Debt owed to the Greeks

Published by The Garland Collection on

ABOVE: The Christmas Eucharist Service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was celebrated by Canon David Garland at the invitation of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Constantine Damianos, in December 1917. When General Allenby entered Jerusalem at the head of the victorious British Expeditionary Force he confirmed the Muslim worshipping community would remain as “doorkeepers” of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but that the Greek Orthodox Church was to resume its custodianship. In this “magic lantern” image, taken at the behest of Canon Garland, various British Empire troops line the entrance to the Church ahead of the arrival of the Patriarch and Canon Garland and their respective entourages.





“The world’s debt to Greece is great in various realms of the spirit and the intellect.
“Classical Greek literature has been the basis of education. In architecture, literature, astronomy, art, political government, we are debtors of the Greeks, and we are debtors to this nation for so much of our Christianity that it would have been a poor thing but for the Greek influence.” – Canon Garland.
The picturesque church of St Barnabas, Red Hill, was crowded yesterday morning [ Sunday, 21 December 1919 ], when Canon D.J. Garland [ David John Garland ] delivered a stirring sermon on “What We Owe to the Greeks” in the course of which he made the statement given above.
The occasion was a notable one, as on behalf of the Greek community of Brisbane, the Consul for Greece [ Christy Kosmas Freeleagus ] invested Canon Garland with the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
In investing him with the heavy gold cross, Mr. Freeleagus said that the whole of the Greek community owed to Canon Garland a debt of gratitude for his interest in their spiritual and material welfare.
They felt that in him they had a genuine friend whom they appreciated very highly.
In reply, Canon Garland, who wore the vestments from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which had been bestowed upon him by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, said he valued very highly the Order with which he had been invested.
He regarded it as one of the greatest privileges that could have been bestowed upon him.
In paying a tribute to the Greek Church, he said that it was always the desire of the Head of the Greek Church to promote good feeling between Christians generally, and particularly between the English and Greek Orthodox Churches.
He felt that the day was not far distant when the two Churches would be one in the communion of the Body of Christ.


Canon Garland took as his text the words of St. Paul, “I am debtor to the Greek,” Rom.i.14. and said the words expressed a fact which was as true to-day as when they were written 10 centuries ago.

Classical Greek literature had been the basis of education. The elements of geometry were taught from Euclid.
It was a Greek, Aristarchus, 2,000 years ago, who discovered there was such a thing as a science of grammar and a Greek, alone among the nations of antiquity practiced medicine as a system based not on a theory but on observation accumulated systematically.
The writings of two physicians, Hippocrates and Galen, both Greeks, had been a basis on which all medical practice had been built.
Without Herophilus they would have had no Harvey discovering the circulation of the blood, and the rise of physiology might have been delayed for centuries.
Had Galen’s writings perished, Vergalius could not have reconstructed anatomy, and surgery might have lagged behind even in the late war.
These were but examples for, in architecture, literature, astronomy, philosophy, art, political government, we were the inheritors of the Greeks, or, as St. Paul put it, “We are debtors to the Greek.”


If we were debtors to the Greek for so much in civilisation still more were we debtors to the Greek for our religion.
Though the subject was too large to go into, the probability was that the religion and philosophy of Greece influenced Christianity more even than did Jerusalem.
The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, this being the Septuagint, the first translation of Holy Scripture.
This, and not the original Hebrew, was the Bible chiefly used by our Lord, by the Apostles, Evangelists, by Jews, and Gentiles in the early days of Christianity.
Humanly speaking, it was hard to see how Christianity could have spread or succeeded but for this Christian version of the Old Testament.
The early Church spoke in Greek, thought in Greek, wrote in Greek.
Except for St Matthew’s Gospel, the whole of the New Testament was written in Greek and St Matthew’s was quickly translated from Hebrew into Greek.
Even in the Imperial city of Rome itself, the language of the Church was Greek, not Latin.
St. Paul’s later Epistles were steeped in the phraseology of the Greek mysteries.
Some knowledge of Philo, the Greek, was necessary to understand properly the Epistle to the Hebrews and St. John’s Gospel.
We were indeed debtors to the Greek for so much of our Christianity that it would have been a poor thing but for the Greek influence.
The Creeds which had come down to us, were debated in Greek when they were drawn up in Greek by men influenced by Greek philosophy and thought, and drawn up so well that they had needed no correction.
The Te Deum was a further example of our debt, while it was not fully realised that many of the metrical hymns in ordinary use in the English language to-day: “Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid?”, “Christian Dost Thou Hear Them?” and “O Happy Band of Pilgrims” were derived from Greek poets, chiefly monks.


Today we owed to the Greek Orthodox Church the greatest debt of all in the example it had set of suffering for the faith, of endurance and constancy in martyrdom.
It was a Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Syria who, a couple of years ago, was stripped naked by the Turks (Mohammedans), tortured through the streets, and finally crucified in front of his own Cathedral.
The Patriarch of Antioch, whom the speaker had met, was an almost solitary survival of a wholesale massacre of Christians martyred for their faith by the Mohammedans in Syria just 64 years ago.
It was probable that since the war as many Greek Orthodox Christians in Russia, Asia Minor, Turkey, and other Oriental Christians, had been martyred as in the days of Nero.
That the Church of England and the Greek Orthodox Church were coming closer together, the gathering and incident of that day, though small in itself, indicated.
A Greek Archbishop had recently arrived in Australia to look after his flock.
He had been received in the Church of England Cathedrals in Perth and Melbourne, and on his arrival in Brisbane, he would be assured of a welcome from the Archbishop of Brisbane.
In England the Greek Orthodox bishops were received in St Paul’s Cathedral, and in other places, with every recognition of their order and rank.
On the other hand, all Patriarchs in Constantinople and Jerusalem had declared that the orders of the English clergy were valid, as valid is those of the Latin Communion.
The prospects of immediate union between these two great branches of the Catholic Church were delayed only by the world’s troubles.
The day would surely dawn, however, as the first great step in the reunion of the Holy Chrysosdom, and for which, though we would bring our own contribution to the United Church, we would remain as from the beginning, the debtor of the Greek.

– From page 6 of “The Daily Mail” (Brisbane), Tuesday, 23 December 1919.