January 9, 2015

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Interviewed About Contemporary Issues of the Church and Society

The following timely and enlightening interview with His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou was conducted by the journalist Alexander Kolliopoulos for the newspaper "Ecclesiology" out of Patras in December 2014.

1. Your Eminence, if you agree, we wanted to begin with a contemporary issue. Many people are worried that a union of the Orthodox Church with the Papal Church will take place without terms and conditions. Please clarify for us how and when is union possible with the Westerners? In the area of the Church are there "red lines" which, if violated, then we can speak about a betrayal of the faith?

In the Church we always pray for the union of Churches, particularly for the "unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit". Indeed, in the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great we beseech God immediately after the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ: "gather together the scattered, and lead back those who have wandered astray, uniting them to Your holy catholic and apostolic Church," that is, we pray for the return to the Church of those who have fallen into error. It is not possible to pray these words in the Divine Liturgy and in fact seek to unite without terms and conditions, without dealing with doctrinal issues. The lex orandi is closely associated with the lex credendi.

Elder Sophrony of Essex would say to me that anyone who speaks of "union of the Churches" without observing the basic Orthodox and ecclesiological preconditions, namely to comply with its doctrines, such a person does not know the height of Orthodox theology, which is theosis, nor the depth to which Catholicism and Protestantism have arrived in distancing themselves from the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, from the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself, the fleshless and incarnate Logos.

So, if it is not encountered theologically, such as the heresy of the actus purus, which is the heretical view that the uncreated essence of God is equated with the uncreated energies, and by which God comes into communion with creation and man through created energies, then we cannot speak of a so-called "union of Churches". From this heresy comes all the other heresies, among which are the filioque, the infallibility and primacy of the Pope, etc.

2. A second question on a contemporary issue: Is it true that with the anti-racist bill that was passed that the preachers of the Church cannot criticize sins, such as homosexuality, and indicate that religions, such as Islam, are not a path of salvation for humanity? Will the Church cease to present the eternal truths of the Gospel and the Fathers?

The Church is not bound by anyone in speaking the truth, not even by the law. The saints through the ages confessed the truth, preached repentance, presented the teachings of Christ. During the time of the pagan Roman Empire the Apostles, the Fathers and the Martyrs sacrificed their lives because they did not want to keep the laws of the State which were contrary to the will of God.

Of course, we need along with the martyric spirit, which unfortunately has decreased among modern Christians, by both Clergy and laity, to have a certain discernment to be able to separate an Orthodox confession from one that comes from the passions, to separate a testimony of the faith from the involvement of political purposes. For a confession to be true it must come from a pure heart and especially out of love for God and people.

3. Five years have passed since the economic crisis has afflicted our country. Do you see the State and people realizing that the cause of the crisis is moral and spiritual? Do you find that there is a return to the life indicated by the Church? If something has not changed, where will this lead us?

The crisis, as stressed by many and has became common place, is truly moral and spiritual. Most people prefer self-interest rather than the common good, they are possessed of self-love and self-interest rather than the love for the divine and philanthropy, and are characterized by the bliss of consumerism rather than the asceticism of the Gospel, being dominated by the Protestant ethic and not by Orthodox asceticism. Therein lies the problem.

Today with the way society is organized there prevails what is called Capitalism which is "the religion of avarice" with a "priority of monetary gain", "the right of private property", "the priority of individual interests". This "religion of avarice" has its own "temples", which are the so-called marketplaces, it has its own "apostles and priests", who are the financiers and economists, it has its own "gospel", which encourages people to accumulate material goods, and it has its own "followers-worshippers", who are the consumers.

The question, then, is not simply to give some food to the people, although this we should do, but to fight for the overthrow of this "religion of avarice" which is the "Spirit of Capitalism". If it does not then the Church simply supports a corrupt system and a mentality opposed to the Gospel.

Personally I believe that ultimately the problem that plagues our country is primarily geopolitical, being related to the political and economic interests of big government for the region. But I want to remain only within the theological cause, which is the life opposed to the Gospel.

4. How can the Church inspire an authentic vision for the life of man, which is holiness, so that each of us can feel ourselves ascending within the anxieties, tensions and restlessness of our times?

This will take place when we clergy, of any degree, acquire the ethos of the Gospel and a patristic mentality; when we apply, for example, Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Today people need clergy who live an ascetic life, who live like Orthodox, with a patristic and martyric spirit.

We see this authenticity in "sacred history" which is the lives of the saints of the Church, the hymns of our worship, the inner testimony of the Divine Liturgy. If we are daily inspired by this "sacred history" of the Church, then we can transfuse it to those who seek it. Unfortunately, everyday we praise in songs the martyrs and ascetics, when we enter the churches we see their sanctified faces, but our way of life is different from theirs.

Lastly, I believe Orthodox hesychasm and the Orthodox neptic life is that which shows people the method towards achieving holiness, the way by which we can live the teachings of Christ and the testimony of the Church; it is the "how" of Christian life, and it applies to all Christians. Usually we confine ourselves to "what" is God and not "how" to be united with Him. This "how" is needed to be offered by the Church to people today who are in need.

5. Your Eminence, the book that made you known throughout the world is Orthodox Psychotherapy. Tell us what this term means and whether the application of this psychotherapy abolishes therapy through treatment.

This is not my only known book in the world, since many of my books have been translated at the initiative of translators throughout the world in 24 languages. Many times I ask myself: What is it that makes people from all nations, races and continents to take interest in translating these books. I think it is the timeliness and relevancy of Orthodox teachings, especially of the hesychastic tradition which speaks of the method we can use to get to know God and become real people.

This is especially true of the book you referred to, titled Orthodox Psychotherapy, which authentically presents the hescyhastic and neptic tradition of the Church, which speaks of the therapeutic treatment of thoughts, the passions, the nous, the heart, etc. Indeed, the next book after this was titled The Science of Spiritual Medicine which is the practical application of the former. Both of these books show the timeliness and relevancy of the Orthodox Church, which has overcome the problems that have arisen with rationalism and scholasticism, as well as the moralism that tortures Westerners.

Of course, Orthodox psychotherapy cannot abolish science and the neurological needs of people. Spiritual fathers must simply cooperate with medical specialists.

6. Your work on the Apocalypse of John revealed its similarities with the Apocalypse of the Divine Liturgy that we experience every Sunday. Please list those here briefly, because we believe this approach will help us escape the fear of our future.

First, I have studied the Apocalypse of Saint John the Theologian for many years and many times have made an interpretive analysis in my homilies to people. Over time I discovered two points.

First, everything John the Evangelist saw he recorded in the Apocalypse which greatly influenced the liturgical and worship practices of the Church, as well as iconography and ecclesiastical art in general, such as the synthronon, the Holy Altar with its relics of martyrs, psalmody, etc.

Second, what John the Evangelist saw was heavenly worship, a heavenly Divine Liturgy, where He Who sits on the throne, the "slain Lamb", is praised with hymns by the presbyters, living beings, the angels, the martyrs and the venerable ones. The whole narrative of the Apocalypse shows a sketch of the heavenly Liturgy and what is outside of it, namely the paraliturgy. In the Divine Liturgy the Lamb is praised with hymns by His friends, and the paraliturgy is dominated by the Beast and his followers. The final outcome is the victory of the Lamb over the Beast, and those who are connected with Christ from now partake of the heavenly Divine Liturgy, which is the first resurrection, and they proceed to the second resurrection which is the mystical marriage with the Lamb, the new creation, the new Jerusalem.

However, when one reads the Apocalypse carefully within this perspective, they will see that this is a sacred book that has affected the provision of the Divine Liturgy that takes place in sacred churches, and they will find that the Divine Liturgy is a "gathering of heaven and earth", the heavenly and the earthly, the living and reposed.

7. If it is the case according to the Church Fathers that the purpose of schooling and education is the purpose of life, then how did Saint Kosmas Aitolos succeed, since we celebrate this year 300 years since he was born? For which also, holy Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, you wrote very interesting texts, and what must be done today?

Of course it is the case that ecclesiastical schooling and education is closely linked with the purpose man, which is theosis. Man was created in the image and according to the likeness of God, that is he has intellect and self-determination, and his path is toward theosis which is the vision of God. I prefer to stay within this scriptural and patristic terminology rather than the modern indeterminate and humanistic terminology "the value of the human person". Of course, we must safeguard human rights, but from the perspective of the Church we cannot underrate the biblical and patristic terms "in the image" and "according to the likeness" and the self-offering and self-transcendence of human rights.

This is what Saint Kosmas the Aitolos taught, who was a fruit of ecclesiastical tradition, as he found it in his family environment and in Mount Athos. Observe that if we wanted to characterize Saint Kosmas Aitolos, we would call him an Athonite, since he expressed the life of Mount Athos, and not an Enlightener, as expressed by the Enlightenment of Europe. Saint Kosmas was not simply a scholar monk or a missionary, but a prophet, an equal to the apostles, a saint, deified, a martyr. This is reflected in his teachings, his death and his testimony. Through Saint Kosmas the Aitolos we see what is ecclesiastical life, what is Orthodox education, what is Athonite life.

8. In your latest studies you associate the Cross with the Resurrection. Is it possible to experience these together, and if so how can this be done, so that by ascending Golgotha we will await the Resurrection?

Some theologians argue that western theology emphasized the Cross of Christ more, while Orthodox theology emphasized the Resurrection of Christ more, and so the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection. This view is theologically erroneous, because this puts a dichotomy between the Cross and the Resurrection. There is no Cross without a Resurrection nor a Resurrection without a Cross.

In the Orthodox Church and theology there is no dichotomy between the Cross and Resurrection, which is why we chant: "We venerate Your Cross, Master, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify." We see this throughout the worship of the Church and in its life.

For example, the Divine Eucharist is not simply a paschal experience, but it is also the sacrifice of Golgotha, it is the life of the Cross and the Resurrection. That is, one feels the joy of the Resurrection to the extent that they participate in the Cross of Christ, in the struggle against the passions, against sin and against the devil. No one can see the triumphant atmosphere of the Divine Eucharist unless they participate in the ascetic life of the Church. This means living the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Post-patristic theology speaks of the Divine Liturgy as the kingdom of God without looking at the same time at the prayer of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and the martyrdom of the Cross.

Lastly, the mystery of the Resurrection is simultaneously the glory of the Cross. Through this perspective we see Orthodox ecclesiastical life and we acquire a genuine Orthodox mentality and experience.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.