Today’s post is unfortunately relevant to events this week in Charlottesville, VA and the awful, awful response to that white supremacist and Nazi violence by America’s awful, awful President, Donald Trump. If President Trump’s response left you sad and angry, here’s a story that may lift your spirits.
In front of the most important church in Athens — the Greek Orthodox Cathedral — there is a statue of Archbishop Damaskinos. Who was he, and why is there a statue of him at such an important location?
Damaskinos was one of the few officials in Christianity who stood up to the Nazis and openly denounced the German occupation of Greece and many other countries in Europe during World War II (WWII). Speaking out for what he knew was right and telling truth to power put his life at risk — when a Nazi officer threatened to execute him by firing squad, Damaskinos responded that in the Greek Orthodox tradition, high ranking officials were usually hanged, not shot, and asked the officer to respect his wishes and the tradition of his religion. He was neither shot nor hanged and survived until 1949, several years after the Nazis were defeated and WWII ended.
As Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos was in charge of all of the Greek Orthodox churches in the city, and he ordered these churches to give Jews certificates that showed that they had been baptized, even if they hadn’t been. Jews could show these certificates to “prove” that they had converted to Christianity. The certificates saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
That is how to respond if Nazis come knocking on your door.
Though Damaskinos is less well-known than similar heroes like Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz, whom we met in Budapest, Hungary, his courage is just as inspiring.