Sir Idris Bell

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Vor mir hat er gesessen. Typischer Münchener Grieche, d.h. Rentner; allein, auf der Suche nach jemandem, dem er seine Lebensgeschichte erzählen konnte. Die Kirche war noch leer.

Unvermittelt dreht er sich um, der mir Unbekannte, und fragt, was ich denn meine, wie alt der „Bischof Bartholomaios“ sei.

– Der ökumenische Patriarch Bartholomaios, meinen Sie?

– Ja, der ökumenische Patriarch halt…

– Über 70. Mit Sicherheit.

– Letztes Jahr – fuhr er fort – war Bartholomaios in München (ich wusste, ich habe sogar einen Blogeitrag darüber geschrieben) und ich bin zu ihm, um ihm zu sagen „Weißt du, ich konnte noch kein Deutsch als du Diakon hier, in unserer Salvatorkirche warst“.

– Per Du sind Sie mit seiner Allheiligkeit? scherzte ich.

– Er ist zwar nicht so gealtert wie ich, der ich ja einfacher Arbeiter war, aber das ist lange kein Grund zum Siezen.

Das war’s: Er hatte ein Gesprächsthema. Oder eher ein Monologsthema. Mich hat der Beginn der Abendmesse „des Bräutigams“ gerettet. Trotzdem war es, mir war es klar eineinhalb Stunden später in der abendlichen Luft, eine wichtige Begegnung. Denn dieser Gastarbeiter hat eine für tot geglaubte, griechische longue durée an den Tag gelegt. Ich zitiere aus sir H. Idris Bells Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest: A Study in the Diffusion and Decay of Hellenism, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1948, 125-126.

Here … is the beginning of [a petition] written about the year 243 B.C.: „To King Ptolemy, greeting, Antigonus. I am being unjustly treated by Patron, the superintendent of police in the lower toparchy.“ It is a minor official in a village of Middle Egypt petitioning the all-powerful Ptolemy III Euergetes; yet he addresses the king without servility of verbiage, as man to man. Now compare a petition addressed in the sixth century by a colonus of the Apion estate to his landlord: „To my good master, lover of Christ, lover of the poor, all-esteemed and most magnificent Patrician and Duke of the Thebaid, Apion, from Anoup, your miserable slave…“ … In such a world what place could there be for Hellenism, the civilization of free men, with free minds?

Wenige wissen, dass Immanuel Kant in den 1790ern ein Vorwort zu einem deutsch-litauischen Lexikon schrieb, in dem er genau das allgemeine Du unter Litauern pries, da es eine demokratische Haltung verraten habe. Die Menschen hielten Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts viel vom Einfluss der Anredeformen; ebenso in den 1950ern, als Milovan Djilas sich die Zeit nahm, in der Borba darauf hinzuweisen, dass „Genosse“ und nicht „Herr“ die sozialistische Anrede sei; genauso in den 1960ern, als mein genannter Gesprächspartner in einem liberalen Verständnis der griechischen Kirche sozialisiert wurde.

Ob Symbole tatsächlich eine demokratische Gesinnung zum Ausdruck bringen können, weiß ich nicht. Aber dass sie Hierarchien verdecken können, davon bin ich mir sicher. Neuerdings wird im Berufsfeld das Du als eine Art neumodische Firmenidentifikation eingeführt. Zu sagen, dass es das Innenleben der Organisation transparenter macht, klingt in meinen Ohren als die Behauptung, Jesus und Pilatus wären ebenbürtig gewesen, weil sie duzten.

salvator

He sat just in front of me. A typical Greek from Munich – grey-haired. Alone. Seeking to tell the story of his life. To anyone. The church was almost empty.

Out of a sudden, he turns to me and asks how old „bishop Bartholomew“ could be.

– You mean the Ecumenical Patriarch?

– The Patriarch, alright…

– More than 70. Definitely.

– Last year, he continued, he was in Munich (I knew, of course. I also posted a short message in this blog) and I went to him and told him „You know something? I didn’t speak a word of German when you served in our Saviour’s Church as a deacon“ (while he was talking to me about his meeting with the Patriarch we were in the „Saviour’s Church„, a gothic church in downtown Munich used by the Greek Orthodox since the early 19th century).

– Are you so familiar with His all-holiness? – I said rather as a joke.

– He’s not as clearly aged as someone from the working class like myself, but this is not a reason to use the Greek plural ’n‘ stuff.

Automatically, he had a topic for discussion. Or rather for a monologue. The beginning nymphios-mass saved me. One-and-a-half hours later, in the cold Munich breeze, it was clear to me that this gastarbeiter was the living proof for a Greek longue durée. I’m quoting from sir H. Idris Bell’s Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest: A Study in the Diffusion and Decay of Hellenism, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1948, 125-126.

Here … is the beginning of [a petition] written about the year 243 B.C.: „To King Ptolemy, greeting, Antigonus. I am being unjustly treated by Patron, the superintendent of police in the lower toparchy.“ It is a minor official in a village of Middle Egypt petitioning the all-powerful Ptolemy III Euergetes; yet he addresses the king without servility of verbiage, as man to man. Now compare a petition addressed in the sixth century by a colonus of the Apion estate to his landlord: „To my good master, lover of Christ, lover of the poor, all-esteemed and most magnificent Patrician and Duke of the Thebaid, Apion, from Anoup, your miserable slave…“ … In such a world what place could there be for Hellenism, the civilization of free men, with free minds?

It is not widely known that Immanuel Kant wrote a foreword to a German-Lithuanian dictionary in the 1790s. There, he praised the absence of politeness forms in spoken Lithuanian because he thought this as affirming republican ideas. In the late 18th century, linguistic forms were considered to be politically important. In the 1950s when Milovan Djilas, back then the second man behind Tito, took the pains to explain the readers of the Belgrade daily Borba that the correct socialist way to address someone is „comrade“ and not „sir“, it was again because he thought that language is important. Language was considered to be important also in the 1960s when the old man who talked with me was socialized in a probably liberal understanding of the Greek Orthodox church.

I don’t know whether symbols help develop democratic views. But I’m certain of the fact that they are used in order to make hierarchical structures more implicit. In their jobs, more and more people use the first names of people who stand above them. To say that this makes the inner life of the organisation more transparent is to claim that Jesus and Pilate were equals because they spoke quite colloquially with each other.

2 thoughts on “Sir Idris Bell

  1. Stamatios .. i love this stuff .. i think its important observance of real life on the street of the church and very sensitive of our times.. I hope you are preparingfor a book

    I think Wilhelm Schmied ? the philosopher in Berlin . would have a great appreciation for it too.

    • Schmid grew up a couple of yards away from my father-in-law’s home in Billenhausen, about 80 km from Augsburg. Before I met him as a colleague in Erfurt, I knew his mother who passed away a couple of years ago. I knew her from the Rosenkranzbeten because, being married to a Roman-Catholic I did attend some Sunday services there, and she was Vorbeterin. Now, although I only meet him very occasionally in Erfurt, he follows me on twitter. I don’t know however whether he reads my postings on orthodox Christianity. He told me once that he had ten-years projects. The last decade was dedicated to the Eastern Churches. He used to go to Tbilissi and held lectures there – if it was Tbilissi. But this was the last decade…

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