July 1, 2011

The Greek Economic Crisis: An Interview With Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

An insightful interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos on the Greek economic crisis, by George Theoharis of Agioritikovima.gr, was published on June 27, 2011. Much has been written on this topic in the international news, yet very little in English has appeared presenting an Orthodox opinion on what is happening in Greece at this time.

Question: Your Eminence, the economic crisis has struck like a "lightning bolt", first the Greek economy, then thousands of our fellow citizens who are unable to cover even the costs of the month, with 90 thousand households living without electricity. Thousands of angry fellow-citizens have been camped outside Parliament, and the Europeans are pushing us to accept harsher austerity measures in recent years. Are we perhaps facing an impasse?

Answer: First, the economic crisis has not struck our country like a lightning bolt, as many had warned about this years ago. Politicians knew the issues but were afraid to make corrections. The expert economists knew. We the clergy also detected this as we observed a sharp increase in false wealth, consumer loans becoming a fashion among the people, the difference between consumption and production, and the discarding of spiritual life that gives meaning to our lives. Many pages have been written on this subject. Since the 60's of the last century, Marcuse spoke of the one-dimensional society and one-dimensional man who relies on the "plastic" needs of a consumer life and the enslavement to them.

Now these tragic events seem obvious. Leaders have to lead the people and not follow, otherwise they are not leaders; they are to be movers and shakers rather than at someone's beck and call.

However, the situation today is difficult, but I can't say that it has reached an impasse, because there are always solutions and ways out. Man has within him infinite powers, and so does society. Nietzsche said: "He who has a purpose in life, can withstand almost anything." The tradition of our country is very strong and will help us, as long as we want it.

Question: What message would you send the "indignant" at Constitution Square?

Answer: I am also one of the "indignant" for the injustice that exists in society, the undermining of our standards and traditions, the cultivation of a consumer society, and the effects of cultural globalization that worked against our traditions and people. Eventually, the protests of people outside partisan lines, the attempts for safeguarded concentrations, and the discussions made in this "ecclesia" is a hope, as long as it is done with respect for democracy without undermining democratic institutions. I do not want this movement to result in anti-democratic events, because one of the laws of history is the "heterogenesis of purpose", according to which a struggle begins with good intentions and ends in different adverse effects. Thus, the movement of the "indignant" should help to improve democratic and social institutions rather than undermining them.

Question: Will you be on their side physically? Will you urge clergy of your Metropolis to go to Constitution Square?

Answer: Participation in each justified movement is fairly diverse. Personally, to express ecclesiastical tradition, the Church would like to enter the divided society to lead it to unity and not to keep on dividing. The Church is the Mother of all - the right-wingers and left-wingers, centrists and socialists, the indignant and the sore, the winners and the losers, the sick and the healthy.

I possess a strong democratic sentiment, which is why I do not urge anyone to do something, do not direct any action to those who do not want it, do not deprive people of their freedom or urge them to be weak-willed as if they are illogical beings. Everyone is free to act in the way they think, democratically, especially the clergy who should act under the principles of tradition with responsibility and discernment.

Question: Clergy of the Metropolis of Aigialias the other day marched at Constitution Square, thus expressing sympathy with all indignant citizens. Do you agree with this move?

Answer: I cannot comment on the actions of other priests, who are even located in other Metropolis'. I already told you my views. Besides, support of any movement to improve social affairs is diverse and not limited only to an action; it is not unequivocal. Each member of the Church has its own character, its own way in acting, and not all people take action or attend gatherings.

Question: The world today seems to have lost something precious - hope. What is the cause of this?

Answer: Indeed, today an uncertainty about the future dominates, especially since we hear and see contradictions. I think this atmosphere of despair is responsible for false promises that are hopeless, and denials which are major problems and risks. Sometimes I wonder: Why are not wiser voices with fair points listened to? Why are they on the margins of society and politics those who with freedom and openness have long been a sound of alarm? Why are the molders of society's opinions led by the wrong people, but why also do people drift towards wrong actions by the "order of specialists"? These are questions which may indicate a lack of education, critical thinking, and of high standards of living.

Question: The Church today does not seem to give hope in the world for those who seek consolation, as many of our readers write who are dissatisfied with it.

Answer: The Church is itself the hope of life, because the method by which it was organized and the whole theological teaching is the true "Church of the municipality", it is our broader spiritual family, it is a spiritual hospital that treats spiritual illness and gives meaning to human life. Today the Church helps with families and the material needs of the people. Maybe sometimes the people of the Church disappoint, and not the Church itself.

But there is a basic principle: Christianity does all its social work mainly within the church area. Those who perceive the Church as an ideology, as a social and religious system, become frustrated. Those living outside the Church and are involved a few times a year in church life, do not know what is in it. In contrast, those close to the Church and its inner life are not only comforted, but they become stronger, and they become saints, and through the power of Christ they are above all their problems. The bad thing is that more are sitting outside the Church and they judge that which they do not know.

Question: At the same time, in the mid-term program there was announced reduction in state spending on salaries of clergy.

Answer: I do not know if there is an official announcement on this issue. What we know is that the State did occasional contracts with the Holy Synod of the Church, receiving church property in exchange for salaries of clergymen. And it is well known that the State must respect the agreements signed, otherwise it is unreliable, and does not act with fairness and respect for the institutions of society.

However, the economic crisis plaguing our country did not come from the salaries of the clergy, but by the reckless management of public funds, the lack of transparency laws and laws from corruption and tax evasion, fraud by the Exchange, by the squandering of pension funds, etc. Let us be honest and not hypocritical. In this circumstance the clergy are not at all responsible, on the contrary, and as they always were and are, they are supporters of the people, protagonists, except for their ecclesiastical duties, and as far as philanthropy is concerned they serve more than seven hundred (700) Foundations, as well as being protagonists in cultural projects, with the maintenance of churches many of which are cultural attractions. The clergy are the most positive factors in society. The Metropolis', the Parishes and the Monasteries are self-funded, with a few exceptions, and abuses are not observed, and some have exceeded their budget. So, in terms of management, the ecclesiastical organizations are prototypes for the State.

Question: Finally, since lately there is a confusion in ecclesiastical circles, are the salaries of the clergy at risk of being cut? Are they assured to be paid entirely by the State?

Answer: This issue will be handled by the Standing Holy Synod and if necessary the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece. I have confidence in the Synod Officers addressing issues calmly, soberly and responsibly. I am a member of the Hierarchy sixteen years and participated three times in the Standing Holy Synod with the last three archbishops (Seraphim, Christodoulos, Ieronymos), and saw the serious way the issues are dealt with, all in a similar manner.

I find the opportunity here to restate and clarify something I have said many times, that unfortunately prevails among the people regarding the Church having a fortune. This is a myth. The State over time has confiscated 96% of the original ecclesiastical property, while of the remaining 4%, 3% is reserved, thus the Church currently has 1% of its original property. Much of the property is given for charitable and educational purposes. The Church and the Clergy are benefactors of the Nation and Society.

If the State returned a portion of property pledged to the Church and if it is permitted to use the property lawfully, then the Church may be able to meet the payroll of Priests or any part thereof.

Question: Mr. Diamantopoulos in the recent meeting of the Joint Committee on State and Church Dialogue essentially asked for sacrifices, saying: "At this time the emphasis should be what 'you' give to your country, not what your country gives 'you'." Is the Church prepared to meet this challenge?

Answer: First of all, I rejoice because today there are talks about the homeland and everyone is interested in its salvation. Before the economic crisis we all talked about the benefits of globalization and the European Union and proceeded like it was linked to the nation and homeland. Today things have changed in the right direction, and there is a balance between homeland and universality. Our love for the homeland is a primary good, but of course this can be translated into chauvinism.

The Holy Synod and the local Metropolis' throughout the organization do what they can mainly to relieve human suffering. Where there are organized parishes people find solutions in the Church on many issues, ie, psychological, social, existential and above all spiritual. Those associated with the Church in practice usually love their homeland and are true patriots. Above all they love each person in pain and deal with human suffering.

Question: Let's touch a bit on Mount Athos. Do you think its image was severely affected after news of the sensational case of Vatopaidi?

Answer: The Holy Mountain is a great treasure, a contemporary bright beacon. It is a brilliant piece of Romania-Byzantium retained in our day. It preserves the empirical theology, the requirements of Orthodox doctrine, the great cultural heritage. They are fooled whoever thinks that a few errors or omissions affected Mount Athos, and are as mindless as one who believes that the sun can be extinguished with their saliva. Mount Athos, like the Orthodox Church, is a strong body which digests the toughest foods.

God made me worthy for many years to visit Mount Athos, to live in a coenobium, skete and seclusion, and of course, to know the secret heartbeat of Mount Athos, which is prayer and even praying for the world. Also, I met people who were sanctified revealing what is the natural person in terms of theology. I could cite many examples of contemporary elders who I met, showing love to all the pilgrims, but I will not, for lack of space. However we were nourished by their words and their love, they showed us who God is and how we should live as Orthodox Christians.

Now we suffer the economic crisis and we Greeks became the subject of ridicule around the world, since we are in the headlines of newspapers and the television media. We can better understand that as a country, unfortunately, we are not present in the modern world nor pioneering science or high technology, but we only have Orthodox theology, which is sought by all people in the East and the West, and the great Roman civilization, namely iconography, hymnography, Byzantine music, church architecture, etc. Through this perspective we believe Mount Athos, the sanctified monks and their works, are a priceless treasure which receives the respect of millions. It is what we have chosen to present to Europe and the world, showing what is the true Orthodox humanism and what is the deeper purpose of mankind. At least it should not be forgotten.

Question: The fathers of Vatopaidi argue, based on certain documents, that Lake Vistonida belongs to their Monastery and that everything was done legally. Indeed, they talk about conspiracy. What do you say?

Answer: What I know is that Article 181 of the Legislative Decree of 10/16-9-1926 titled "On the Ratification of the Charter of Mount Athos", says: "All the immovable property of the Monasteries are an absolutely inalienable thing as a divine right." And Article 188 of the Legislative Decree says the same: "This Charter shall enter into force after the approval thereof in the Community and the approval of the State. It applies to imperial edicts tech and formal, Patriarchal Sigillion, Sultan Firman, the current General Regulations and ancient Monastic institutions and regimes." This means that the State itself regulated the acceptance of the validity of the Edicts, of the Sigillion, of the Firman, the applicable General Regulations and ancient Monastic institutions and regimes.

Of course, the authenticity of the documents was verified by competent State Organs and the Charter of Mount Athos, under Article 105 of the Constitution, drafted and passed by the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, with involvement of representatives of the State and approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Greek Parliament. Clearly, then, the property status of Mount Athos was determined by state law and not emotions, prejudices and varied interests.

The question that arises however is whether politicians of all parties for their own reasons were involved in the case of Vatopaidi negatively or positively. I think over time the story will reveal what really happened during that period. Already some elements have come to light through publicity.

However, there is an unchangeable spiritual law according to which the injustices caused to the other comes back on one's self. This is true for religious and political affairs. As the years pass, this spiritual law is always fulfilled.

Question: Let us end with the work of your Metropolis. Speak a little of this.

Answer: The Holy Metropolis is one of the smallest and poorest Holy Metropolis', but we strive to show the true face of the Church in our society. This, apart from the Mysteries, is done with the Orthodox theological word which heals man and gives light, life and vision, with the organization of the Parish as a family and therapeutic community, with the preservation of our cultural heritage and its many monuments we have, in communicating with people and in the practice of philanthropic work, etc. In particular, in each parish of the city there are established Unions of Love dealing with voluntary philanthropic work, there are operations at the Metropolis summer camps by hosting various events, I am chairing eleven Foundations-Endowments which practice a recognized social and philanthropic work, and many others. For all operations of the Metropolis the public are informed each month by the newspaper Ekklesiastiki Parembasis (http://www.parembasis.gr/), which from its beginning intervenes in various theological issues, which are the teachings of our Church.

Of course, there are currently many problems, but above all these God exists and blesses every effort and strengthens our cause. We must understand that we are not orphans on the earth, but we have God the Father, nor are we the only child of God, since we also have other siblings, as well as our true home which is Paradise, while here we are strangers and communities. Within this framework, we strive to avoid self-love and gain the love of God and philanthropy. The resolution of theological problems facing the people solves social problems, otherwise we will be unhappy.

It is known that in the French May 1968 protests there prevailed a few slogans, like: "Eat more, live less" and "All will eventually die from all the good times". A characteristic slogan that prevailed then was: "We refuse a world where the certainty that we will die of hunger is exchanged with the risk of being extinguished by boredom" and "Boredome is spreading, boredom is anti-revolutionary". The question is: hunger or boredom? Certainly we should be looking at reducing hunger, but worse is boredom, which manifests in good times. The biggest problem is consumerism.

Concluding the interview, I would like to thank you and to remind readers that in our everyday lives we have much good to do instead of crying about our fate. We can help those in need by cooperating to improve social conditions by combating corruption and fraud, by praying to God to rid us of boredom and acedie and obtain a meaningful life. The "being" of man is not identified with the "having", and the good fortune of man is not identified with consumption and happiness. We should strive to remedy society, but eventually you can be free living in the worst social conditions, or perhaps a slave and desperate while living in the best social conditions. There is always a possibility to overcome the social conditions and this death. Man cannot be a prisoner of social conditions, but must dominate above them. The biggest problem is social death. And in the race for the acquisition of material wealth, I see the fear of death. Who will deliver us from this? Fortunately, the Church is the place of resurrection.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.