May 25, 2010

An Interview With Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol Regarding the Visit of Pope Benedict to Cyprus

Most people know that the famous "Fr. Maximos" in The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality is the Metropolitan of Limassol, Athanasios. He was a monk on Mount Athos, who had the opportunity to spend much time with such holy men as Elders Paisios and Ephraim of Katounakia and others. He was, at the time of the writing of the book, the Abbot of the Monastery of Panagia Machera. Since then he was consecrated Metropolitan of Limassol (or Lemesou).

It should be stressed that the visit of the Pope to Cyprus in June is not for dialogue purposes and all fanatical presumptions should be avoided.

by Antigone Solomonidou Drousiotou

Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol has separated himself from the official position of the Church of Cyprus regarding the visit of Pope Benedict to Cyprus. He states clearly his opposition, on the grounds that Papism is a heresy and that the visit of the Pontiff of the Catholic Church will scandalize the souls of innocent pious Christians. At the same time he emphasizes that no impropriety should be done, no rudeness, no bad behavior. He however stated that he would not attend the event.

Why does the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island scandalize the Church and its flock?

I think the Pope's visit to Cyprus will cause several problems in the conscience of many pious Christians. It would have been better for him not to come because I believe we will not benefit at all, in that I have not seen yet any positive intervention by the Vatican regarding our national issues. It has already caused great concern which we do not need at this time.

Are we in danger of something?

I'm not saying we are in danger with the coming of the Pope; we will not betray our Faith nor will the Orthodox Church collapse. It simply gives opportunity among various Old Calendarist groups who accuse us of being submissive, that we retreat from the principles of the Orthodox Faith and have created many issues to many people. Of course, the Pope was invited by the President of the Republic and the Archbishop gave his consent.

What did you discuss at the Holy Synod?

At the last Holy Synod the question arose whether or not we should be present at the events with the Pope. I refused to attend and said that we knew nothing of it. We learned of the coming of the Pope from the newspapers.

Do you usually learn the news from the newspapers?

The Archbishop of Cyprus has increased duties and we certainly do not want him to descend to our own level. We reserve our personal right, however, to say that we didn’t know that the Pope was coming and that if he had asked us, I would have personally stated my objection, because it would create a scandal in the minds of innocent pious Orthodox Christians, as we are now seeing happen.

Should there not be any communication between the Churches? After all, we live in the 21st century and we belong to the European Union.

We can hold a dialogue with anyone, even more so with heterodox people and people of other religions. It is one thing to have a dialogue and another to receive the Pope as a canonical bishop, who for us Orthodox is a heretic, estranged from the Church, and therefore not even a bishop.

Is this because of the Schism?

He has been estranged from the Church for ten centuries now; he is not a canonical bishop and has no relation with the reality of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. It is one thing to receive him as a canonical bishop and another thing to talk with him as a heterodox in order to reveal to him the truth of the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.

The Ecumenical Patriarch met with the Pope and initiated a dialogue between the Churches.

As I have stated, dialogue itself is not a bad thing when it takes place with the correct presuppositions; but it is wrong to tell these people that we recognize them as a Church, that we recognize the Pope as a bishop, as our brother in Christ in the priesthood and in Faith. I cannot accept this because it is a lie, since all the Holy Fathers teach exactly the opposite. Papism is a heresy and the source of many other heresies which trouble the entire world today. Saint Justin Popovich, a contemporary Saint, has said that there were three tragic falls in the history of the human race: that of the first-created Adam, that of the disciple of Christ Judas, and of the Pope, who as a first bishop of the Church, defaulted from the faith of the Apostles, detached himself from the canonical Church and dragged multitudes of people with him since then.

What does the Pope say about the Orthodox?

The Pope said that we are an incomplete Church.

God is One.

Yes, God is one and His Church is one. That’s why we say in the Symbol of Faith “in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. This one Church is the Orthodox Church; there are not many Churches.

Isn’t it egotistical to assume that we are it?

It is not egotistical. When as an example you say that the Italians are not Greeks, which is the truth, you are not offending them. If I say to the other person: ‘It doesn’t matter that you are Catholic and that we all belong to the same Church’, I ridicule him, since all the Holy Fathers teach us that there is only one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.

Why is this Church ours and not that of the Pope?

Because the Orthodox Church preserves the Apostolic Faith and the experience of the Prophets unaltered to this day. The Papists, unfortunately, after they had been severed from the Church, have included many heretical dogmas in their beliefs; they changed the Symbol of Faith and most of all, they elevated the Pope to the position of the one and only representative of God on earth.

They say the Pope is infallible, and that whoever does not keep communion with the Pope does not have communion with God. They have officially declared these teachings in their synods.

When you have added things to the Symbol of Faith, which have not been written there by the Holy Fathers, as well as many other falsehoods, this constitutes heresy. This is the reality.

How does the Orthodox Church deal with heretics?

With much love. We love the Pope, we love the Papists as we love all people; we do not despise them, we do not reject them as people but we do not accept their heresy, we do not accept falsehoods, we do not accept deceptions. Because we love them, we must tell them the truth.

Of course everyone has his own truth.

That’s why we have a dialogue so that it is proven, through historical evidence of the sources, which Church has preserved the Apostolic Faith and the Apostolic experience of the Saints.

Do you believe that this dialogue will be successful?

It could, if it is done properly and took place under the correct presuppositions. But, unfortunately, as it is done today, it does not bear fruit. That’s the reason why it has been going on for so many years and nothing has been achieved.

Does each one of them speak only for himself?

They must talk, equipped with the Holy Scriptures, with humility and love, aiming to prove the truth of Christ. Then everything can happen easily.

Doesn’t this dialogue take place with humility and love?

I do not know. I do not participate in these dialogues, but I have not seen any tangible results deriving from their conclusions. Just because I disagree, it does not mean that I am out of order and outside the Church.

There is a movement which writes books against the Pope and is preparing protests.

I do not agree with all these. No nastiness must take place, no rudeness, no misconduct. But it is one thing to voice our opinion, alas, we live in a democracy, and another to misbehave. I clearly and publicly state my opposition to the Pope’s visit and declare with my whole soul that the Pope is a heretic, he is not a bishop, he is not an Orthodox Christian; these things are declared by the Holy Fathers.

If I am wrong I am ready for censure, but this must be done on the basis of the Holy Fathers and not on the basis of globalization. It does not mean that because I disagree, I am out of order and not part of the Church.

Don’t you think that your statements will ignite more scandal in the minds of those already scandalized?

We say what we have to say in all honesty and responsibility, we do not ignite any fires; I do not want to be presented as agreeing and that I consciously accept the Pope’s presence in Cyprus. During the meeting of the Holy Synod the Archbishop himself has dealt with our objections in a very democratic way.

Did you agree with the Archbishop’s visit to the Vatican?

We have not been asked and he was not obliged to ask us. We found out from reports in the newspapers.

What was the result of his visit to the Vatican?

I do not know.

Didn’t he brief you?

He did, but personally I didn’t show much interest. The Pope always speaks in a formal manner, as it is going to happen now when he comes to Cyprus, but he will do nothing substantial, because he is not a leader of the Church but a political person. He cannot enter into dispute with the political establishment and system.

When has the Pope defended the Orthodox Church? We had been under occupation so many times, when did he defend us? Not to mention that we fared very badly during the Frankish occupation, because of the various Popes and their decrees, with which they wanted to make us vanish. Tonight we commemorated the 13 Martyrs of Kantara, who had been murdered under the orders of the Vatican.

We lived through 400 years of tough Frankish occupation. It had been worse than the Turkish rule. But I do not want to go back to these things; I am voicing objections today for purely theological reasons. When we were ordained Bishops, we were given an oath to preserve the Orthodox Faith.

Will the priests who will welcome the Pope not preserve the Orthodox Faith?

Saint Paul said that he who does not consume sacrificial meat must not criticize those who do. I do not condemn those who will be present, but I also do not want to be condemned for not participating.

An encyclical was read in Church last Sunday issued by the Holy Synod in which the Bishops, who will participate, were named one by one, and it made an impression on people.

We had all decided to issue an encyclical to the people so that they stay united in the Church, and not be swayed by the Old Calendarists who want to separate them from the canonical Church. What has not been made clear in the encyclical, however, was that not all of us had been briefed regarding the invitation to the Pope and had agreed with it.

Why do you think the Pope is visiting Cyprus?

As you are aware, the Papists are going through a serious crisis with all the scandals which have broken out against the Catholic Church.

Regarding pedophilia?

I do not want to name this, but the press is publishing disturbing things every day. I am not condemning, but the Pope regards himself as the first and only Vicar of Christ on earth and that’s the reason he goes on these journey's.

He mentioned that he wanted to make a pilgrimage to follow in the steps of Saint Paul.

Except that Saint Paul was not travelling in a bulletproof car worth 500,000 euros. I have read that the Cypriot government will purchase this car just for his two day visit. I was personally quite scandalized by this news and I said that a bulletproof car does not suit a Vicar of Christ, and that the public should not bear the burden of such cost in the present economic crisis.

The Pope’s representatives have announced that he is coming to Cyprus to promote humanitarian and Christian principles and values and that he wants to follow Saint Paul’s footsteps as well as meet with the representatives of the Orthodox Church in the spirit of brotherhood and with good intentions.

We do not dispute his good intention. I wish it is like this and that he resembles Saint Paul and gets acquainted with the treasures of the Orthodox Church. We wish he returns to the Orthodox Church and becomes an Orthodox Bishop again as he was before the Schism. This is the only proper reunion.

What do you think lies behind this visit?

The Vatican does nothing randomly or undertake unintentional moves. All of his trips aim to present him as a Christian world leader. At the moment he is neither a canonical bishop, nor Orthodox, and therefore he is in no position to want to present himself as the First Bishop.

Do you think there might be political interests behind this?

I do not know, but I believe that we are not going to derive a political advantage out of this visit; only incredible costs and great discord in the consciences of the faithful.

The Archbishop has said that those who oppose the visit will take themselves out of the Church.

I do not know the statements of His Eminence, but I do not think anyone who disagrees with the arrival of the Pope puts himself outside of the Church. I disagree and say it deliberately, and I am not outside of the Church.


The Church, as the Archbishop himself stresses, is a democratic institution. It is one thing to voice our objections in a mannerly way and another thing to misbehave. The Archbishop knows his limits very well.

Does the Holy Synod accept the different view?

The Archbishop is a democratic man and respects our views. He deals with us with a lot of love.

How could he be a democrat, when he has been elected as Archbishop in the way we all know? Formally he has been properly elected by the majority vote. In practice though, the way he was elected was not at all democratic.

I am not going to get into this. My position is very sensitive. I can say however, that inside the meetings of the Synod, the Archbishop behaves in a democratic way. I do not feel that he does not respect out views. He listens to us.

And he does what he wants in the end?

No. Often he upholds the decision of the Synod, even though he himself may hold a different view.

Was the new Charter of the Church written in a democratic way?

It was not written by the Archbishop but by a committee of the Synod and was presented for discussion during numerous conferences. The decisions are taken by majority.

People get the impression that the Charter was written in order to prevent you from ascending to the Archbishopric throne?

I wish that God will grant many years to the Archbishop and that we do not need new elections.

He himself had said that he was going to keep the throne only for five years. That is until the end of 2011.

The Holy Scriptures say that a thousand years are like one day! He must be the one to answer as to what he intends to do. I wish that we do not have to undergo the process of elections any time soon. Every Archbishop is elected through the will of God and not through any human intentions. If God wishes either A or B become Archbishop he will, even if we try to prevent him. The purpose of our lives is not to become Archbishop.

What is the purpose of your life?

To be saved, to be with God, to love God and our brothers.

Do you think the Archbishop is trying to give the Church a ‘leader of the nation’ role?

I do not think he has these tendencies. He has abolished the title of “the Ethnarch” for himself. He knows his limits very well, but he loves and cares for his country.

He has recently stated that there is an organized effort to attack the dignity and credibility of the Church, on the pretext of its unpaid bills to the State. He attributed political motives behind this campaign.

If he has spoken this way, this is a very serious allegation which everyone needs to consider very carefully.

Do you agree or disagree that the Church must repay its old unpaid bills to the State in the amount of 163 million?

I was not participating in the committee which had considered the issue. If, according to the law, the Church owes the State, then it must pay up. But if the law does not state this, then the Church must deal with the issue in a discreet manner and in accordance with the peoples’ needs in this present economic crisis. The Church must be very careful in its statements and deeds which may infringe on common sentiment. On the other hand, the state must be clear in its assertions and not mislead people by stating that the Church does not pay its taxes.

Mislead people?

It is wrong to say that the Church does not pay taxes, because it does.

Does the Limassol Metropolis agree to the imposition of capital gains tax?

I am not acquainted with these financial terms. When we sell some property we pay up our duties. We are not in possession of companies which make profit, we do not own hotels and factories, we have no investments and that’s why our financial state is terrible.

Where does your income come from?

We own one property with some rental income; we also get donations from people who love the Church and from the sale of pieces of land.

Source: Cyrpiot Newspaper "Fileleftheros", 23 May 2010.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

See also here, here, here, here, here, and here.