December 16, 2021

In Memory of Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos (1941-2021)

Metr. Hierotheos, Metr. Jeremiah and Fr. Arsenios Kombougias at the enthronement of Metropolitan Jeremiah.

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The repose of the late Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos and Megalopolis caused me great sorrow, because we lack his earthly presence among us, but also joy, because he left the Church on earth and went to the Church in heaven, which he longed for and for which he lived and conducted himself.

In the last few years, his health was considered failing, but he, being noble, tried not to reveal it.

We have known each other for many years, I have known him since he was a deacon and preacher and from time to time we communicated, at first somewhat sparingly and then more often, especially since I came as Metropolitan to his birthplace, Nafpaktos.

I will write some of my first impressions of the late Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos.

1. He was born in Nafpaktos, where he received his elementary and secondary education. He did not know his father, who was killed in the Greek-Italian war, and lived with his beloved mother, Joanna (Giannoula), who worked as a janitor at the school to survive.

The old people of Nafpaktos remember him as a revered young man, an excellent student, who from a young age was in the holy churches to chant the Psalter, from the time when the late Christopher was considered Metropolitan, whom he greatly admired.

His spiritual father was Fr. Arsenios Kombougias, to whom he confessed until his repose.

His desire from his younger years was to become a theologian and a priest, and together with others he was inspired by the then Preacher of Nafpaktos, Archimandrite Haralambos Dedes. Thus, he entered the Theological School of Athens and remained in the boarding house of the then Archimandrite Augoustinos Kantiotes, who admired his ascetic life, his fasting and rebuked him many times for his excesses in fasting. He was a diligent and excellent student with a preference in the Old Testament, appreciating Professor Vasilios Vellas, as was evident in his subsequent direction in his scientific interests.

He entered the order of the Priesthood with zeal and love for the Divine Liturgy and the Sacred Pulpit. He was a truly all-encompassing Priest and zealous Preacher.

Over time, he moved away from the various zealous tendencies he had at the beginning and joined with the Orthodox hesychastic and patristic tradition, the Orthodox ecclesiology, with respect to each of his bishops, without leaving the sanctuary and the pulpit, which he loved to combine until the end of his life.

2. He scientifically engaged in the field of the Old Testament, emerging as a keen interpreter. He managed to complete the interpretation of the Pentateuch and other books and worked tirelessly for this purpose.

As Professor of the Introduction and Interpretation of the Septuagint at the Theological School of the University of Athens, he followed the patristic interpretation, adding at the same time elements from the scientific interpretations of the theologians of the west, taking into account the customs and traditions of the people of the time, the language and the culture of the inhabitants of the Near East. He considered it necessary for the interpreter of the Old Testament to know the Hebrew language in order to study it from the Masoretic text, which, in addition to other European languages, he knew, which is rare among Clergy.

In his commentary books on the Old Testament, he followed the synthetic method. In the first part (for the people) he quoted the text, then made the translation and the analysis, based on the patristic interpretation of the Orthodox Church, in a concise way; and in the second part (for the theologians) he made the scientific, concise presentation of the historic critical method, and this is where his knowledge of the Hebrew language shined.

While in the interpretation of the Old Testament he followed this mixed-synthetic method, in his broader theological texts and in his sermons he fully followed the tradition of the Church, as formulated by the Church Fathers. He spoke and wrote about prayer, the prayer of Jesus, the incarnation, repentance, the purification of the heart, the illumination of the nous, the love of God, the Divine Liturgy, the sacramental life and so on. That is, his university-professional career did not alienate him from the life of the Church and the pastoral guidance of Christians.

In the broader theological subjects he embraced the teaching of Fr. John Romanides, which he presented in a very detailed and simple way, both for the theological and for the historical subjects, without ever having heard him as his teacher, but he was enthusiastic about whatever came from him.

3. His election as Metropolitan of Gortynos and Megalopolis "pleased him a lot, because he sensed it as a fulfillment" of the Priesthood. He was elected by the Hierarchy under the Archbishopric of late Christodoulos, who proposed him to the Hierarchy and ordained him.

I must reveal that I also worked methodically for this purpose, in fact I sent a letter to the late Christodoulos with warm support, apart from the oral interventions I made for him.

As Metropolitan of Gortynos and Megalopolis, he worked with zeal, self-denial, with a prophetic and patristic spirit, as is clear in the Encyclicals he sent to his priests and to the fullness of the Church of Christ. He had the gift of presenting the highest theological issues in a very simple way. This is the result of an experienced Professor of the Theological School and a Preacher Theologian.

As I observed his episcopal ministry, I could clearly see that he was continuing the prophetic, apostolic and patristic tradition, he was a Bishop of ecclesiastical standards. This does not mean that he did not make mistakes, but he also knew how to restore them with the excessive self-condemnation he had and his public repentance.

4. As I said at the beginning, we had known each other since we were deacons and from time to time we communicated by letters and oral telephone communication. He loved me and I loved him wholeheartedly, even in some of the emotional transitions he had, of course as a man, because I knew the guilelessness of his character, his inner sincerity, his love for the Church and his desire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When he made a mistake, he was ready to really fall at the feet of the other and ask for forgiveness. He was considered humbler than all the humble.

In particular, we became closer after my ordination as Bishop and Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou, in his hometown. He also considered me as his own Bishop, since he was from Nafpaktos. And, of course, because he loved me so much, he was an ardent supporter of me in the various pastoral difficulties I encountered, and he did so in a courageous and clear manner, by sending regular letters to various people, upholding the rule of law and separating his position from his former friends. I owe him eternal gratitude for his ecclesiastical wisdom and his love for the Church and its institutions, but also for my person.

I have at my disposal many of his letters and messages, which will one day be published in order to show even more who the late Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos and Megalopolis was and what was his ecclesiastical mind.

I will just quote the last message I sent him and his answer. I wrote to him in March 2020. "Holy Man of Gortynos, congratulations on your Encyclical, which is an example of an episcopal speech. Also, I was very happy that you mentioned the soon to be Saint Kallinikos [before his canonization]. Be more careful now with the new virus."

And he answered me, as a native of Nafpaktos, very movingly, which is an expression of his ecclesiastical life: “We thank you, our holy pastor, for your prayers and your kind words. We thank the Most Holy Theotokos, because she brought you to our place, so that you can catechize us with Orthodox words, which we were lacking. However, in our irresistible way, as a people, we have hurt you many times, but we sincerely apologize to you. May you live long our beloved spiritual father, for our own advancement and for the good of our whole Church. With deep respect, a native of Nafpaktos, a sheep of your flock. Postscript. In your own book I saw the beautiful characterization of Saint Kallinikos about the Divine Liturgy as a 'party of the Orthodox'."

This message shows his deepest humility, his inner sensitivity, the simplicity and sincerity of his character, and his love for the Divine Liturgy and the Church. He also considered the Divine Liturgy "a party of the Orthodox", the participation of the heavenly Liturgy in which he has already proceeded to participate in the "party" of the Saints.

In one of his last Encyclicals to his priests, after he wrote to them how they should perform the Divine Liturgy, he pointed out:

"I pray, fathers, that you be attracted by the sweetness of the Divine Liturgy and then you will understand for yourself how you must, reverently and decently, perform it.

Personally, last night (Saturday to Sunday 23 August) when for health reasons I performed the Divine Liturgy on my own with one of the faithful, I remembered my old habit as a priest, when I liturgized often and even many times daily.

I wish I could apply this now, as a Hierarch, to commune daily with the Body and Blood of Christ, for the remission of my sins, and for the blessing of the Sacred Metropolis, which God gave me.

My illness, of which you have heard, is a heart disease and I can abruptly leave this vain life. For this reason I ask with sincerity for your forgiveness. Whenever I came into conflict with you, I humbly confessed that the fault was mine. That's why I apologize sincerely again.

I also am struggling, respected fathers. Sometimes I get by, sometimes I do not get by. Our Jesus Christ, through the intercessions of our good Panagia, forgives us all and does not deprive us of His heavenly Kingdom. Forgive me and may God forgive all of you.

I pray the blessing of the Panagia come to your family and to your sacred flock.

With much love and respect,

Bishop Jeremiah"

This was Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos, the Nafpaktian!!

May your memory be eternal, my late, blessed, and much-longed for brother.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.