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May 8, 2014

"The True Faith Must Be Linked With Love and Freedom": An Interview With Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

In light of the feast of Pascha, the journalist of the newspaper Kathimerini, Katerina Bakoyannis, came to Nafpaktos in order to conduct an interview with His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos.

The discussion with the journalist lasted over an hour and a half. Some excerpts from the discussion became an interview published in the paschal edition of the periodical "K" of Kathimerini (19-20 April 2014), titled "The True Faith Must Be Linked With Love and Freedom", which is reproduced below.

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An enlightened and prolific Hierarch, who is among the leading theologians of the Church, speaks of the importance of faith in difficult times, but also addresses "hot topics" - from the relationship between the Church and the State to the construction of the mosque in Athens.

The meeting with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou took place in the beginning of Great Week on the occasion of Pascha. The central question which the discussion revolved around was how does the Church view the phenomenon of Orthodox Christians "on paper": those who flock to the Epitaphios and Resurrection services without really believing.

Mr. Hierotheos, who in the world was known as George Vlahos, was born in Ioannina in 1945 and graduated with honors from the Theological School of Thessaloniki in 1968. In 1971 he was ordained a deacon and served as a sacred preacher, first in Edessa and later in the Archdiocese of Athens under Seraphim.

He was ordained a Metropolitan in July of 1995. He has authored 82 books with theological and social content. He is a repeated spokesman of the Standing Holy Synod and the Synod of the Church of Greece and is now chairman of the Coordinating Committee on the Press and Public Relations.

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For most Greeks, is Pascha a tradition or a religious feast?

I cannot know what happens in the inner world of each person. It depends on how one views Christianity: as a tradition, a manner, a custom, as folklore, as religious life, as ecclesiastical life, as an existential fact for meaning in life.

Would it not be better for the Church to clean up her records instead of emphasizing that the vast majority of Greeks are Orthodox Christians?

There are no records. Because in the Church no one is cut off (unless there are specific reasons as decided by an ecclesiastical court) nor bound. Of course we know those who have been baptized, but this does not play an essential role in the life of the Church.

Why not?

Because we don't want to say that these people are Christians and these people are not. I am personally touched by the story of the night disciple. That is, he who presents himself to be unfamiliar with the Church, while at night in his house he weeps secretly and prays to God. The truth is that we cannot identify people by external criteria.

Perhaps any sort of "cleansing" would reduce the power of the Church?

We do not see it this way.

Yet, do you like it when the people flock to the churches these days or would you like only the faithful to come?

Both are important. The Church is not a "souvenir shop" for anyone. Besides, in the Church there are many twists. The thief on Golgotha became a great theologian and the first to enter Paradise!

Even when the majority arrive for the Resurrection a little prior to midnight and leave after "Christ is Risen"?

It is indeed sad for one to go to a supper table, to see the food there, and to leave without having a taste. Yet, whoever swims in the atmosphere of the experience of Great Week, where we chant of divine eros and sing to the Bridegroom, feeling a love which is as strong as death, then time - a little before midnight or a little after midnight - ceases in its usual flow, and acquires another transcendent meaning.

Why do Christians in the West celebrate Christmas more and the Orthodox celebrate Pascha more?

There are differences of theology. Protestants celebrate Christmas much more, because they give priority to the biological birth, while Catholics reach the Cross, and we have both the Cross and the Resurrection. For the Cross without the Resurrection is hopeless. And the Resurrection without the Cross is an emotional joy without depth.

Can an intelligent person believe in the Resurrection?

An intelligent person can doubt everything, even historical events - such as the Resurrection - that they themselves have not experienced.

Do you believe?

Naturally. Because I am a baptized Christian. And because I have met many people, who because of their faith in the Resurrection of Christ have seen the renewal of their existence and faced their pain and difficulties.

Is the Holy Light of Jerusalem a miracle?

All of our biological life and whatever takes place in the subcellular world that bustles with life is a miracle, let alone the Holy Light at the All-Holy Sepulchre.

Does not blind faith lead to fanaticism?

The true faith must be linked with love and freedom. Fanaticism thrives everywhere. Even in science. When someone comes, in the name of science, and says that God does not exist, they are wrong. The scientist operates in the world of the sciences, with what they see. They cannot deny something they have not seen.

Is it a coincidence that those in the Golden Dawn consider themselves Christians?

The message of Christ was universal and for all people. The Church is transnational. Truly, nothing is coincidental, but all things have their starting point and their purpose. Nazism is the culmination of western philosophy with the idea of the Uberman.

Do not those in the Golden Dawn say they are Orthodox?

Tsarouhis says that in Greece you are what you say you are.

However, does not the Church tend to caress right wing ideology?

In the time of Christodoulos they would say "the right of the Lord". Now under Hieronymos they say "the left of the Lord". We bless with both hands.

Why do they call you left wing?

Maybe because I have Christian views and I want to be against every incumbent and any hypocrisy. Or because I have the basic idea that the clergy, especially the unmarried ones, should not have personal property. They must be poor.

While the truth is that the priests are the only social group in Greece that have not faced a financial crisis?

The wages of the priests have fallen. I have been a Cleric for 43 years and a Bishop for 19 years and receive 1700 euro net. Of course, I deposit a portion of my salary to the Metropolis and in the past I have proposed to the Hierarchy that we Hierarchs at least should not be paid by the state, but by the Church.


It was not discussed. But we must look at the issue as a whole. The Church of Greece participated in the solution of social problems with about 700 foundations, while the state is responsible for the social welfare. And you know what? Old age homes of the Church are closing, while the National Organization for Health Care does not comply with the signed contracts and pay the premiums for the bedridden elderly.

The state has no money for social security, but has money for the salaries of priests?

There exist agreements from 1932, 1952 and 1987 in which the state gradually took 96% of the wealth of the Church, with the obligation to pay the salaries of the clergy. The state must return the property if it no longer wants to pay the salaries.

And also to separate the Church from the state?

I think that in key points they are separated. Neither the Church meddles in state responsibilities, nor does the state engage in worship or church life. There is a distinction of roles. If the state wants to change the legal personality of the Church, it must also do this with the Muftis and Jewish synagogues, or else it will create many problems.

Must there be a mosque in Athens?

The Church has no objection to rebuilding a mosque in Athens, as long as it meets the necessary preconditions in one well-governed Government.

In other cities?

Contemporary society must get rid of fear and experience love, and respect the fact that for others this is "sacred" and they are to prevent what is not sacred, but this requires true education and integrated democracy.

Why do Orthodox Christians baptize infants when they do not have a choice?

We must not interpret baptism as an ideology, but medically, since it is a transition of life to overcome death, which we carry in our genes as we age from the first moments of our conception, and which we are not responsible for. It functions like a vaccine in the body from a young age, which we were not asked to take or if we wanted to receive it.

Do you equate faith with science?

Science deals with creation. Orthodoxy deals with the spiritual and gives meaning to life.

Does Orthodoxy conflict with science, such as for example Darwin's theory of evolution?

The conflict between science and faith took place in the West and not in the Orthodox Church. Science deals with the theory of evolution. We in the Church see things from another perspective, much greater: the evolution of man who is trying to unite with God, to reach deification.

Why should someone believe in the Orthodox faith and not another religion?

I think that here we must also look at things medically to address this issue. Because the Orthodox Church loves the freedom of man and has the perfect therapeutic treatment that other religions do not have.

Is it in our interest to believe?

Yes. But one should not view it as utilitarian.

Have you ever questioned the existence of God?

During puberty we all have issues of identity, place and time. But I was fortunate to receive enough love by all the people who were involved in raising me and I did not take seriously the questions of whether or not God exists. And when I came to know ascetics of the Holy Mountain, such as Father Paisios, Father Porphyrios who is now a Saint, and Ephraim of Katounakia and I saw the light coming from their existence, I was left with no doubt.

Have you never had a temptation to have a relationship with a woman?

I was oriented in the direction of the Christian life and I said that I would do whatever God wants, and I have not regretted it.

Are you personally relieved that you believe in life after death?

Only opium relieves and painkillers calm. Faith in life after death, which is experienced in this life, inspires people, it develops creativity to complete certain works, it makes us live life like a celebration, to feel like church life is a spiritual wedding, an eros, it is light. I consider it a terrifying prison for one to enclose themselves in biological life which threatens us with zero, with nothingness!

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "«Ἡ ὀρθὴ πίστη πρέπει νὰ συνδέεται μὲ τὴν ἀγάπη καὶ τὴν ἐλευθερία»", April 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.