Monday, March 28, 2005


A few weeks ago, returning from the Sunday night Glendi, I was visited by three ghosts. After dismissing them as my predecessor Scrooge did before me as but a manifestation of an undigestible portion of an Antipodean Souvlaki or Baklava, they introduced themselves as the ghosts of Antipodes past, present and future. I tried to take a photo of them to accompany this Diatribe but strangely enough, it did not come out. The ghost of Antipodes past, a jolly, keen eyed effusive phantom called Jorge waved his arms and suddenly visions of a Lonsdale Street crammed with multitudes of souvlaki chomping, elbow jostling revelers signing to the strains of a Giorgos Dalaras or Eleutheria Arvanitaki came into sharp focus. The ghost of Antipodes present was a most stylish, devilishly debonair and smoothly complexioned apparition called Anargyros, who with a sassy snap of his fingers brought forth a vision of a contented crowd of people walking comfortably down Lonsdale Street and taking in all the many local acts. The third ghost, that of Antipodes future, was dressed in black and a red question mark (a Greek one, thus ;) obscured its features. When asked its name and to supply a vision, it replied: "Get stuffed. Wait and see."
Generally speaking the Greeks of our community like to think big, when it comes to community events and especially the Glendi, as this provides us with a unique opportunity each year to dominate the city center and showcase our culture to the whole of Melbourne. Big numbers, big acts of Greece and big sales of product are but just a few of the large expectations we have all developed of the Glendi in recent years. It comes then as no surprise that visitors and participants to both the Glendi and the National Day Parade, see in the diminished number of participants, ill omens of an end. Admittedly, the crowd at the Glendi was smaller than immediately previous years and there were no big acts from Greece visiting to galvanise the crowd, causing disappointment. Yet in my mind, this year's Glendi was arguably the best that has ever organized by the Antipodes Festival. For its organisers have realised that we can no longer be solely culturally dependant upon Greece. While the 'big acts' from Greece are certainly enjoyable, it would be heinous to think that the large resource of local talent that exists here in Melbourne lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the wider Greek community. If we admitted this, we would then have to admit that though our cultural transplantation was successful, we have left our cultural fruit to wither and rot off our tree, expecting instead, imported fruit from the motherland and that by implication, we will not be for long within the orchard. By interspersing the length of Lonsdale Street with local acts, the Glendi this year sent a clear message to our community: We too are Greeks, we too have talent, come and see it, nurture it and support it. The rock stylings of George Iliopoulos, the talented dance groups that plied their stuff on stage and the many other diverse manifestations of our unique cultural experience in Melbourne were prominently displayed for all to enjoy and enjoy them the crowd did.
This year, Antipodes finally dispelled once and for all the threadbare myth that all we have to show for ourselves is the souvlaki and the Zorba. Instead it provided a valuable community service by being an incubator whereby local talent can not only be displayed but nurtured and developed before an understanding and appreciative, ready audience, thus ensuring that the seeds of our fruit will not only sprout, but grow tall, proud and tantalizingly original.
Of particular note was the most excellent cultural display of the Cultural League of Epirus. Now that is what festivals are all about. Despite objections by some of their 'well-meaning peers,' a group of Epirots re-enacted the interior of a traditional home. Offering sweetmeats and cakes to passersby and dressed in traditional costume, they danced in the streets, engaged with non-Greek passersbys, often convincing them to take a dance or to and had a real ball. The crowd around the Epirots' stand did not diminish over the two days, as a real party atmosphere prevailed, one which of late has been missing from our increasingly 'uptight' community. It was touching to see young children timidly approach the stand and touch or finger some of the traditional costumes and implements while grandparents explained their use to them and told them stories of their own childhood. This is the exposition of Greek culture at its very best. While tradition may be a thing of the past, it forms the basis of who we are and we would do well to remember this when we ask how best we can showcase our culture to the world.
From the third floor of the GOCMV building where community 'leaders' mill around each other and Steve Bracks, trade gossip and exhalt in the fact that they are literally a 'cut above' the rest of the Greek populace, while the Greek Consul general advises that he refuses to recognise or deal with local Greek organizations that talk about Northern Epirus, and exhausted GOCMV committee members pour yet another glass of wine for their guests, Lonsdale Street seems small, festival-goers, practically miniscule. I look out the window at the smaller than usual crowd secure in the knowledge that next year and as the Festival continues to mark the coming years that it is not quantity but quality that really counts and under the direction of the Antipodes committee, we have nothing to fear. Suddenly, the red question mark on the faceless ghost of Antipodes Future straightens, erects and becomes an exclamation mark. Next year, the crowd that appreciated local acts this year, will certainly be back, and more besides.
The same cannot be said about the National Day parade. For a parade that once commenced at Collins Street and was able to draw thousands of spectators, it has shrunk, through indifference and the refusal of young people to don on their native costume to a mere shadow of itself. The fact that many participating organizations engage in much internecine strife about who will march before whom also does not help. "Where are all the people," a non-Greek friend of mine asked me. "I thought you Greeks were patriotic, or so you say." Or so we say indeed. Gone is the joyous and proud atmosphere of yesteryear and gone too is the electrifying revolutionary atmosphere created at the march in 1992 by Chrysostomos of Cyprus. Today, we march because… well because we have to really, I mean it would be a shame to let it die out all of a sudden…and well, let us allow it to wither away slowly. Many organizations that five or ten years ago would proudly march with ten or twenty members dressed in national costume have now dwindled to five or less. Whereas previous parades were a kaleidescope of colour, showcasing the diversity of Greek tradition and costume, several organisations had barely enough personnel to man the field and in at least one situation, non-Greek participants dressed up in national costume and participated, simply because the Greeks youth of that organisation flatly refused to take part in what they consider to be a useless and highly embarrassing display of wogginess. This is a shame as the march provides ample opportunity for us to not only instil a sense of pride in our identity byut to affirm and legitimise our unashamedly Hellenic presence in this city.
The few hundred spectators that trailed the pathways of the shrine looked on listlessly as the motley crew of marchers straggled up towards the steps of the Shrine in no particular order. By the time his Grace Bishop Ezekiel had finished his memorial for the dead and the Greek Consul General advised the participants that they were all celebrating the 21st of March rather than the 25th of March, most of the sorry crowd of spectators had melted away. This is a shame as they would have missed out on Minister McGauran telling us how proud he was that "beside every Greek flag, there is an Australian flag, showing the influence that Greek people have had upon Australian society." Quite apart from the fact that one struggles to conceive how the constituent phrases of that sentence logically fit together, the message is clear: We will only tolerate your pretty little march as long as you know where your true loyalty must lie.
I don't believe I will ever be visited by the ghost of National Day Parade Future. For me the parade has always been a traumatic experience of seeing adults drag their unwilling kids to the city, dress them in 'weird' clothes and see those kids feeling humiliated and totally self-conscious, walking up to the shrine uttering 'never again.' Somewhere along the line, we have failed here. There is something horridly wrong in feeling so ashamed, especially given that the official rhetoric goes along the lines of all of us being so proud to be Greek. Or maybe that it is so only when it suits us. Who knows? Time will tell. In the meantime, let us once more supplicate the ghost of Jacob Marley: Spirit, take us away from this place. We can bear it no more.


First published in NKEE on 28 March 2005

Monday, March 21, 2005


When Greeks in Hellenistic times referred to the mummified corpse of Alexander the Great in Alexandria, they did so, not as departed basileus or leader but simply as the "σώμα." That the legacy of that soma proved particularly heavy for the Hellenistic world can be evidenced by the mad scramble of the epigonoi, Alexander' generals, to gain possession of this carcass as a conferrer of legitimacy to world rule and that the entire Hellenistic period was overshadowed by the legacy and devotion to that soma, a lifeless caricature of a call to greatness that in the end, proved impossible to emulate.
There is a school of thought that contends that our entire history is a soma, a bloated and festering carcass of greatness that once in a while enters our nostrils and causes us to recoil in revulsion at our own contemporary odour of lowliness as compared to what we have been told is, the sweet swelling fragrance of our great past. Perhaps the most eloquent exposition of this view of our cultural heritage can be found in the great poet George Seferis' work, "Argonautes," where in one poem he wakes up with a marble bust in his hand which he does not understand and is a great burden to him.
As true epigonoi of Hellenism, we have our own somata here. One of these is our perception of our community as one organised and compartmentalised by organisations. It is of no small coincidence that one of the Greek words used to describe such organisations, σωματεία sounds very much like σώμα, which is unsurprising, since both mean 'bodies' in the vernacular and its does not require much of a conceptual leap to see how close the term 'body' is to that of a 'corpse,' festering or otherwise.
We have heard it all before. While we maintain the façade that our community is organised by ethnotopical organisations, in reality, these have dwindled to the point almost of extinction in the worst case and benign irrelevance at best. One would be forgiven then in thinking that our soma is our attachment to such organizations, given that they were created in the optimistic and productive days of our early migrants and today, like Seferis' statue, are merely burdens, whose festering legacy is a Steinbeckian admission that the best laid deeds of mice and men do often lead astray, being rendered useless in time and further, a denial of immortality and the guilt that is implied therein.
Yet given the evident putrescence of our soma, that would only be telling half the story of its decomposition. In fact our particular soma is not the illogical attachment to irrelevant organisations but rather, an attachment to the idea that our community MUST be compartmentalised into any form of corporate organisation in order to ensure not only its survival but its very conceptual existence. The fallacy of this way of thinking, as it has emerged within the past ten years is as evident as its development is intriguing. Somewhere along the line, various prominent members of our community perceptively identified the decay and irrelevance of our traditional organisations, wracked as they were by factional strife. Yet so pervasive is the influence of the soma that the only way that they could see to arrest this problem, which they saw as being the ineffectual and impotent standing of our community as against the wider Australian and Greek societal sphere was the federation or unification of all these bodies into a further, 'uber-body' which presumably, strengthened by the combined resources of our malignant tumour-like ethnotopical organisations, would produce enough antibodies to arrest our terminal decline.
The well-intentioned Council of Greeks Abroad, of which I am an Oceania Youth Co-ordinator is but one of the bodies that sprung from this mode of thinking. Yet after approximately ten years of existence and valiant efforts by its co-ordinators to make it work, it is struggling in Australia. Comprised of federations of organisations 'approved' by the Greek government, it is supposed to be a representative body of Greeks in Australia that the Greek government consults on various issues pertaining to it. The existence of SAE is supposed to bring about 'unity' and ‘communication.’ Yet successive conferences in Thessaloniki have proven to be a shambles where no topics of any interest to the general migrant have ever been discussed intelligently, nor does a forum, or indeed a structure for a forum for the Greek government or the Council to take into account Greek community consensus of opinion and then realize it exist. Instead, presidents and appointees of often 'letterhead' ethnotopical bodies proudly indulge in self-serving skullduggery oblivious to the needs of the persons they supposedly 'represent,' the Greek government ‘changes’ its structure every two years but retains non-representative groups within it and the hard-working, visionary SAE Co-ordinators are left to pick up the pieces of community disapprobation.
The plight of SAE youth mirrors this. It is supposed to be comprised of the youth bodies of senior organisations, as the Greek government and the Greek-Australian community is so attached to the legacy of its soma that it cannot see that the vast majority of Greek-Australian youth are not represented by 'organisations' or 'youth groups.' Of the youth groups the Youth Council is comprised of, only several have an existence that is not in name only. This notwithstanding, the Greek government refuses to entertain the antisomatic suggestion that Greek-Australian youth are not represented by organisations (if they were would not more be in active existence?) and view the solution to this particular body's rigor mortis as the addition of further (non-existent?) youth organisations and/or the staging of 'functions' to prove that the corpse can be resuscitated in classic Weekend at Bernie's fashion.
The recent announcement of the creation of the Greek Australia Council comes then at a crucial time. When one notices that the driving force behind such a Council are prominent community personalities such as Mike Zafiropoulos and Theo Theophanous, one is compelled to sit up and take notice. One is also compelled to admire their vision when they say that ‘primarily its aim will be to unite Greek Australian individuals, corporations and organisations for the benefit of the community.’ Yet let us all beware lest we celebrate our exosomatic liberation too soon. For the laudably created Greek Australian Council seems remarkably akin both in its stated aims and scope, to the already existing Hellenic Council, the only difference being that while the latter is comprised of the usual mouldering ethnotopical bodies, whose delegates seem to believe they have a mandate from the Greek community to negotiate matters which they determine without broader consultation to be of interest to that community with the Australian Government (notwithstanding this, they have become over recent years, noteworthy and effective lobbyists), the former envisions itself to be a body of professionals, personalities and high-profile Greeks of influence, who also have abrogated for themselves the role, by virtue of their success of being the public face of the Greek community and working for its ‘benefit,’ subjectively perceived of course. Hopefully, their high profile in the wider sphere will smooth the path for greater communication and exposure to the upper echelons of power. However, how these august personages will be able to represent the needs of the elderly Greek pensioner in Fawkner, the apprentice in Footscray or the small business owner is South Melbourne, or indeed how this essentially elitist body will conceive of mechanisms through which the diverse gamut of opinions and interests of our fragmented community can be canvassed and effectively portrayed is yet to be known and may be irrelevant in a community whose soma is not what is, but what is seen to be.
"What this community needs," a community 'leader' was telling me the other day, "is a saviour, an Alexander to get rid of all the stupid disputes and unite us into one body." Again the soma that has plagued our existence for all time seems to afflict us still, from beyond its watery grave somewhere below the sunken harbour of Alexandria. Perhaps it is time we realized that we need no saviours and that no elitists could ever seek to enclose us within the narrow confines of their own subjective vision. The fact that there existed only one Alexander and that his achievements were squandered among his descendants in a matter of years and were set at nought is surely enough to convince us to divest ourselves of our somata once and for all and to realize that our survival is not contingent solely upon the existence of top-heavy organisations or any self-appointed 'saviour' (though groups such as the Hellenic Council and the Greek Australia Council are important and their members deserve our appreciation) but rather simple, grass roots adherence to one's own tradition and respect for the diversity that is so intrinsic to our own identity. And perhaps then, age-old adherents of cultural freedom such as Demosthenes, as well as the weary soma of Alexander himself, could finally rest in peace.

First published in NKEE on 21March 2005

Monday, March 14, 2005


"In order for there to be true cleansing, all of us bishops should resign. And then we should go and drown ourselves" Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos.

The recent media furore in Greece over allegations of corruption within the Greek Church has scandalized and disillusioned believers while simultaneously delighting its opponents. Indeed, the affairs of the Church of Greece read like a spy thriller or a Byzantine Court chronicle. All the great elements are there, skullduggery, espionage, international incidents, embezzling and deep plotting. While the allegations of certain individuals' misdeeds are mind-blowing as is the mounting pressure for a separation of Church and State, what is even more so mind-blowing, is that their existence is couched, for better or worse in historical precedent.
For better or for worse, the Greek people Church and State and almost always been synonymous, with Church affairs being at the forefront of State concern, ever since Christianity's inception. It was Constantine and the Roman Emperors after him who had authority to call Ecumenical councils and much of the reigns of the early Emperors were spent in determining policies that would identify and attempt to root out heresy, Constantine condemning the Arians for example and Justinian the Monophysites. As the Patriarchate of Constantinople increased in importance and assumed the title of "Oecumenical," a remarkable legitimizing synergy between Emperor and Patriarch emerged, especially in the time of Photius, where the Emperor, the embodiment of the State ruled by the Grace of God and was God's representative on earth, while it was incumbent upon the Church to ensure that the Emperor indeed ruled in accordance to God's precepts. This gave the Church some ability to censure or even attempt to remove ungodly Emperors, as in the case of Constantine IV. It is therefore difficult to clearly perceive definable limits between Church and State and these would be clouded even further at the Council of Florence in 1439 when the Emperor John Palaiologos himself headed a delegation to the Papists and despite the opposition of his more enlightened clerics, almost singlehandedly arranged the re-union between the Orthodox and Roman Churches.
So ingrained within the psyche of not only the Greeks but those who came into contact with them was the synthesis of Church and State, that the Ottoman Sultans declared the Oecumenical Patriarch to be the head of the "Rum millet" or Christian 'nation.' Christians were henceforth to be tried in their own courts, liable to pay certain taxes to their hierarch while at the same time, the Oecumenical Patriarch was to be directly answerable to the Sultan for his flock's behaviour. This arrangement had two lasting effects upon the Greek nation. It reinforced upon the Greek people and the Orthodox Church, the idea that the Church is synonymous with the nation. Indeed, when one takes a look at history, it is impossible to state otherwise. Our history books display Bishop Germanos declaring the Greek Revolution in Patra, Bishop Dionysios 'Skylosophos' of Trikki leading a revolt against the Turks and being flayed alive for it in the 17th century, Bishop Evgenios Boulgaris valiantly attempting to build schools to educate the Greek people, St Kosmas the Aetolian spreading Hellenism throughout the Balkans while in popular legend, κρυφά σχολία were conducted furtively by a priest. And we do not need to look far into the past to realize how inextricably linked the Orthodox Church is to the emergence and survival of the Greek nation. Metropolitan Germanos Karavangelis of Kastoria was instrumental in ensuring that at least part of Macedonia was retained for the Greek people, Metropolitan Spyridon Vlachos, later Archbishop of Greece was instrumental in the declaration of the autonomy of Northern Epirus, while ethnomartyr Chrysostom of Smyrna so identified himself with his Greek flock that he refused to abandon it during the terrible days of the Smyrnan genocide of 1922, and delivered himself to the Turkish mob, which tore him apart. In the most extreme example of the existing synergy between Church and State, look no further than Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus, not only a hierarch but widely regarded also, as an "ethnarch."
The Ottoman arrangement also had another major effect. Whereas in Byzantium, clergy were constantly kept in check by the strong opinions of a public who was well-informed on ecclesiastical issues, this being a favourite Byzantine pastime, the easy transformation from helpmeet of the State to being "the State," caused upper clergy to become increasingly more remote from their flock. In order to keep their positions safe and viable not only from the Ottomans, who demanded huge bribes and resorted to extortion from the Church in order to fill their coffers, but also from other ambitious clergymen who had greater access to funds in order to bribe their way into high position, the Church became increasingly self-serving and jealous of its privileges. The high level of intrigue surrounding the Patriarchal Court at Phanari has become legendary and to some respects, is still alive in the Church of Greece's Holy Synod today. As the Ottoman arrangement stipulated the fine clothes and horses available to supreme hierarchs, so some hierarchs identified themselves not as the shepherd of their flock but its ruler, with all the accoutrements this implied.
This lasting legacy remains in the Church of Greece. When the Church of Greece was forcibly separated from the Oecumenical Patriarchate in 1833 by the entourage of King Otto, the gleeful bishops who made up the first synod suddenly found themselves as heads of a Church and ever since, some have come to behave more like άρχοντες than clergymen. Like naughty schoolboys indulging in pranks while their teacher is away, without the steady guide of the Oecumenical Patriarch, some of these prelates have indulged in financial or sexual scandals, surrounded themselves with the adulation of sycophants while contributing little to the spiritual welfare of believers. Instead they have become princes. Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens is a case in point. Instead of policing the antics of his hierarchs he has indulged in a demented quest to appear as a popular ethnarch, firstly by resorting in crass jokes in order to 'draw a crowd' and then by making embarrassing and often irrelevant partisan statements about Greek foreign or public policy to the chagrin of all but the most unenlightened. While there is nothing wrong with a prelate commenting on current affairs per se, Christodoulos has openly sided with political parties, derided important negotiations and attempted to polarise Greek society, especially during the identity card debacle, against itself. As a result, public respect for such worldly hierarchs has wavered. Interestingly enough, overall confidence in the Church still remains strong.
"May the hand of he who raises it against the Church wither," Christodoulos once dramatically declared. Yet instead of establishing controls for errant clergy, he has indulged in divisive polemics against the Oecumenical Patriarchate in his quest for obtaining more power, while a minority of preening prelates perpetrated pernicious peccadilloes, to the perplexity of the populace.
There is no doubt that given our history that the Greek people largely still cannot view the Church as anything but a helpmeet to the State and as synonymous with the ethnos. As such they have high expectations of the leaders of such an important institution. Yet with such power comes responsibility. Patriarch Gregory V knew this when he was slaughtered as a reprisal for the Greek revolution of 1821. Archbishop Makarios knew this when he was exiled to the Seychelles by the British for advocating the rights of Greeks in Cyprus and again when persecuted by the Junta for fighting for liberty. Archbishop Christodoulos bears no comparison and he should also realize that he cannot crave the temporal power and status he so desires by right but by popular respect and by grass roots interaction with the people. If the errant hierarchs of the Church of Greece purport to be the ethnos, then they have betrayed it. Perhaps they could take a leaf out of the Church experience of our community here in Australia. Though in keeping with the best of Byzantine tradition public opinions on it vary, it cannot be doubted that in keeping with the great social leveling experience that is Australia, our prelates do not set themselves above their flock, preening themselves and grasping for power but interact with them personally, are approachable and accountable and do make a lasting contribution to the retention of Hellenism here.
If there is a silver lining in this nebulous state of affairs, it is that the antics of a few errant hierarchs have not otherwise lessened the people's confidence in a Church whose charitable, missionary and philanthropic activity is vastly out of proportion with its miniscule size and which Church has earned the respect of the entire world. Tens of thousands of children in Africa owe their education, medical care and sustenance to appeals constantly made by the Church of Greece and it is to the people's credit that they can distinguish between a few bad apples and an extremely sound barrel. While some Greek despots may preen themselves as much as they wish and demand obeisance from sycophants, they have lost the respect of their deserving flock and their conscientious brother hierarchs. As the lost sheep that they are, it is time now that they return, humbled and contrite to their shepherd in Constantinople, accept his gentle guidance and set about fulfilling the righteous expectations of believers and the Church.

First published in NKEE on 14 March 2005

Monday, March 07, 2005


An old Jewish proverb tells that in one’s life, one must find a teacher, and a friend and it is preferable that one person covers both hypostases. Indeed in many traditions, the relationship between teacher and student is a particularly important one. In Islamic tradition, one cannot write or comment on Islamic law without referring to their teacher and amazingly, commentaries exist that refer to an unbroken chain of teachers and students who have commented on each other’s works, re-interpreted, elaborated and studied them, stemming back at least five hundred years.
Greek tradition also partakes of this respect and awe between teacher and student and there are innumerable examples of such relationships, the most famous being that of Alexander and Aristotle, or that of Plato and Socrates, where the latter’s death so affected Plato that it pushed him to invent fascism. Byzantine teachers, such as the brilliant and erudite Patriarch Photius also enjoyed a devoted following of students, while in modern times, teachers who were particularly linked with the revival of Hellenism and education, such as Adamantios Korais, Eugenios Voulgaris and most significantly St Kosmas the Aetolian are hailed as “teachers of the nation” (διδάσκαλοι του Γένους.) The dedication of these personages to their students is evident in their legacy: in Northern Epirus, the persecuted Greek minority still turns to the sermons and homilies of St Kosmas for guidance.
For the past fifty years, an unsung generation of Greek migrants has humbly assumed the shoes of their illustrious predecessors, with varying success. Some inspiring in their dedication to retaining and developing Hellenism in far-flung Australia in their young charges, others merely marking time and obtaining some weekend pocket-money, Greek teachers until recently have loomed large in the lives of Greek-Australian youth, with mixed legacies. Everyone has a horror story of teachers gleefully applying the strap, or of others who would consign students to a whole week of insoluble grammatical tasks. This notwithstanding, the lot of the Greek teacher is sadly not that of his glorified prototype but rather that of disapprobation and well, derision. The reason for this is simple. When push comes to shove, no-one likes to give up their weekend and their ‘freedom,’ not even for the sake of Hellenism. So there is a traditional antagonistic sympathy between Greek-school teacher and student.
The other day, I was looking at one of my old Greek school-books, especially the classic initials at the back: ΟΔΕΒ. I was showing a friend how in a fit of boredom in grade four, I had devised various phrases for this acronym, including the classic: «Ο Δάσκαλος είναι βλάκας,» as well as «Ε διάβασε! Ο Βαριέμαι!» My friend then laughed, suggested a few gems of his own and then asked: “Was there any teacher that you had, that really made a difference?”
Enter Stylianos Papadopoulos, or rather enter me, for Mr Papadopoulos had instilled the Greek tongue in thousands of Greek-Australians before I knew him. I had just changed Greek schools and walked into his class. He looked me up and down and asked softly: “Which is better? Leniency or Justice?” “Justice,” I replied. “Noooooo,” he exclaimed, wide-eyed: “Justice is Anglo-Saxonic. Leniency is Greek. Now sit down.” I was fifteen and felt total amazement. Almost as I had entered the classroom, a wave of warmth that emanated from this man surged forth and practically bowled me over. In his loud, exuberant manner, he cajoled, taught and exhorted, the class, all knowing and all seeing. I could not understand how he seemed to be in perfect sympathy with the thoughts of every single one of my fellow classmates, nor how he could read my thoughts so precisely. All I knew was that I was in the presence of a truly remarkable man.
Lessons with Mr Papadopoulos were admittedly unpredictable. He would suddenly come to class armed with bread and cheese, and distribute it to us. We would then all sit outside while he lectured us on the virtues and ethics of the great Greek philosophers. The rationale behind this, as he explained, was that “you think better while sharing a meal, and you think collectively.” This was a secular scholastic mystical supper in which the students were exhorted not only to understand the text or its meaning but rather appreciate how each person interpreted it and what effects and applications it could have on each individual. In short, it was a lesson in being human.
Mr Papadopoulos’ view of life was admittedly partisan but it was based on such a rare reverence for the human being and his cognitive powers that it permitted the free exercise of speech and thought, though he would pounce good-heartedly upon anyone who would dare to speak without completing his thought process. I was a case in point. “You are a selfish student,” he would exclaim (and still does in relation to the Diatribes). “You never say exactly what you mean and you dwell in ambiguities...” Ambiguities, in the best tradition of positivism were to be deconstructed and demythologized, rather than used as a dark cloak of self-indulgence. One owed it to his fellow man, to communicate with him directly, omitting nothing, in total honesty, just as Mr Papadopoulos did.
Mr Papadopoulos’ humanism, based as it was on egalitarianism and compassion was unashamedly Greek. Through the use of such diverse texts as the poems in exile of Ritsos, Socrates’Apology or even a Greek translation of Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, he was able to construct a narrative of the cosmos that not only exemplified the depths to which humanity could sink, but also point a path, always through the Greek literary and philosophical tradition, towards redemption. The most ‘cool’ or ‘rough’ students would find themselves automatically quoting long swathes of poetry or pointing to obscure incidents in the lives of Greek heroes as if this information had always existed within and needed only the ministries of this didactic Pied Piper, to bring it to the surface, and set it free.
In Mr Papadopoulos’ class, no one was admonished for not speaking Greek. For all students, the speaking of Greek became a natural consequence of poring over the vast corpus of the Greek tradition, pondering its meanings and delving into its concerns. We were at one with the positivist ‘new generation’ poets of the 30’s, expressed solidarity with the demoticists who insisted upon a vernacular close to the spoken tongue of the people and cheered on Slavophone Macedonomach Captain Kotta as his exploits in freeing Macedonia were studied at length through the sharp but uproariously unpredictable and side-splitting humour that only Mr Papadopoulos could apply to such devastating effect, reducing class after class to tears of continuous laughter.
One ambiguity that this otherwise straight-laced teacher is never able to shake off, is the delimitation of the student-teacher relationship. For Mr Papadopoulos is not only a teacher. He is a friend, father, motivator and confessor and gives of these gifts to all students, in equal portions, munificently. He alone would spend hours after school coaching students to excellence, helping them through their personal problems (drawing always on the Greek tradition for guidance), entertaining and spending time with them. His walls at home are covered with class photographs and appreciation awards awarded to him by grateful students. Unsurprisingly, he knows the names of each and every student he has ever taught.
Recently, I was poring through some of the poems he has written over the years. Incisive and impassioned, they are merely a summary of a remarkable life of thought and perseverance. In them I saw the heart-break of a migrant fleeing poverty by arriving in Australia, fleeing inanity by leaving the factory and through sheer will-power, putting himself through University, fleeing oblivion by teaching all that he knew to his students. I realised that this remarkable man did not just teach me a language or a literary corpus. He entrusted to me, along with all his other students, his own sensitivities and intellectual journey, to do with it as I would and that gift, his soul, is the most precious of all.
Those readers who have or have had the privilege of being instructed by Mr Papadopoulos are perhaps nodding in recognition – his cognitive inspiration resides in all of his scholastic children. For those that have not, let it be noteworthy then that teaching Greek is not just about language, but an entire way of life and that teaching per se, is life itself.

First published in NKEE on 7 March 2005