In 2008, a 15-year-old student was killed by a police officer in the Exarcheia district of central Athens, Greece, resulting in widespread protests, demonstrations and rioting. Giotis Kantartzis, pastor of First Greek Evangelical Church of Athens witnessed the rioting and asked himself, “How do we respond?”
Exarcheia is a downtown neighborhood of Athens and is home to a large number of anarchists. A 2014 online Al Jazeera article by Yiannis Baboulias entitled “Exarcheia: A space for urban resistance” states, “Co-ops and social enterprises are multiplying in Exarcheia. In the rest of Athens one might see empty cafes and vacant shops, but in Exarcheia, the streets are littered with alternative businesses.” Due to its political symbol status and its position as a center of culture and activism, the neighborhood exerts a significant influence on the city.
First Greek Evangelical Church of Athens is a well-established, historic church in Athens. As Giotis’ passion for his city grew, he saw the need for many more churches. He hired two interns, Alex Pipilios and Tim Coomar, and connected with CTC.
Alex and Tim saw planting a church in Exarcheia as a strategic move. As they thought, prayed and strategized, their hearts engaged, and a love for this area grew. They relocated with their families to Exarcheia in October of 2011 and launched Exarcheia Church in March 2013.
Anarchists view people as good by nature. They find the basis for democracy in that goodness. Authority is the corrupting component. There is not a singular, like-minded group of anarchists. Some are Communists. Some are Marxists. Some are completely anti-authoritarian, while others only reject hierarchical authority. But they all agree on one thing: there is something very wrong with this world.
It comes as no surprise to learn anarchists hold strongly to their beliefs. Alex says if he can get to the root of a conviction when talking with his neighbor, he can look for and affirm common ground but also question beliefs that are anti-God. Anarchists are often ethical; they have a strong sense of community; they are honest with their search for truth; their concerns and their discussions often promote the common good. But when Alex’s neighbors reject anything that looks like church because they are suspicious of rules and a middle-class Presbyterian feel, Alex endeavors to expose the origin of these rules as cultural, not the gospel.
Alex reminisces when he says, “When Iliana [his wife] and I first moved to Exarcheia, we weren’t sure we were going to make it. There was a tension in our hearts, and we really wanted to go back to what we were used to—our evangelical realm where everyone was agreeing with our views and our beliefs. Now it’s not about how we can survive, but how we can learn.” Alex attends neighborhood meetings, seeking to learn, understand and build trust.
So, how do they preach the gospel? How do they preach, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” to those who are anti-authority? Alex says it starts with a seeking heart and a hunger for relationships. Those living in the neighborhood may, at first, hate the message of the gospel, but they appreciate the culture they see in the church. They’re drawn to the community.
Alex says that he and Tim present the theme of God’s authority, but in a subversive way. They start with John 13:4-5—where the King is kneeling down, with a towel around his waist, washing his disciples’ feet. They show a different view of Jesus than what their neighbors have rejected in the past.
Alex and Tim try not to give an answer without first really hearing and understanding the question. They listen carefully, they learn, they share the gospel and they meet people where they are. And God has united them with their community in unexpected ways. After almost six years, they feel like locals, and that surprises no one more than themselves.
“...I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I Corinthians 9:22-23