December 16, 2020

An Interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Regarding Issues with the Pandemic

On Sunday, December 13th, the newspaper Eleutheros Typos published an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who replied to questions by the journalist Valias Nikolaou concerning issues related to the pandemic and the response of the the Church of Greece.

Question: Your Eminence, we are experiencing an unprecedented crisis due to the pandemic. There are believers who reverently follow the measures of the competent health authorities for their protection from covid-19. There are, however, believers who deny its existence and believe in conspiracy theories. What would you say to the deniers of the pandemic?

Answer: The Church is a spacious space. If one thinks that with the Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation one becomes a member of the Church, then one understands that the vast majority of Greeks are members of the Church.

But because every human being has been given autonomy by God, that is why everyone has their own way of dealing with the issues of their life. In this light, as you rightly observe, there are Christians who accept the existence of the pandemic and observe hygienic measures, and others who deny it or reserve themselves from what they consider to be excessive measures.

I believe that there is a serious risk of the pandemic virus and we must follow everything that our experts advise. In all matters of our health we consult the doctors, we visit the hospitals and we obey their instructions. Why not do this in the current health crisis?

Question: Within the Church, from the first moment there were reactions to the closure of the churches. In fact, some Hierarchs and believers even today speak of the persecution of the Church. What is your opinion?

Answer: Indeed, many problems have arisen since the closing of the churches, especially in critical and important ecclesiastical periods, such as Great Lent, Easter and now the period of preparation for Christmas.

I have heard the argument of persecution and I cannot fully interpret it. When all the shops, schools, universities, airports, etc. are closed, I cannot say that all this was done as an alibi to persecute the Church.

But when I see various obsessions with the Church, when I notice that permissions are easily given for other reasons to leave home during quarantine, such as going for a walk, walking your pet, and they do not allow permission for someone to go to the church to pray, then I very seriously wonder.

I think mistakes are being made on both sides. Some Clergy and Christians do not strictly observe the measures, because they have a monophysite conception of the temple, and others who take very strict measures for the temples, because they seem to have a problem with Holy Communion.

Question: Some say that the Hierarchy was slow to understand the magnitude of the problem. How do you answer?

Answer: The Hierarchy has not convened all this time, not even the regular Hierarchy for October, for reasons of being forced to do so by higher ups. However, the issue was dealt with by the Permanent Holy Synod and I think it did so calmly, soberly and seriously. It moved in the middle between the two extremes, that is, of exaggeration and lack, to remember the Aristotelian principle of virtue. Thus, the Permanent Holy Synod understood the problem from the beginning and did the right thing.

I think that at this stage it should be even more active, because the exaggerations must be addressed on both sides, that is, on the part of some of the fullness of the Church and on the part of some of the political authorities.

The Holy Synod, following my proposal, instructed me to draft a Rules of Procedure for the operation of the holy churches during the pandemic, which I prepared and submitted to the Synod. May something be done in this direction.

Question: Is the Hierarchy responsible for coronavirus cases within the Church?

Answer: Covid-19 has proven that it moves in a "democratic" way, that is, it offends everyone, does not exclude anyone and in fact does so mainly to those who behave with indifference, recklessness. Some, however, do not act democratically, as they are ready to incriminate members of the Church who have been infected with the virus and grant amnesty to others. I think this is a peculiar form of racism, which is more dangerous than the coronavirus.

The Holy Synod is not responsible for the cases of coronavirus that were observed in the Church, because from the first moment it accepted the measures, even the excessive ones. However, those who do not follow the measures proposed by the experts nor obey the Holy Synod due to wrong "theological" views are responsible.

Question: Could the Church ever accept a change in the way Holy Communion is transmitted?

Answer: The Holy Synod has decided that the way of transmission of Holy Communion has been tried for at least a thousand years and does not create any problems, in Hospitals, in Infectious Disease Centers, in all places. Of course, the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is offered to those who want it and have been properly prepared.

However, I notice that this issue is discussed negatively by people who neither commune nor attend church regularly, and not those who commune and attend church.

I suspect that the strictness of the measures taken by the State regarding the holy churches was done because some are obsessed with Holy Communion. But in the matter of divine Communion, I think there is no decision of the Scientific Committee, because it is a matter of faith. If such a decision exists, please someone make it public.

Question: Your Eminence, some in the name of Faith deny Science and vice versa. I would like your own view on this?

Answer: The conflict between Faith and Science took place in the West, between the views of Scholasticism and the Enlightenment with the development of the positive sciences. We in the Orthodox Church have never had such a conflict, because we know that both Faith and Science move on different levels. Those who see such conflicts, are inspired by foreign ideologies.

I accept Science and Orthodox theology. When a scholar denies the Orthodox faith for scientific reasons, he shows that he is not a true scientist, and when an Orthodox believer denies science for reasons of faith, he shows that he is not a good believer, because in this matter both are relevant.

Faith is the science/knowledge of God and Science is the knowledge of the created world. This has been clarified in our time and I wonder why we often come back to it.

Question: Your Eminence, I want to ask you directly. Would you take the coronavirus vaccine?

Answer: I will answer you directly. All children up to the age of ten are required to be vaccinated for thirteen diseases and optionally for another three diseases, ie a total of 16 vaccinations are given, and many of them are repeated. Also, other vaccines are given at later ages and these are due to the increase in life expectancy.

Vaccines boost the body's immune system to fight off viruses.

I have also been vaccinated, because otherwise I probably would not be alive and every year I get the flu vaccine. However, I will also take the new vaccine after the approvals of the competent organizations and the decision of the Holy Synod and the suggestions of my treating doctors.

Of course, I do not give conspiracy and ideological interpretations to vaccines. I believe that in this way I can prolong my biological life, without this being my goal, but in order to help as much as I can those who need me and to prepare properly for my death and my encounter with Christ.

I am more interested in the spiritual vaccine which is prayer and divine Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ and I am saddened when it is denied to Christians.

Question: Many of our fellow human beings are being tested more than ever because of social distancing. Even through these circumstances, how can the Church help them?

Answer: This is a really big issue. I am upset by so-called "social distancing", that people do not meet each other, since man is a "social being". I am sorry for the financial and psychological problems of the people of this time. I grieve more for those who do not recognize the role of the Church in offering meaning to life to people, centered around the holy church and the Divine Liturgy. After all, man is not just a body, he is not a "living machine" nor a "machine-building animal".

Question: We are called to celebrate this Christmas differently. What message would you send to the world?

Answer: I do not fully understand what I hear from many saying that this year "we are called to celebrate Christmas differently". What does "differently" mean? If it means not moving around as normal, fine. But how do we celebrate Christmas with illuminated public squares, with the opening of shops, but with closed churches? What meaning do we give to the Birth of Christ? Was Christ born a human being to give us the right to celebrate New Year's Eve with lanterns? Are we Christians or pagans with a Christian overcoat?

After all, some people by this mean celebrating Christmas as if we were living before Christ. Does this justify those who claim that the modern world, even in Greece, is a "post-Christian" world, that is, "a mixture of Christians, former Christians and non-Christians"? When the churches are not opened these days, with the observance of all the measures, the "post-Christian" mentality of our time is probably justified.

Christmas is celebrated primarily theologically, ecclesiastically and with thanksgiving, otherwise it is a simple human story.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.