As we indicated before, the Church fathers set an example for future generations. Their writings synthesized the old and the new, for they observed no disruption, no discontinuity between God-revealed-in-history and God-revealed-in-Scripture. Our task and our challenge, then, is to revitalize our communities as centers of religious education and Hellenistic learning.
In the history of the Greeks, from remote antiquity through the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods to the present, no part of life was without the divine and the divine was never divorced from the daily experience of the people. The religious outlook so evident in the Homeric age, its literature and art, has always been an integral part of our culture. Religious belief was expressed in a cultural, communal context as a vital force in everything that was thought, said, and done.
Revitalizing our community lives by making our communities centers of faith and learning is a worthy goal. How is it to be achieved? To start, bishops and priests, teachers and community leaders need first to learn and appreciate the Orthodox Christian faith and the Greek language and learning, then coordinate their efforts, avoid duplication of resources and expenses, and rise above any antagonisms. Greek religious and cultural education must become a leading priority in any list of diocesan and parish programs. More well-trained teachers are needed. The reopening of St. Basil's Academy as a teachers and humanities college has been recommended and deserves careful study.
For many college students (and not all of them Greek American), Greek studies are an attractive and desirable alternative to other humanities concentrations. The Archdiocesan Department of Education can further the goal of Paideia in the U.S. by becoming a coordinator of Greek studies programs in the nation's colleges and universities, providing both moral and financial support. Can we, as an ethnic and religious segment of the American population, make a better contribution to American culture? It is not ethnic pride that makes us emphasize that Greece and America have much in common. For many years the Greek classics enjoyed a great popularity in the Republic's public and private educational system. The founding Fathers of the Republic were immersed in Greek thought and learning. Writing in 1765, John Adams advised: "Let us study...the history of the ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome." For Adams, Jefferson, James Otis, James Madison and several more ancient Greece presented better examples for the young American nation. Solon's teaching about isonomia, equality under the law; Kleisthenes' concept of democratia, as power that resides with the demos, the people; Socrates' emphasis on the importance of logos, thinking rightly and speaking logically; Plato's belief in dialogue, the principle that it is better to find ways to talk with each other than be left talking against each other; Aristotle's verdict that poverty is the greatest defect of democracy had a telling effect on the founding fathers.
It should not surprise us that Thomas Jefferson advised his nephew Peter Carr and other young students that study Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodoros Siculus Euripides, Sophocles, Epiketos, Demosthenes, Plutarch, and other masters of ancient Hellas. So great was the influence of Greek thinkers on the founding fathers, that some of them wanted to imitate the Greeks in several other cultural areas. For example, the American born architect Benjamin Latrobe (1764 1820) pioneered the well known Hellenic revival. For him, Greek art and architecture symbolize freedom, simplicity, sanctity and eternity. The beautiful Bank of Philadelphia building completed in 1801 was the first of the pure Greek Revival public buildings in America. In a letter to Jefferson, Latrobe concluded by saying: I pray that "the days of Greece may be revived in the woods of America, and Philadelphia become the Athens of the western world." His views ignited a fire and the pure Greek style in art and architecture became the dominant forms during the period before the civil war. The ideals of Hellenism are embedded in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; they continue to enrich the minds of many leading American intellectuals today. The writings of some of them reveal not only a nostalgia for the ideals of Hellenism, but also constitute an appeal for their return in our educational system.
Allan Bloom, in his thought-provoking book The Closing of the American Mind, makes an appeal for the rediscovery of the Greek humanities and a return to the Socratic mind as seen through Plato's dialogues, which are relevant "in almost all times and places...Throughout this book," he writes, "I have referred to Plato's Republic, which is for me the book on education, because it really explains to me what I experience as a man and teacher..." Greek culture is a continuum; the Greek language is an indispensable tool for the study of our heritage, including religion. "The whole of Greek culture is a tightly woven tapestry," Bloom adds.
In his extremely important and articulate report on the state of higher education, former Secretary of Education William Bennett called for a return to the fundamental principles of Western Civilization. His assessment calls on Americans to reclaim our legacy and bring humanities back to the center of the college curriculum. The humanities, according to Dr. Bennett, should communicate Western culture's "lasting vision, its highest shared ideals and aspirations, and its heritage." What are the humanities? English, certainly, as well as history, art history, philosophy and the classics. I mention the classics last because they include the principles and components of what we refer to as our Greek heritage: our language, literature, history, philosophy, ethics, religious and political thought. The texts studied as "classics" include Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Thukydides, Plutarch, and the Bible. Recently, the Congregation for Catholic Education of the Roman Catholic Church issued a document emphasizing that "students for the priesthood need to return to the basics, learn Greek and Latin and study the teaching of the earliest writes," most of whom wrote in Greek.
There are some 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. And there are more than 2,500 Greek-American professors in many of the country's major institutions. It is our responsibility as inheritors of the civilization to which our nation owes its democratic system of governance and much more to exert every effort to introduce and maintain Greek studies in as many institutions of higher learning as possible.
This need not be accomplished exclusively through the establishment of expensive endowed chairs. It is possible to introduce and maintain Greek studies in a major institution with an endowment of some $250,000 to $500,000. The interest of such an amount, averaging six percent, could provide the salary for an adjunct professor in the rank of assistant, associate, or even a full professor. An adjunct professor could teach up to three courses during the academic year, This is the way we started out the Greek language and literature program at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, a young institution of higher learning with some 6,000 students and a faculty of nearly 300 professors. There are many qualified scholars, Greek Americans as well as philhellenes, who would welcome the opportunity to teach courses in Greek language, religion, art, literature, history and folklore. Promoting Greek studies is not an unrealistic goal for the Greek-American community. It requires leadership, committment, dedication and funding. Primarily, however, it requires a change in attitude. We need to return to our Greek Orthodox roots and demand a rigorous educational program that includes Greek language, history, the Bible, and the writings of the Church fathers, all unfashionable subjects today but essential nevertheless to the education of a Greek Orthodox America.
Our college students are probably the most neglected component of our community. Of the 35 Greek American students that I canvassed at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey where I teach, most expressed a desire to take a Greek-language course if offered. Relevant polls at Barnard College and other universities have produced similar results. To support our students' needs and aspirations, we need to coordinate the efforts of the Archdiocese, laity, fraternal and other Greek-American organizations for the purpose of strengthening Greek education in the U.S.
Unfortunately there are priests and lay leaders who perceive Greek studies as an ethnocentric concern. Some, perhaps because of their own inadequacies in the Greek language and Orthodox history, and lack of knowledge of what the United States is all about, see the Church as an institution divorced from its cultural heritage. Their attitude reveals a misunderstanding of Christianity and Orthodoxy in their historical and spiritual dimensions. It also reveals an anti-intellectual, know-nothing bias that is alien to Greek-Americans as individuals and as a community. I often wonder whether it is love for the Church, American chauvinism or an inferiority complex that makes inferiority complex that makes such individuals of the Greek language and Hellenic learning. The early immigrants who came to the U.S. may have been simple country folk, but they understood the value of education and made it the top priority for their children. We can do no less, especially since we have the advantage of being English speakers from childhood and fully assimilated into American society. Every Diocese needs to make Greek paideia (religious and cultural education) a top priority. As a first step, institutions with a large enrollment of Greek-American students should be identified. Interested students can be approached to survey the student body and determine how many would take courses in Greek language and literature. Next, teachers of Greek studies should be approached and asked whether they would be willing to teach either as visiting instructors or as adjunct members of a concentration in Greek studies. Third, a Committee on Greek studies should seek the cooperation of the appropriate department (e.g. Literature, Religon and Language) and negotiate the introduction into their programs of Greek classical, biblical, or modern depending on the circumstances. The Archdiocese, each local diocese, our major organizations -- all should assume the responsibility of raising the necessary funds.
Just as moral education begins in the home, with the family, so does Greek education begin on the parish level with Sunday and Greek-language school coordinating and complementing, not contradicting, one another's efforts. Both are essential, if we are to prepare our children to be Orthodox, educated members of American society. The biblical aphorism "nations with no vision perish" is a propos for Greek Americans. Greek language and learning should not disappear and perish in a land of opportunity and freedom where at the present time some 104 languages and dialects are spoken, some of which thrive and prosper. We speakers of the language that gave Western Civilization its soul should be the last to disappear and perish.