From an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos:
Question: A key problem faced by the Church in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe is, of course, the question of the so called nominal Christians. Namely, a large proportion of the populace of these countries formally declare themselves Orthodox Christians, but in spite of that they do not confess the Orthodox faith (instead they confess either agnosticism or atheism), and subsequently, they don’t partake in the prayer life and liturgical life of the Church, and the only thing seen by them in Orthodoxy is mere folklore and ethnic mark. What stand should be upheld towards those people, especially if it is taken into consideration that quite often they aspire to influence and control the Church? Finally, in which way should the Church itself approach these nominal Christians in order that they be gathered in its bosom?
Answer: The “nominal Christians” or the “nominal clerics” is a basic problem for the Church, because they cause Church schisms with their various passions. They consider the Church a social institution, a social organization, a religion, even at best, a religious association or a national institution.
It has to become clear, as I said before, that the Church is the “Body of Christ and a communion of deification”, according to the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas. It is the Body of Christ, because its Head, Christ, is closely tied with its members through the Sacraments and the Doctrines. It is also a communion of deification, because its members participate, in various degrees, to purification, illumination and deification.
Those members of the Church that do not live within this perspective are gradually led to agnosticism and atheism and are secular members, ailing members of the Church, irrespective of whether they pretend to belong to the Church.
We have to realize that the Church is a spiritual hospital and not a competitive field for passions to dominate. The saints are the physicians, and Christ is the physician par excellence and the Shepherds who work in the name of Christ and within the framework of the saints perform a healing function. All Christians must be in the process of being healed.
In this context, the Church cannot be transformed to folklorism and nationalism. St. Paul defines clearly the task of the Christians when he writes: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
In the end, however, the Church heals Christians with its pastoral care, regardless of their spiritual age. What is required is that clerics know the method of healing.
From Sobornost, September 2006.