September 8, 2010

Archbishop Irenaios of Crete On His Impressions of Greek Orthodoxy In America

July 28, 2010

The Archbishop of Crete, Irenaios, represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the 40th Clergy-Laity Congress in Atlanta, and read a message from Patriarch Bartholomew to over 1,000 attendees.

The Archbishop asked for the opportunity to speak with the media present who were covering the proceedings of the meeting. The following interview was granted to the publisher and editor of Greek News Apostolis Zoupanioti and the owner of the National Greek Channel of America, D. Brown, who responded to the invitation of His Eminence.

In his interview, Mr. Irenaios speaks with satisfaction about the work of the Assembly, which he considers necessary for our Church in America, since it gives an opportunity to meet, understand and make decisions, speaking also with love and respect for Archbishop Demetrios.

On the issue of the Greek language, he emphasizes that "it is the language of Christ, the Apostles and early Church and a great treasure which we should not lose."

The Interview Is As Follows:

Tell us your impressions of the work of the 40th Clergy-Laity Congress in which you participated.

As you know I came as a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who said "you must go", so I came to represent the Mother Church.

I heard occasionally about the Clergy-Laity in America and Australia, but never had the opportunity to come and take part in it.

But I wanted very much to come and see how it works, what it means, what message is given. I came with great love and interest, not only for the Clergy-Laity, but also for the Archbishop of America, for whom I feel very great compassion, love and great respect, although we have never known each other in the past. I have appreciated his kindness, humanity, discrimination and discernment. I admire him very much and am glad.

What do you have to say about the Clergy-Laity meeting, since this ecclesiastical institution is unique for Greece?

In Greece something like this is not necessary. From what I have seen however it is necessary here and in Australia. It may be needed in Europe also.

Our people are scattered in different locations and it is good to talk to each other, to meet and determine things together. If this was done in Heraklion, it would be meaningless. We do not make decisions, which we take from the laws of the Charter and our statutes. Such is our situation, our exchanges, where State and Church are together.

Here there is no State which is with the Church. For this reason I think it is necessary and useful in America. It is good for the clergy and the laity in particular for mutual understanding.

As a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, do you think measures should be taken for greater financial support of the Patriarchate by the Archdiocese of America?

I do not know the economic relations between the Church of America and the Patriarchate. What exists between us and the Patriarchate is a voluntary contribution from all of us who want to support the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Patriarchate does not say "give us this much". They leave us free and we freely gather what we can and we give.

The Vice President of the Archdiocesan Council, Mr. Tzacharis, in his speech, called for the use of the English language in church, in order for those who are American-born to better understand the Liturgy. Do you, as a representative of the Patriarch, believe that the Liturgy should be in English?

Personally and without imposing on things here and the positions and problems that exist - because I have little knowledge of these things - as a Greek and as a priest, I would like only the Greek language.

At least liturgical Greek. These are a great treasure to the Greek people. The Greek language, which is the language of Christ, the Apostles and the first Church, is a great treasure which should not be lost.

On the other hand, to understand the Liturgy is not the important thing. The important thing it is to live it - and you do not live it with the mind. Whatever we do with the mind is small.

In this we as Greeks must greatly take to heart. The experiences of generations upon generations who have lived before us, we should not allow to be lost. What does it mean to understand? The mind is only one part of our existence. Shall I live with just one part of existence?

If there is a question of understanding, we are ready to form classes in language, theology, and philosophy, but let us not spoil the language.

Once in England I met a stranger on the train. He asked me if I am Greek. When I answered affirmatively, he asked me to explain the passage in the beginning of the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I told him what I understood with the English I knew. He then told me, for something that I said which was not so great: "Now I understand that no one can be a Christian without knowing Greek."

No other nation and no other language has this privilege. Will we throw this away in order 'to understand'? What does it mean to understand?

Some people jokingly say: How can Χαίρε Νύμφη Ανύμφευτε (Rejoice, Bride Unwedded) be translated? Χαίρε νύφη απάντρευτη? [In Modern Greek it comes out as 'Rejoice, Bride Not Married'] What does it mean?

As I said in a meeting I had here with a group: should we not as Greeks try to keep this treasure we have? Foreigners, I understand, don't have the words. We who have the words, should we let go of them?

However, the response is that our Diaspora in America, although it has Greek roots, is part of American society, in which we should do missionary work to bring new believers within the Church who do not have Greek roots and do not understand the language. Since the Gospel was translated for the Slavs, for the Africans, today missionary work is done in the language of the people there. What wrong is there for the same to be done in America?

In Africa which you mentioned, and in the Congo in particular, someone said the kids there want to sing in Greek, to learn and speak Greek. Foreign people, Africans, who have no relationship to our culture, who are delighted with the effort. And we will now discuss and cry that it will be difficult? We should do difficult things also.

I will tell you very simply, without philosophizing. In all the theological schools in all countries Greek is taught. Why are we first to say that there is no need, that we should not be a national church, etc.? Let other people not learn it. But us?

What gave you the biggest impression that you saw at the Clergy-Laity?

There are many things by which I was impressed. The fact that our brothers are in one place, coming together and knowing each other, talking with each other.

The clergy among themselves and with the laity and vice versa. They constitute a large family and brotherhood. For me this is the most important of all.

What can I say. How young people come in the spirit of the older and the older with the younger people, whether they be clergy or laity? In this way the light of Greece does not darken, the light of the language, the light of Orthodoxy.

I remember my first trip to America, I was invited by a friendly family in a remote community. The priest invited me to Liturgize together with him. I was particularly impressed.

This man felt discarded and isolated from the others, a bishop had never been there to serve Liturgy, and never had another priest gone there. I saw the thirst he had to see other people. What I saw here in the Clergy-Laity is so beautiful.

I also see the love and respect the Archbishop shows to all the people and the respect and love they show back. These are very beautiful things.

Why does the current Archbishop of Crete continue to be elected by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate?

When Greece was liberated from the Turks this included the Peloponnese, mainland Greece and the islands near Athens. Crete was liberated in 1913 with huge struggles of our ancestors.

After this, the Greeks of that time saw the Patriarchate had been stripped of its provinces, since the so-called "new countries" had departed. Therefore, it is good for Crete to remain with the Patriarchate, of which we are a part.

We have one freedom - semi-autonomy - we have the ability to proceed as autonomous, while our petitions are not directed to Athens, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is good in terms of history and Greekness. Personally I think it's very nice.

Watching you, I see you have much in common with the Blessed Archbishop Iakovos. How do you feel in someone telling you this?

The Blessed Archbishop I met on two occasions. The first was when I was in college and he came as Bishop of Melite and he talked to us. I liked the way he talked, and the way he responded and I admired him.

In 1976, the second year of my being a clergyman, I met him in Australia, where we had gone for the 50 year anniversary of the Archdiocese there. Also, as deacon he had the current Metropolitan of Boston. He Liturgized then and talked and I liked it again so much for his vitality, his presence and his relationship with the Patriarchate.

I had no other contact with him. I always loved, respected and admired him.

You will notice the many differences in appearance and clothing of our priests here in America, something not found in Greece. How do you judge this?

I will refer to the specific character of America. People do not live in a Greek community and the parishioners do not see them every day. So things are different here than in Greece. I have the conscience of Greek society, which wants the priests to look the same.

To see the priest and say, "This is our Father". To have uniformity and sameness. Unfortunately, in Greece things have ruined. I say to the priests to wear our raso (cassock) and to be traditional people. And for the people to respect us and tradition.

But because we live in a world that uniforms people, in the midst of those who wear uniforms should be the clergy as well. Personally, I insist on priests to have respect for the tradition and to be Greek clerics.

Have you had the opportunity these days to meet your fellow Cretan countrymen?

Yes I saw our fellow Cretans, who came and greeted me and told me the origin of their parents. One from Heraklion, another from Hania and Lasithi. I ask them, what part in particular, but they knew nothing.

What pleases me is that they have not yet lost their sense of who they are, have not forgotten their name and never ceased to feel that they have roots and origins, first. On the other hand, what worries me a bit and saddens me is that they are losing the picture. As if the flashlight is flickering.

One lady said to me that she lost track of her village and family and would like to come to Crete to help her to discover it. I am glad that people hold on to what they hold on to, on the other hand I am saddened they lose some things.

I pray we at least still hold on to what we have. Every one of us should hold on to what they can. Personally I believe that as long as I live, I will hold on to what I am and what I have. I don't want to lose it.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos