|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Essays about Orthodoxy|
«Blessed is our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who by His plentiful mercy granted us rebirth unto a living hope - through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - for an imperishable and pure and never-fading inheritance.” (Peter I, 1:3-4)
From the depths of my heart I give thanks to the Most Merciful Triadic God Who, in His bounteous mercy and His inexhaustible tolerance towards my insignificant person has provided for my life in such a manner.
I also express my gratitude towards my beloved brothers in Christ, the Reverend Hierarchs who, with their precious vote have elected me Archbishop of Athens and All Greece.
I also extend my warmest thanks to all of you, who have thronged to this holy place at this hour, where “the most perfect of rites are performed”, to be witnesses to the addition of yet another link in the human chain of those who have ministered to the office of archbishop in Greece.
“And behold, I am amongst you. Rather, amongst all of us is Christ, Who was, and is, and will be.”
Here I am, among you, at a time of bombastic proclamations, of a surfeit of idle chatter and public ranting, unwilling to articulate any soaring declarations.
I have no programmatic statements to submit; after all, these have already been stated, once –and with abundant clarity- on the Cross.
The Church moves within History and the world, but is not of this world. She is not concerned with contradistinguishing Herself with anything or anyone, but only with embracing the world and transforming it. She is not called upon to be a fertilizer for the decorative plants of this world; instead, She continuously becomes a spiritual explosive device that blows up the world and turns it into the Church.
And we, the deacons of the church, are not here to juxtapose individual views against other views or ideological perceptions against other ideologies, nor do we have the right to dedicate ourselves to one ideological-political choice, thus making ourselves opponents to another.
Because then, we would not be a Church but a religious order, self-restricted to the narrow confines of its own ideas, since it will have forgotten that the path that we must show people and the truth that we have an obligation to witness is not an ideology, but a person, Christ, Who is “the path, the truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Christ, Who did not propose any ideas that divided mankind, but had “extended His palms” upon the Cross “and united what was previously divided”. Christ, Who is dissected upon the altar during every Divine Liturgy but remains undivided and provides the potential for everyone who partakes of the one chalice to become one body.
When ideologies, conflicts, hatreds and hostilities disrupt the unity of people for the sake of world theories or secular interests, our responsibility is to find ways so that with our actions and our words, the Divine-human’s pre-death concern over the splintering of the human race be made manifest, and to render this concern the determining factor of our interventions in the life of the world.
We have an obligation to bear witness, with as much agony as will make our sweat “like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44), that the Church exists for people to become united: “so that they may be as one” (John 17:11). This is not achieved through proclamations and boasting, but only with sacrifices of a crucifixional nature that are illuminated by a resurrectional hope.
This is also the reason why the Church does not have the right to remain silent and be indifferent to the things that plague mankind – whether these are the minor problems of their daily lives, or the major problems of the society in which they live.
We are not politicians; we are ecclesiastic men. We are by Grace and through obligation the bearers and the expressers of the prophetic charisma of Priesthood. The meaning of “prophecy” however, is not the foretelling of things to come, but the disclosing “in the Holy Spirit” of whatever at the time traumatizes the truth and undermines the future, the quality of peoples’ lives and their salvation.
This signifies that it is the Church’s duty to articulate Her message, not for the purpose of doubting any institutions or becoming embroiled in political and party confrontations, but for expressing Her agony whenever She senses that the degradation of principles and values is mortgaging the future of God’s people and demoting the essentials of their lives. Our job is to produce spiritual antibodies that will protect the social organism from every malign disease that degenerates the human person and leads to degrading phenomena in our common life.
It is therefore of vital importance that the Church and the State both proceed in love and peace, each protecting and preserving our distinct roles, so that we can serve our people and our land together, with an awareness of the otherness of our missions.
At this borderline moment of my life, when I am called upon more than ever to spend myself so that “I no longer live” but “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), I wish to deposit before you my personal concerns, and to extend an invitation and an entreaty - to everyone, and to each one personally – for us to converge on common goals and visions.
The first point which has always burned inside me and continues to burn my heart, is to provide for the youth of our land. For our children, who feel constantly betrayed by the inconsistency in words and actions; who are suffocating from a lack of spiritual oxygen; who have become the prey of us the elder ones; who hunger for truth and life and thirst for vision and hope. I would like to address those young people, directly and personally.
My children: I would firstly like to renew the invitation extended by my reposed predecessor, the late archbishop Christodoulos, who had invited you to come to the Church without any prerequisites, prejudices and specifications. I also assure you that the only thing required is for you to never forget that the Church is your home; your paternal hearth. You do not need any mediators and special invitations. It suffices to turn your steps in that direction.
But I do feel the need to tell you one more thing. We, your spiritual parents, have an obligation towards you and this is what I must stress and make a commitment to you:
I, the Archbishop - that is, your spiritual father - and along with me all the other priests, do not have any right to stop at that invitation We need to be the first to get out in the street to meet with you. It is not enough to merely re-invite you. We must be the ones to approach you first.
My beloved children, I want us to meet personally. So, I am proposing to found a kind of Archbishop’s youth council, so that we can get together, I can listen to your issues personally and we can work together in building the tomorrow that you deserve and that we are obliged to secure for you.
What I mainly desire is to listen to you, rather than you listen to me. And you should also make your presence felt and your words evident in the life of our Church. I will try to be open with you and transparent, so that behind me can be seen the Crucified leader of Life – the only One Who loves so much, that no-one can resist His love..
And something more. The Church is your home. When you see it ablaze on account of our negligence or unworthiness, do not stand aside and exercise easy criticism. Come in, so that we may salvage whatever we can of the precious treasure of our spiritual inheritance.
Come to your home, so that we can together renew and renovate it.
A second point that torments my thoughts is our responsibility for the course of the neo-Hellenic cultural status. Allow me to address these words to the persons of the letters and the arts, of science and technology; to all those restless spirits who persist in showing concern for common affairs and do not feel satisfied with the inertia, the stagnancy and the servitude to the self-evident.
We, the ecclesiastic leaders, have an obligation towards you and you have an obligation towards our Nation and History.
The Church must rediscover the ways of spurring and inspiring the human spirit, just like the time when She pollinated the arts and the sciences, which in turn gave birth to civilization. Like the time when even stones were a testimony to the grandeur of Orthodox theology as expressed in the architecture of the temples and monasteries. Like the time when the temple of Haghia Sophia or the monasteries of Hossios Lucas and of Daphni bore witness to mankind’s resurrected hope, in the unsaid language of cultural achievement. Like the time when prose and poetry gave birth to expressions of the human spirit, of unsurpassed cultural value, such as the Akathest Hymn or the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and when the beauty of byzantine music emerged from within the depths of human sensitivity.
I hasten to clarify that I am not inviting you to manufacture conscripted Christian art. I am inviting you and challenging you to rediscover together the juices that nurtured the souls of our ancestors and that gave birth to the civilization that we inherited.
In this age of globalization, crisis of ideologies, feigned intellect, trivializing of artistic and spiritual creations and their subjugation to the voracity of consumerism, we have an inescapable duty as a Church to contribute to producing civilization.
Our monasteries, our Churches –even the ones in ruins-, our hymnography, but also whichever other elements of our tradition have been preserved in the contemporary, neo-Hellenic cultural inheritance, are all indisputable witnesses to the need for this convergence. I will indicatively refer you to neo-Hellenic art, which has inherent the byzantine hagiographical tradition; to the poetry that is invisibly nurtured by ecclesiastic hymnography, or to contemporary Greek music –popular or artistic- in which are hidden forms of byzantine melody. One can even discern the influences of hagiography teachers in the surrealism of younger painters.
All these cry out about our common responsibility to converge once again – the Church and human creativity – in order to build civilization once again and to record cultural trusts for our children’s and our homeland’s tomorrow.
A third point on which I am compelled to take a stance is the caring for our fellow-man who is in any way suffering. After all, to care for our unduly suffering brother constitutes the indisputable criterion on which the truth and the veridicality of our Christian faith is based.
There is no aspect of human suffering that can possibly leave us indifferent. Not because the role of the Church is limited to Her social work, but because it is entirely incompatible to call ourselves Christians and not care about the sick, the imprisoned, the unfortunate, the naked, the hungry, the poor, the suffering, the refugee, the ones who are stigmatized for their spiritual ailments – about every tormented brother of ours. And it is for one and only reason: that whatever we offer to each one of those who the Lord calls His least of brethren, we are offering to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:35-37).
This is what prompts us to make every untiring attempt to take advantage of the existing infrastructure and to create new structures and activities that will respond to the needs of our deprived brethren, thus realizing in practice those things that we pray for in every Divine Liturgy.
The Church does not glorify God through hymns alone, but mainly by rendering His presence and His love obvious, in every circumstance where pain and tribulation traumatize or threaten to extinguish hope.
I am therefore inviting God’s people - the flock that the Lord entrusted to me - in other words, all of you, the faithful and those who claim to be faithless, to gather around the Holy Altar where the supreme sacrament is performed, and to join our forces to make love and unity a way of life, so that the Divine Liturgy may continue in our everyday lives and become a source of consolation through us and our offering, for every unfortunate brother of ours.
As the Head of the Church of Athens, I have the obligation and the duty to strive for the advancement and the achievement of these goals. But there is no way that any such vision can acquire flesh and blood without the people who will have shared it and will have desired to struggle for its fulfillment.
So, I am extending a warm entreaty and supplication to the sacred clergy and the staff of the ecclesiastic opus: Stand by my side. Adopt my concerns. Hearken to the expectations of our people. Share our common responsibilities. Without you and your actual assistance, without your love and your dedication to the ministering of our people, the Archbishop will be no more than a lonely person with personal sensitivities. I promise to stand by you, to be at your side in times of difficulty and alongside your problems, to make every possible attempt to upgrade your ministry, to secure the requirements that you need for responding to contemporary social demands and of course to also fend for you all, as cherished individuals.
It is imperative that the Church also tends to her own household needs; to apply Herself with love and sensitivity to ecclesiastic education, to the hieratic family and to the quality of Her staff members. And you can be sure that the priests and their families will not be feeling alone in their labors; I need them close to me, as brothers and as brethren-in-arms in our common, sacred duty.
A fundamental priority will be for the parish to continually prove itself to be the truly neuralgic nucleus of the ecclesiastic organism. I hope, and I pray, and I beseech you to ensure that within the desert of Athens there will be a tiny oasis within each parish for the young; a refuge for young couples; a niche for the contemporary family to seek shelter; a warm nest for every one “laboring and burdened”; a hearth where the fire of spiritual quests will burn incessantly; a sacrificial altar, from where everything begins and everything finishes, given that the ecclesiastic ethos presupposes that “we are of one accord in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist again certifies that accord”.
It is urgent and necessary, that in each corner of Athenian soil there be a living parish that will display in every possible manner that Christ is risen, and for that reason, people can there find joy, consolation, hope, a meaning in their life, and can live their daily lives with the certainty that death has been conquered; that “Christ has risen, and His polity is life”.
I would also like to place myself briefly on certain other points, which pertain to my ministry as Chairman of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece.
At a time when the universe appears to be splintered and where globalization is presented as the solution, the Orthodox Churches are obliged to secure and to project the unity between them. Today, more than ever before, the significance and the role of our Venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate for the course of Orthodoxy overall must be understood.
It is about time that local Orthodox Churches – which are scattered across the lengths and the breadths of the universe – become united among themselves as closely as possible, in soul and in spirit. And wherever and whenever human weaknesses allow divisions and disagreements to crop up, we have a duty to make every possible attempt to overcome those problems with the awareness that there exists a safe guarantor of unity, which is the Venerable Center of Ecumenical Orthodoxy: our sorely afflicted Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The unity of the Orthodox is the topmost requirement today; particularly in view of the fact that the worldwide community is turning its sights towards Orthodoxy, in anticipation of a fresh and different proposal and witness, and an actual contribution for the confronting of the contemporary, provocative reality.
I am obliged to submit before you my trust in the providence of God, Who has ensured that on the Regnant City’s much-afflicted throne now stands the steadfast rock of Orthodoxy and wise helmsman of our ecclesiastic course, the humble yet robust, bold yet prudent, the rooted in Orthodox tradition yet with a profound knowledge of universal developments and Patriarch of the Nation, His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Church of Greece, being fully aware of the Hellenic Nation’s History, of our ecclesiastic history and of orthodox ecclesiology, bears a heavy responsibility on Her shoulders, as regards the manner in which She will safeguard whatever traditionally pertains to Her relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Church of Greece is governed by the Synod of the Hierarchy and the Perpetual Holy Synod, in a predefined manner which also includes the duties and the pertinent responsibilities of their presiding Chairman, who is the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece.
The charting of the Greek Church’s course, the decision-making, the confronting of problems that arise from time to time, and the confronting of all the other issues for which the Hierarchy is responsible, must be the fruit of collaboration among its members, who co-decide in the Holy Spirit, with a synodical ethos. The Archbishop, as presiding chairman, is duty bound to ensure the operation of the synodical system and, being first among equals, to be the guarantor of its unimpeded operation. By extension, he bears the responsibility to ensure that the synodical spirit permeates every aspect of ecclesiastic living and that it will determine the way in which all the structures of ecclesiastic reality will function.
I am fully aware of my duty to be responsible, to inspire and to guarantee our synodical system. But this –by nature- can be preserved only through a common endeavor and perception. So I ask, from the depths of my heart, that each one of us contribute responsibly, and with an awareness of the spiritual responsibility, to the substantial and proper function of our synodical system.
We have to admit that the Charter which defines the ecclesiastic functions legally has proven to be one of the best. However, the thirty years which have passed since the commencement of its validity, demand an unavoidable need for corrections and additions or the utilization of the possibilities that it includes but have remained unexploited to this day. It is therefore obvious, that this is also a matter that should preoccupy the Church.
Another major issue, which I believe must be confronted responsibly by the administration of the Church, is the matter of manning the parishes and the broader ecclesiastic projects, as well as the development of new forms of poemantic caring, which must respond to the needs and the demands of our time. In order to achieve this goal, the neuralgic importance of ecclesiastic education is self-evident, as is the training of the sacred clergy and the ecclesiastic staff members, and this matter should also preoccupy us, immediately and imperatively. And of course the attempt to reinforce our collaboration with the Universities and other educational foundations of the land –especially with the Theological Schools of the Athens and Thessaloniki Universities- must be regarded a priori as a must.
Of equal gravity are also certain special problems which preoccupy the contemporary social reality and demand a formulation of orthodox theological approaches and a poemantic handling. Issues such as the ecological problem, the bioethics dilemmas, the poemantics for medical attendants, the immigration of destitute people, the contemporary trading of human flesh, social exclusion, poverty, the stigma of psychological ailments, social misery and many more issues need to be brought to the epicenter of our theological and poemantic concern, in a valid, responsible and systematic way.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to address the State’s favor, by making an appeal and a suggestion for mutual support in all those areas where the collaboration of Church and State can bring forth multiple fruits, as regards the confronting of many of the aforementioned problems.
Our reference to these practical issues necessarily brings to the fore certain legitimate questions about the administration of ecclesiastic property also. I believe that this chapter needs to be examined in depth, with renewed criteria and certainly not with the methods of the past. It is our belief that the times demand an undertaking of initiatives that will render the Church robust on the one hand, but for the sole purpose that Her resources be spent on the ministering of Her fold, and subsequently the income from the administration of Her properties will return to the people, so that in no way will the impression be given that the house of God has been turned into a house of trading.
My beloved, I do not wish to tire you any longer. However, I do feel the need to close today’s public confession (rather than speech), with a entreaty to God, Who has blessed me, the least one, to stand before you today on the Archbishop’s throne of Athens, as the heir and successor of saints such as Dionysios the Areopagite and the Bishop of Athens, Hierotheos.
My beloved children and brethren in Christ,
I pray and beseech God, that when the time comes and I am approaching the end of the cycle of my earthly ministry, I will be ready to answer with candor, before God and man, regarding the throne that the Lord had entrusted to me. I would like by then to have gained the right to speak of this throne, by looking you in the eyes and expressing myself in the same way that Saint Kosmas of Aetolia spoke of his footstool, when he said:
«I myself, with the Grace of God, have neither a purse, nor a chest, nor a house, nor another cassock other than the one I am wearing. And the stool that I have is also not mine; I have it for your sake. Others call it a stool and others a throne. But it is not as you call it. Perhaps you would like to know what it is? It is my grave, and I who speak to you am the deceased who is inside it. It is this grave, which has the authority to teach kings and patriarchs, high priests, priests, men and women, boys and girls, the young and the old, and the entire world»
«May the name of the Lord be Blessed».
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 22-2-2008.
Last update: 22-2-2008.