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April 9, 2021

Funeral Oration for Athanasios Sakarellos, A Good Brother

Athanasios Sakarellos, A Good Brother

(Delivered in Thermos on February 27, 2021)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

When we chant the funeral service for an Orthodox Christian, in the beginning we say verses from the 118th Psalm in three stanzas, where the "testimony of God" is spoken of, or the "covenant of God" is spoken of, or the commandments of God are spoken of. All of these have the same meaning. That is, when one reads the 118th Psalm of David, then one sees there that there is a lot of talk about the commandments of God and of course many times the name changes, where somewhere they are called the commandments of God, somewhere they are called the statutes of God, and elsewhere they are called the testimonies of God with the meaning that the commandments of God testify to who God is and what is His will.

The commandments of God are called the statutes of God, because God has statutes over us, we do not have statutes over God, but God has statutes over us. This is why in the troparia we chanted earlier, in the Eulogetaria, we said "teach me Your statutes". We say the same thing in the Doxology, where we talk about the statutes of God. There is also talk of the covenant of God, that is, where God enters a covenant with man and man must apply this covenant in his life.

I chose to say this at the beginning of this little farewell to our dear Athanasios, whose funeral service we performed today, because he also throughout his life sought to implement the statutes of God, the commandments of God, and this was his desire, his longing. He had a great desire, a great zeal to fully apply the commandments of God in his life.

He was a man who loved Orthodox theology to an exceeding degree and even more to an exceeding degree he loved the Orthodox Church. He had a great sensitivity regarding theological, dogmatic and ecclesiological issues. Within this framework he moved throughout his life.

We see him searching and seeking to meet "people of God", because he wanted to learn the will of God. He was not satisfied with what he learned in the Theological School and in Law School, as he was considered a lawyer as well as a theologian. He was not satisfied with what he learned from the Theological School and to a certain extent he later rejected everything. Why? Because he understood, as we all do, that some of what we were taught at the Theological School came from Western scholasticism, and some came from Protestants. He rejected all these and sought the truth, he sought people who lived this life according to God. He started looking for different people.

He distanced himself from the environments in which he had first developed and had grown up and criticized their views. And that is why we see him looking for the Orthodox life and for having communication and contact with Saint Porphyrios. He often went to Saint Porphyrios to ask him about matters of the spiritual life. I have the information that Saint Porphyrios loved Athanasios Sakarellos very much. And while Saint Porophyrios did not receive people at all for a while, when Athanasios went at 9:00 in the evening, he received him with great joy, his face shined when he discussed theological issues with him until 11:00 in the evening. Even though he had ordered for no one to come see him, he would see Athanasios. And Athanasios loved Saint Porphyrios.

Then he met Saint Paisios, whom he hosted for a while when he left Sinai to go to Mount Athos. He then met the Abbot of the Monastery of Sinai, Archbishop Damianos, with whom he had a great deal of communication. There are preserved two sermons delivered by the Archbishop of Sinai, Damianos, which he delivered in Athens, amazing sermons which I read when I was in Edessa, and I said to myself, "Is it possible for Damianos of Sinai to have such a theology?" And then I learned that he had been influenced by Athanasios Sakarellos.

And of course the culmination of everything was when he met Fr. John Romanides, with whom he was very closely connected in legal matters, since he was considered his lawyer, but also in theological matters. Because in Athens, Fr. John Romanides would go to his office and would meet various theologians. His office was a small space and a small group gathered, among whom I was sometimes present, and we listened to Fr. John Romanides, especially Fr. George Metallinos who was always there to hear the great theologian, Fr. John Romanides, and some others went there as well, and he taught them all. Athanasios Sakarellos's law office was considered a Theological School. And Athanasios kept all the speeches in cassettes where he recorded them. A rich material was gathered from these discussions made by Fr. John Romanides, and, in my opinion, there is no theologian greater in the 20th century than Fr. John Romanides. He loved Athanasios Sakarellos and in his office he made all these theological discussions. This material must exist somewhere and must not be lost. I told him to gather this material and publish it.

In parallel with the acquaintance of many spiritual people he made great ecclesiastical struggles. During the junta he struggled on behalf of ecclesiastical issues, as he was opposed to some ecclesiastical reforms of the then Archbishop Hieronymos I. In the struggles that took place for the ecclesiastical issues at the Council of State, etc., a leading role was played by Athanasios, since he was considered a lawyer of the late Metropolitan Ambrosios of Eleutheroupolis. That is why the late Archbishop Seraphim loved him, because he knew the struggles he made.

He undertook other theological struggles. He was the first who used the term Neo-Orthodox and Neo-Orthodoxy. He wrote against the Neo-Orthodox and upheld the term for its theologians. He also made other theological and ecclesiastical struggles which were very great and most of the time he remained in obscurity.

He was also connected with a great intellectual in Athens, Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropoulos, and they had daily telephone communication. In fact, when Fr. Epiphanios wanted to write something and did not want to deal with it, he told Athanasios to write it. And he wrote in an amazing way, he had a simple and substantial way of writing.

He sought God in such a great way that he wanted to become a monk and he made many efforts to achieve this goal. However, for various reasons, his wish was not granted. He went to Sinai to become a monk. Subsequently, he twice tried to become a monk at Vatopaidi on Mount Athos, when it was considered idiorrhythmic, but for various reasons he could not stay. And in the end, as a layman, he remained in a monastery in Halki, Corinth. He was sitting there alone in the wilderness, on the mountain. I would ask him: "Aren't you afraid there?" He remained there until the last moment before he was bedridden and could not move.

Thus, when he could not serve himself, he went home with great sorrow to Athens and was greatly served by his sister Sophia, but also by the whole family with great care.

I think his last years were truly martyric for himself and of course even though he had made some mistakes in his life, all these were eliminated with his illness and the patience he had. He could not endure much from his illness and in our communication I told him to do the "prayer". His sister Sophia also had patience, because of the illness and the pain that Athanasios felt. Because he was a lively person, now immobile, he constantly wanted to write, to speak and he was limited because of his illness. This, during his severe illness, created an internal tension which is very much justified.

I would get together with him and he with me for many years and he loved me very much and I loved him. I have known him since 1960, when I was a student at the High School in Agrinio, and I went to the camps of Agiou Vlasiou and he came there to see us. He was a few years older than us and everyone was saying at the time: "Athanasios Sakarellos". He was either a student of theology or he had just finished studying theology, while we were students and he was talking to us. And of course, later we had some communication.

He had come to the Hospital to see my Elder, Saint Kallinikos, during his illness and since then we reconnected. Especially when I came down from Edessa to Athens, when my Holy Elder Kallinikos reposed, I found him at 10 Kaningos Street, in his office, where I would go whenever I had an opportunity, and we would discuss things, talk, and he was interested in me.

There, in his office, I met Fr. John Romanides for the first time, although I had read about him. I had never had him as a teacher, I had not seen him visually, I had seen him in photographs, I had read some of his texts. I would say that for the first time I understood Fr. John Romanides through the two sermons made in Athens by the Archbishop of Sinai Damianos, which fully expressed the thought of Fr. John Romanides and Athanasios Sakarellos. At that time I was surprised by this theology and started reading his texts. And, as I said before, when I went down to Athens, there I met Fr. John Romanides at the office of Athanasios Sakarellos and the three of us went out at noon, to go somewhere to have a meal at a restaurant, which Athanasios payed for, and to discuss theological issues and he loved me very much.

Today we live in an age where the two extremes appear, the one extremity being the super-conservatives, the zealots, and the other extremity being the so-called neo-orthodox or post-patristics.

Athanasios Sakarellos was discerning, he saw how things were, agreeing neither with the one nor the other, but he saw the errors in both and did not agree. In the last years of his life, an ecclesiological and theological disturbance had developed within him to a great extent, due to his great ecclesiastical and theological sensitivity.

However, he loved me as a brother and I too. And he said to me, "If I depart before you, I want you to bury me." That is why I also felt the need to come to Thermos to perform his funeral, because it was exactly what he wanted.

And it must be said that yesterday I contacted the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Mr. Hieronymos, and announced the death of Athanasios Sakarellos. He knew him when he was a student at the boarding school, with the difference that the Archbishop first finished the School of Philosophy and then went to the Theological School, while Athanasios first finished the School of Theology and then went to Law School. And he told me to convey to you his prayers for the rest of his soul and the consolation to those close to him due to his departure.

Perhaps at some point it will be made known who Athanasios was. Until now, not many people understood him. We had similar attitudes on many issues, we were brothers in Christ. He had his opinions, but he had discernment.

And yesterday, when I learned about the repose of Athanasios, I felt a sadness. Why? Because out of the four of us: Romanides, Metallinos, Sakarellos and myself, I was left alone. We talked every day, when he was well, not once, but twice or three times a day about all the ecclesiastical news and theological life; either he would call me or I would call him, and we would talk about every theological and ecclesiastical issue and we would make comments through the perspective of Orthodox tradition.

That is why I will always remember him with great gratitude. I owe him much, I thank him. I pray that God rest his soul in the dwellings of the righteous and to his own may God give His consolation from on high.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.