Panagiotis Kantartzis serves as pastor of the oldest evangelical church in Athens, Greece. Violence has broken out in Athens in recent weeks over a precipitous decline in the economy and over what many view as a corrupt political system that is making the downturn worse. A fresh round of rioting broke out last week after a controversial vote by the Greek Parliament on a list of austerity measures. Pastor Kantartzis wrote the following letter to encourage his congregation in the midst of the latest turmoil.
This is the third time the windows of our church building have been smashed—this time during last Wednesday’s riots, shortly after our weekly prayer meeting. Once again, the troubles have landed at our doorstep; during the skirmishes between the riot police and the demonstrators, many stray rocks ended up flying in our direction and through the windows of our building.
What kind of feelings does this evoke? In my office I’ve kept a piece of marble that came through the window the first time this happened, during the rioting of December 2008. I’ve kept it because I consider it a precious deposit. Earlier in 2008 we’d started to speak more purposefully about the need to become more open toward our city. We even began planning for new “nodes of witness” (church plants). We were praying especially for the neighborhood of Exarcheia, yet we still had not dared to step out. Then that first time, upon entering the church moments after the riots had passed and seeing broken glass, shattered marble, smoke, and tear gas, I felt a kind of sacred awe. I felt that perhaps this was the way God was pushing us finally to step out beyond of the walls of our building. It reminded me of that scene from the book of Jonah where the sailors wake up the prophet stowed away below deck, fast asleep.
How do I feel today? As our country fell into an economic tailspin over the past few weeks, I realized, with great sorrow, that our first reaction was for each of us to think of ourselves and how we could maintain a standard of living that now felt under threat. I began to fear the great temptation for our church would be to retreat inward in our efforts to preserve ourselves and secure our own safety. But looking at the broken glass on Wednesday, I sensed God was again showing us he wouldn’t allow us to hide away below deck. He was confronting us with our responsibilities and reminding us our place lies within the city. Brothers and sisters, I believe that as a church we are being called to walk a road of radical generosity. It is something we’ve been discussing more and more over the past few days. Instead of retreating in fear to our trenches, we need to rise up with boldness and serve.
Let us learn then from the message of the broken windows. May this be the image imprinted on our minds and hearts from now on. Let us understand it’s not possible for our city to bleed and for us not to feel its pain. Its wounds are our wounds. As we look at the broken windows, may we see the majesty of the gospel. The Son of God deigns to be “touched” by our sin and brokenness. The temple is torn down, Jesus said, speaking of his own death on the cross (John 2:19–21). This is the place where the holy identified himself with the unholy in order that that glorious salvific exchange could take place, whereby all that’s ours became his so that all that’s his could become ours (2 Cor. 5:21).
The church doesn’t hold out this Word of life from a place of safety and security; it does so through its own identification with the sinner, through being touched by the pain of the city. As we gather up the broken glass and the stones from our main meeting area, let us also take up our cross and follow Jesus to wherever he leads us.