Friday, July 4, 2014

Fr. George Kapsanis, Former Abbot of Gregoriou Monastery of Mount Athos (+ June 8, 2014) [1 of 3]

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

On the day of Pentecost, the Former Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Gregoriou of Mount Athos, Archimandrite Fr. George (Kapsanis), reposed in the Lord. On the same day the service for the reposed was chanted in the Metochion of the Sacred Monastery in Stavroupoli, and the next day, the Day of the Holy Spirit, his funeral service was chanted in the Sacred Monastery of Gregoriou, where he lived in asceticism and served for approximately forty years, proving himself to be a great figure of the contemporary Orthodox Church.

Because we were connected through a perennial fraternal friendship and there was mutual respect, I wanted to record some of my personal thoughts submitted here as a memorial to this great personality.

1. Academic Teacher

My first meeting with him was during the Conferences of the late 1960's and early 1970's when he, then a layman, excelled in the Theological School of Athens as an assistant research fellow for the Doctor of Theology. With this capacity he participated in various Conferences, offering his theological and pastoral words with a power of speech that distinguished him, an immediacy of communication, especially with young people, a humble mindset and ethos, as well as theological completeness and an ecclesiastical mindset, using also some revolutionary ideas at the time.

However, throughout the then theological world his words and way of life made an impression, as well as his ethos and ecclesiastical mindset. I remember him at one theological Conference where he presented the theological thoughts of Fr. John Romanides against the theory of the Atonement of Divine Justice of Anselm of Canterbury, and while his fellow professor Panagiotis Trembelas was critical of his views, he retorted with respect, courtesy and straightforwardness.

The texts he had written until that time brought the attention of all, Clergy and laity, and related mainly to pastoral issues, such as: "Pastoral Care in American Practice" (1967); "The Importance of Pastoral Work and its Greek Bibliography" (1968); "The Crisis of Theology and Ecumenism in America" (1968); "Plan for a Theological and Ecclesiological Foundation of Pastoral Care" (1970); "Pastoral Care in the Church for the Imprisoned" (PhD thesis, 1972); "Ecclesiological Issues and Pastoral Care" (1975).

He was especially interested in the pastoral care of modern man, and in this office he served in the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens. His words were always documented by literature and formulated with clarity and completeness, which was his special gift. Once he told me that he decided to become a Cleric, because he was impressed with the words of a foreign scientist who wondered why he dealt with pastoral care while he was a layman, showing a contradiction. Thus, with the sincerity and authenticity that distinguished him he entered the ranks of the Clergy.

In the early 1970's he was preparing a study to be presented at the Theological School as a lectureship, as it was called then, titled "Pastoral Ministry According to the Sacred Canons". This would have opened the road for him to have a bright future in academia and be elevated to professorship. However, he decided not to submit the study for the lectureship and he retired to a Sacred Monastery, first in the Holy Metropolis of Halkidos and then at the Sacred Monastery of Venerable Gregoriou at Mount Athos. He would publish this study later in 1976, when he was abbot of the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou. This study deals with the relationship between pastoral care and the sacred Canons of the Ecumenical and Local Synods, as ordained by the Holy Fathers.

His professor Constantine Mouratides, in the preface to this study, after discussing the deduction of the pastoral office in our days, which is devoid of Christocentricity and focuses on anthropocentricity, describes it as "important advice in overcoming exactly this deduction of pastoral ministry and returns to the spirit, the principles and methods of the ancient undivided Church". Still, he describes this work as "the first important effort of modern times to directly link pastoral science with the Rudder of the Church, namely her divine and sacred Canons", which, "constitute the divinely inspired source" from which "the true pastors of the Church derive the water springing up to the eternal life of the pastors and flock." He considers it "mature spiritual fruit" and an "important offering for the Church militant."

In his contribution to this book he calls Fr. George in particular "a precious co-worker in the office of Canon Law and pastoral care within the University of Athens," "highly favored" and "a revered Archimandrite", for whom "praxis is the basis of theoria" and whose "long pastoral ministry in repentance and humility was dedicated to the love of our Crucified Lord and for his struggling brethren of the world, elements which constitute the sacred context in which the Holy Spirit proves worthy of their mission the pastors of the Church."

This work was the culmination of the mature academic work of Fr. George, which I read carefully when it was published and to which I always look back to when I need to address pastoral and canonical issues. When one reads it they are surprised by the theological, ecclesiological and pastoral interpretation of the sacred Canons and distinguishes the faith of its author, as well as his excellent knowledge of the subject. With the gift of discernment possessed by Fr. George he exceeded the dangers of individualism and the letter of the law in ecclesiastical life and presented the theological experience of the Church. The entire project consists of two parts, the first presenting the ecclesiological and canonical presuppositions in exercising pastoral care, and the second section presents the sacred Canons within the setting of pastoral ministry. So, after presenting the ecclesiological and canonical preconditions for exercising pastoral care, he proceeds to analyze the priesthood, the synodical structure of the Church, pastoral guidance in overcoming sin, heresy and schism, as well as for monasticism and marriage. All are treated with certain knowledge, discernment and the spirit of wisdom.

This important work was not submitted while he was at the Theological School of Athens to occupy the seat of a lecturer and then a professor, but he went on to implement these things in the setting of a coenobitic monastery, to be himself a teacher of monastics, where the pastoral ministry of the Church is lived, and where he prepared hundreds of monks for the Kingdom of God, as well as thousands of lay people to live a life in Christ. In other words, academic science lost him, but the Church eventually won him, which he loved and utilized to the fullest. Athonite monasticism gained him, to which he offered much.

It is striking to whom he dedicated this work, which shows his deep respect: "To the revered chorus of our venerable Fathers of the Holy Mountain of Athos struggling and contesting for the good struggle of repentance and the citizenship equal to the angels while employed in the present work with reverence and gratitude to one another, imploring your holy prayers."

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