June 28, 2012

"How I Came To Know Christ" - Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis

His Eminence Meletios (Kalamaras), who was Metropolitan of Nikopolis and Preveza in Greece, passed from death to life on 21 June 2012 (see here). Metropolitan Meletios, who had lately faced several serious health issues, was 79.

His Eminence was born in 1933 in Alagonia, Kalamata, and was a graduate in theology and in classical literature-philosophy from the University of Athens. He was chosen and ordained Metropolitan of Nikopolis and Preveza in 1980, having been ordained both deacon and priest by the Metropolitan of Messenia, His Eminence Chrysostomos (Daskalakis).

Metropolitan Meletios was especially well known for his transformative work in the Metropolis of Messenia, which was captured in the book, Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community, by Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett (SVS Press, 2009).

The book covers the political history and religious character of the region of Nikopolis, from time of the Apostle Paul in AD 63 to the arrival of Bishop Meletios in 1980. 
With great sensitivity, the book deals with the issue of sexual misconduct within the church, the restoration of the local church to spiritual health, and the renewed trust between church leaders and the laity. The book recounts how Bishop Meletios, along with the local monastic community, applied his ancient faith in a modern context to bring about social and religious change.

His Eminence was also well known for his preaching in the Holy Metropolis of Messenia, and, in a broader ecclesial context, he served as secretary to the Holy Synod on matters of Interchurch Affairs. He himself authored several books, and he received an award from the Theological Academy of Athens for his book The Fifth Ecumenical Council.

Below is testimony in his own words of how he came to embrace Christianity:

By Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis

A. The Problem

1. When I was a teenager, I always wanted to be happy. I wanted to be the happiest person in the world! Still I wanted my life to have meaning! I looked for answers to the following questions:

• Who am I?
• Why was I born?
• Why am I live?
• Where is the path of my life leading me?

At the same time I always wanted to be free. Even the most free person in the world! For me freedom was not about doing whatever I wanted (this is something we can all do, and most people do this.) I wanted to have the strength to do what I was indebted to do. Because many people know what they have to do, but they do not have the strength to do it, that is, they do not have the strength of will to say no to irrational tendencies, which pushes them into "other things". For an addict knows how tragic is his situation. He wants to correct it. But an internal tendency makes him into a wreck! The same happens with various other passions of the "flesh".

2. What a terrible thing, for a young person to be totally free, to have a philosophy of absolute freedom, and ultimately determine that he is a slave - indeed, in chains!

B. The Crooked Path

1. So I started looking for an answer to this issue of internal freedom. And what do you say I found? I found that all (or almost all) those who had some inner freedom, also had some religiosity. So I had a big decision. I too took a similar step: I went to church! But I did not like it. There I found nothing to comfort my soul. Instead I felt very constricted!

I am a very practical man. So when I see something that does not suit me, I put a full stop! In the matter of "religion" I did something more. I not only put a full stop, but something more. I put on a cross (. - +)!

2. Then I thought that the most important thing is to succeed in life. To strive. To become famous. To become a leader....

At university I realized that the presidency of different years had many means, and played an important role in the lives of university students and its life. So I decided to be a candidate. I became president of the first year! I became an agent! Everyone knew me! I organized Speeches, Lectures, Games, Sit-ins, Strikes. I participated in meetings. And what was the benefit? After a while I began to get bored.

One Monday I awoke with a terrible headache. Sunday I had gone to bed too late. I thought: Five days on the treadmill! I'm waiting for Friday to come! Why was "pleasure" the three "free" nights: Friday, Saturday and Sunday! And "ptooey" from the beginning!

3. Until then all the young men thought of me as the "personification" of determination and joy! But things were not so. I knew that I was like a boat on the ocean waves. Circumstances, situations and emotions, not being in control of them at all, were taking me where they wanted. And my life was hell! And the worst? Then I did not know anyone who could give me beneficial words. And even if there was, his words would not benefit. They would not suffice! Because more than nice words I needed the strength (which is needed!) to put them into practice. And this strength I could not find anywhere.

In this situation, I began to think to myself:

"Is there a more honest man than me trying to find the right way, trying to find the truth?"

C. A New Finding

1. One time it caught my eye that in our university there is another "circle": Few students and two teachers. It was a "Christian circle." They stood out from the others. Because their members appeared to know: what they believe and why they believe it. They had peace. And consistency.

I decided to approach them. I was not bothered if they agreed with me. I learned to have "understanding." To calmly watch the beliefs of others. And to respect them. I was working in harmony and friendship with: leftists, anarchists, rightists and others.

2. But - as I said - this group was somewhat different. This forced me to work with them seriously. And what I found! What they said was more little than they needed. They spoke of nothing but love. They had love. And, unlike everyone else, they were not bothered by the circumstances. They did not victimize their authorities. They were not boats that were tossed by the waves. They looked as if they had a deep joy. Not coming from outside pleasant circumstances: games, fun, love, etc. They had the joy within. A deep joy. They were happy to an extent, which made me angry. They had something that I did not have.

May we all be jealous of what we do not have. In this way I was jealous of their inner joy. And I made the decision to join with them.

"I will have benefit!" I thought.

3. And after a few days, I was in their company. We were six students and two teachers. And the debate began. About God.

Until then, every time I heard talk about God, the yelling began. To show how I was somehow "smart". As you know in such cases, a "smart" person yells as hard as he can.

"Just think, my child! He is Christian! Ha-ha-ha ... And he runs behind the priests! ... Ha-ha-ha ... As an old lady! ... A young man! ... A student of the positive sciences! ..."

And it took a long time until I realized that the more one yells, the more empty-headed one is!

The debate did not attract my interest. I was devoted to looking at a beautiful girl, who was on their team. Until then I had the idea that Christians are all foul. I found that I had this wrong. And wanting to hide my thoughts, I began to squirm in my chair. And then I asked, as if desiring to have her words capture my interest wholeheartedly.

"You had the goodness to tell me what it was that brought the greatest influence on your life. Why is your life unlike other students and teachers?"

The female student which I spoke about, must have known what she believed. She looked at me in the eyes with a quiet seriousness and said only two words, which I did not expect to hear.

"Jesus Christ!"

I replied somewhat angry:

"Oh, in the name of God! Let these things go! I'm sick of religion! I'm sick of the Church! I'm sickened of religious books! Because everything that is related to religion causes wilting! ..."

"But I was not talking about religion! I said: Jesus Christ! ..."

This distinction I had not heard!

And the girl went on:

"Christianity is not a religion. Religion is the attempt made by man to find the way to God. Christianity is not a religion! Christianity tells us to the opposite: Of the attempt God makes to find man."

I had not heard this before. The views circulating are tragically simple. And usually with its fixed-form simplistic simplifications we imagine they solve scientific problems!

Lastly I came to know a professor of the university, who said seriously:

"Everyone who goes to Church is a Christian!"

I could not hold it in, but said:

"According to this reasoning, every man who goes to the garage is a car! What does the physical presence of a person in church have with the Christian faith? A Christian is one who believes correctly in Christ!"

D. Great is the Truth!

1. Once, while in this circle, they instructed me to say a word about Christ. Namely: How did He become man? How was He crucified? Why was He crucified? How was He buried? How was He resurrected? And what can this offer a youth in the twentieth century?

I thought of all these things then as stupidities. I had the idea that people who were involved in these things were whacks, cretins. In student gatherings until then I lurked furiously to hear anyone say something about religion and Jesus Christ, to rush on him, to pulverize him, to dust him away! My opinion was: To be a Christian believer, one should not have a stone, nor a molecule of gray matter. But the time came and I realized that this was for me!

I tried to avoid it. "What business did I have in such matters?" I would say to myself. But I could not. The young people of the Christian circle would not let me! And so I took on the matter. But with a selfish attitude. With the thought: "I will dust them off! I will thunder at them! And then I will go!"

But things did not evolve that way.

2. When I set about the matter, I heard something mentioned about evidence, which I took to study, to appreciate their seriousness. Why would I risk becoming the laughingstock in their eyes, immediately after the young people would have made me dust! So I threw myself into the study of this "evidence" with the sole objective in warding it off. But I did not succeed. I concluded that the books used by believers give the most accurate picture of the person of Christ. This finding terribly impressed upon me.

I understood that the question of our relationship with Christ is the greatest issue of our lives. I sacrificed everything. And I paved my way to study. I read all kinds of atheistic and all kinds of Christian apologetic books that I could find. And my conclusion was always the same:

The truth is in the books of the Church. Christ is the one of Whom the Church says: our God and Savior.

3. And I became a Christian.

Source: From the book, What Is Christ? Translation by John Sanidopoulos.