Stavro Nashi’s Ithaka on the Horizon: a Greek-American Journey, is a book built around the author’s experience from immigration, his life in the US, the way he felt about his sharing two cultures, the making of his own family…
The author recalls his older son, Nick, now a monk in Greece, asking ‘are we American, or are we Greek?’ Imagine a kid not having the slightest idea about his national / cultural identity… The question appears in the first pages, and is present, silently or not, to the end of the book.
I like very much in this journey-book the modest way of the author to suggest important things, requiring from the reader to be careful, or fail to notice them. This happens for example when he refers to his parents’ leaving Constantinople for a new life in America. The author’s description of this as a ‘leap of faith’ presupposes a lot of thinking, that is not obvious. The ‘leap of faith’ metaphor indicates immigration as an act that can be understood only in a deeply religious and philosophical way, let’s say a way inspired by Kierkegaard or Camus or Spinoza, when survival is recognized as a spiritually dangerous and sacred effort.
Stavro is not interested exclusively in the Greek-American community — Greece itself occupies a prominent place in the book, fortunately enough, since one may learn facts not widely known, like this one about Archbishop Damaskinos and the Greek resistance against the Nazis.
“In contrast to many other European religious leaders at the time, who ignored or countenanced Nazi atrocities, Archbishop Damaskinos, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, as well as a number of other prelates, risked immediate execution to save Greek Jews. In March of 1943, the Nazis began deporting the city of Thessaloniki’s Jews to Poland… The archbishop sent a formal letter of protest signed by many prominent Greeks. It was the only one of its kind in occupied Europe. When the SS general commanding the Athens area read the letter, he threatened to shoot the archbishop, who calmly informed him, ‘According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hung and not shot; please respect our traditions’.” [Archbishop Damaskinos refers to the numerous executions of Orthodox prelates by Turks after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.]
Stavro relates Greek friendship with Orthodoxy, emphasizing that “God is openness, exchange, solidarity, and self-giving. The essential truth of our very nature demands that we fully embrace our relationships with others… We are truly an extended family, tending to those who are sick, in crisis, grieving, or lonely…” Yet, the majority of parents are ready to forget their faith, when it comes to their own children, and Stavro was not an exception, having had no joy in his son’s decision to become a monk, only surrendering as if it were a misfortune.
The entire family shared the same feelings, “a grieving family still trying to make sense of their loss… We felt estranged from Niko’s life, and my wife, Anna, deeply mourned the son she had been so close to and the grandchildren she would not have… We said that he was avoiding responsibility, that his spiritual father was making all his decisions, that he was running away instead of working to improve society. He was egocentric and selfish, we thought, dividing and ruining our family, not to mention condemning himself to a life of misery and insecurity. It ate away at us,” although knowing all this time that “even those who live in the world, who have children and hold jobs, are required to keep themselves in some sense apart from the world.”