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December 1, 2010

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos: "The Heavenly Citizen Card"

Below is an excerpt from a homily delivered by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos in the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Patras during the Festal Divine Liturgy on November 30, 2010. In this part he specifically addresses the issue of the Citizen's Card which was scheduled to be implemented in Greece the next month and met with much protest among Greeks. The basis of the fear revolved around the question over whether or not this card bears the number 666 and thus be a prelude to the mark of the beast prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Some clergy and monastics hyped up this fear, while others tried to bring a more sober attitude towards the issue (see here and here). This drove the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece to address this issue. Metropolitan Hierotheos, as one of the most respected hierarchs of the Church of Greece, gave his sober reflections amidst a crowd of thousands that deserves to be reflected upon by all Orthodox Christians. The entire sermon can be read here in Greek which mainly deals with the Apostle Andrew.

Christ told his disciples: "Fear not those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

With this faith Saint Andrew defied death and became a heavenly man, fearless in Christ. The Apostle Paul explained this situation when he wrote: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). He had Christ within him and was not overcome by any fear.

In a wonderful passage from the second century Epistle of Diognetus this faith is spoken of among the Christians: "As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers." For "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:10).

And this occurs because, again according to the Epistle of Diognetus: "They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives."

It is extremely amazing what Saint John Chrysostom says, that Christians are not simply "citizens" of this world, but "sojourners" towards the heavenly city. He writes: "Do not say 'I have this city' or 'that city'. No one has a city. Our city is a heavenly city." In reality, therefore, we are "sojourners" towards the heavenly city. This is in agreement with what Saint Paul says: "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14). We are "heavenly sojourners" and "heavenly citizens".

However, we contemporary Christians, the younger siblings of such great saints and ecumenical teachers, unless we have saints such as Saint Andrew, we live in great poverty, we are fearful, we fear every small enemy, even our own shadow. We are imprisoned in our selfishness, locked up in the narrow cells of ourselves, we are possessed by insecurity.

We fear our neighbor, for we consider every man a threat. We fear the Devil and the Antichrist, something which did not occur with the saints. For whoever unites himself with Christ and loves his brothers and sisters cannot fear anyone, since according to John the Evangelist: "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn. 4:18).

A characteristic saying of a certain writer speaks of the anxiety of modern man which he compares with Photios Kontoglou, the well-known Christian artist, who was inspired by the love of God. He writes:

"You cross the road and see thousands of people and say: 'This road is a walking cemetery. All these people died or will die. Like the sheep, like the birds, at one moment they tread upon the dust and the sidewalks, and the next moment they will be lost, as if they had never existed.' And suddenly you see someone and you shake with joy. You say: 'This one will not die. This one has a soul. He captures matter and turns it into spirit. He was given a little fleeting life and he makes it immortal. His eyes shine and his hands are full of eagerness and power. And when he is overwhelmed by bitterness, he begins to chant a troparion: 'To thee the Champion Leader...' ('Τη υπερμάχω στρατηγώ τα νικητήρια...') or 'Let all mortal flesh be silent...' ('Σιγησάτω πάσα σαρξ βροτεία...'). And the bitterness is exorcised and the earth shifts and Kontoglou, with his curly hair and large eyes, enters whole into Paradise.'"

This is how saints live, without fear, without insecurity, but with the power and fullness of life. In this manner they face the difficulties of life, and in this manner they face courageously the fear of death.

My beloved,

Many of us are asking regarding the citizen card which is underway. Of course, the Holy Synod is already engaged with this issue. The selected members of the Standing Holy Synod, some of whom are present today in this solemn Divine Liturgy, have a deep sense of responsibility, possess an ecclesiastical phronema and Orthodox conscience, and will decide on this issue responsibly and seriously. And we must have trust in the Holy Synod; we are not "sheep without shepherds" (Matt. 9:36).

What is urgently needed, however, is to receive the "heavenly citizen card". The saints, such as Saint Andrew, journeyed along the path towards the heavenly city, surpassing all the difficulties in their lives, and even faced, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the iron hand of the Roman Empire which had pagan symbols of worship and worshipped the emperor as a god. The saints received the heavenly citizen card and were citizen's of heaven.

And we must imitate them. This means that we must unite ourselves with Christ, to set the name of Christ in our hearts, in agreement with the words of Revelation: "Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1).

This name of the Lamb and of the Father on the forehead of the faithful Christian means, according to Arethas of Caesarea: "They are branded with the divine light of His divine face...." Then will come to pass the words of the Evangelist John: "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4).

Living this life in Christ within the Church, we will not fear anyone, we will be free in Christ, we will journey from selfishness to divine love and philanthropy, and the small area in which we live will open to become universal and we will be heavenly citizens. We will not be tortured by this "present city", with all its depressing phenomena, but we will be inspired by the "future city" (Heb. 13:14) "whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10).

Translated by John Sanidopoulos