Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 January 2019
8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 JANUARY 2019 BOOKS Reimaging the Hellene via Greek Dreaming Meet Dr Vasilis Adrahtas: a theologian, historian on religion and philosophy, and the first person to write a book in Greek about the Indigenous Dreamtime CON STAMOCOSTAS I n Greece Dr Adrahtas is viewed as a major figure when it comes to the study of all major religions. He has been living in Sydney since 2010 and currently teaches Ancient Greek religion and myth at the University of NSW and is also part of the Indigenous Academic Support Program of Charles Sturt University. Born and bred in Sydney's western suburbs, Dr Adrahtas moved back to Greece when he was six. It was in 2001 when he returned to his birthplace that his passion in Australian Indigenous culture was inspired. "At that time I did my PhD at Sydney University entitled the 'Prophecy Dreamings' which was on the religions of Indigenous Australians," he told Neos Kosmos. "I think the so called dreamings have always been creative attempts to find one's place in the land so that is what I've also been trying in the last eight years." Dr Adrahtas calls his attempts to find his creative place in Australia as 'the Greek Dreaming'. "What I have really come to appreciate is the paramount importance of belonging to a place," he said. "By studying the Indigenous world view, that made me understand my Greekness better. Hellenism has transcended its own place. The negative experience of the economic crisis in Greece was behind the decision to leave and come to Australia. It means that I have to take it with me and plant it somewhere else. This necessity to plant the Hellenic in Australia and make it yield its new fruits is how I came to the idea of a Greek dreaming." Dr Adrahtas believes that many Hellenes would benefit if they opened up themselves to the same type of thinking. "The Greeks that come Dr Vasilis Adrahtas. here will not really be part of Australia if they don't make their own 'Greek Dreamings'," he said. "Not just retaining the Greece of their past but making the Hellenic part of the land in very concrete ways that are artistic, intellectual, architectural or whatever other means." According to Dr Adrahtas one example of how Greek culture and Indigenous culture has merged is at the picturesque Greek Orthodox Mangrove Monastery situated on the outskirts of Sydney. "There is a Monk here in NSW, he is an iconographer who creates the icons at the Monastery," he revealed. "If you look at his icons you see that these are Byzantine icons but they are executed in an Indigenous way, in the style of the Aboriginal dot painting, circles, lines, motifs and symbols. You see a Byzantine icon of Christ but it's executed in the earth colours and the techniques of an Aboriginal artist. This for me is an instance of a Greek Byzantine Dreaming." Dr Adrahtas studied Indigenous culture from 2001-2005 and when he returned to Greece wrote a book entitled Dying Black whose original Greek title translates to Meleiti Thanatou - a book, which he says is about what it means to die as an Indigenous Australian. "When Indigenous Australians speak about death they speak about life; for them death is the greatest challenge," he explained. "To them life is a series of initiations. You start from the What I have really come to appreciate is the paramount importance of belonging to a place. By studying the Indigenous world view, that made me understand my Greekness better. simplest initiation and you reach the greatest initiation which is death. Through death you become in the most integral way you can imagine part of the land again. You become part of thing that gave birth to you. This is the real thrust, so fear not. This has helped me a lot, it has enabled me to come to terms with my own fear of death." Dr Adrahtas also studies the work of John Damacine an Assyrian Litugical Poet whose works are chanted during the great feasts of the Greek Orthodox church throughout the year. One idea of Damacine that has influenced him profoundly is that the human body and materiality is where you might see God. "That's if you are lucky," he said. "You won't see him anywhere else but in DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM the material things around you. Not in any intellectual, spiritual sphere but in a concrete material fashion. I don't believe there is a heaven up there to be honest. If we can really experience heaven between you and me and what we are saying to each other right now then that is the space of the revelation of God. That is my materiality and your materiality being explosively divine." Hearing a theologian say he doesn't believe heaven is 'up there' may contradict traditional teaching, but Dr Adrahtas says he has developed this belief from Damacine's teachings. "This is from what I experienced of the tradition of the Church of the Gospel. That's how I read it," he said. "What we call afterlife is the picking up of that experience that you lived once or twice or several times while you were alive and you take it to the next level. Let's say that experience, that moment, that's our eternity." Dr Adrahtas is also the president of the Sydney Chapter of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis based in Geneva. Again there is another contradiction, as many view Kazantzakis and the gospels as a paradox. But for Dr Adrahtas they're not so far removed. "I find him an amazing theologian," Adrahtas said. "In the work of Kazantzakis, God is all over the place, explicitly and implicitly, so that it is only natural to think of him as an incognito theologian." Dr Adrahtas is also enamoured with Kazantzakis because he believes the great author's literary output was geared towards reimagining what it means to be Greek - a similar pursuit he's been working on for 20 years. "After the 1922 Asia Minor catastrophe Kazantzakis realised the necessity of reimagining the Hellenic, if the latter was to allow the Greeks to play again some major role in world affairs," he explained. "I do not see myself as a sort of Kazantzakis, but I am inspired by his agenda for the future of whatever has been left of Greece. In the aftermath of the devastating crisis in Greece, someone who produces any kind of writing in terms of Hellenicity can only aspire to contribute a bit to a new reimagining of the Hellenic. It is towards this end that my Greek dreaming is devoted."
05 January 2019
19 January 2019