought that this sort of project would be welcomed by any Christian church or group committed to following the truths of the Bible. Not so. This effort has been opposed by both civic and religious leaders. Hellenic Ministries has been condemned as a sect and a cult. This despite the fact that there has been no attempt to enlist members in the movement; there has been no attempt to divert from the teachings of the Bible or of the early church fathers which are so dear to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Some priests have gone so far as to instruct their parishioners to burn the copies of the scriptures that have been given to them by our volunteers. Since, “it cannot be a holy book if it is distributed by heretics.” In other cases, priests have voiced their threats that they will press legal charges and if necessary, use physical force.
Not all Greek Orthodox priests have been quite so antagonistic towards the movement. Some have even encouraged their members to read the Bibles that have been given to them. During a similar campaign last year held in Alexandropolis on the north-eastern border of Greece, the area bishop, Bishop Anthimos attended one of the devotional meetings and brought a word of encouragement to the workers. Amongst other things, he said that the problems of Greece were not principally economic or financial but that the Greeks had abandoned Holy Spirit.
Steve Dutton, International Director of Hellenic Ministries, finds it difficult to understand the logic of both the religious and civic leaders.
“The economy of Greece is all but bankrupt,” he said. “We are gathering almost 400 volunteers, who come to join us at their own expense, they bring much needed foreign exchange, they spend money on food, accommodation, and transportation; they enjoy the glorious country with its rich historical heritage and return home as ambassadors for Greece.
“Yet, the work that they are doing is seemingly opposed at every turn. This sort of attitude is extremely difficult to understand from a country which claims to be a Christian country with ties to the early Apostles, the birthplace of democracy and with a constitution that today guarantees religious freedom.