January 2, 2023

2023 Pastoral Encyclical for the New Year (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)


by the grace of God, Bishop and Metropolitan
of the Holy Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios

the Clergy, monks and laity
of our Sacred Metropolis

Beloved children in the Lord,

A new year has dawned and we are given the opportunity to exchange wishes, to meet and celebrate solemnly, to renew our love, our hope for life, for health and freedom from what oppresses us.

This new year's holiday gives me the opportunity to communicate with you and to wish this new year that the noble desires will be fulfilled in your life, in your professional field, in your family and in your path according to God.

On this occasion, I would like to present to you some thoughts of a great theologian of our time, Fr. George Florovsky, which refer to the way the Church worked in the past, but also works in the present, amid difficult and tragic conditions of life.

First of all, as he observes, "Christianity entered the historical scene as a Society or Community, as a new social order or even a new social dimension, i.e. as the Church. Early Christians had a strong corporate feeling."

Thus the Apostle Peter writes to the Christians of his time: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Christians were the new people of God.

However, in the place where this new people of God was developing, "there was another City in existence, a Universal and strictly totalitarian City indeed, the Roman Empire, which felt itself to be simply the Empire. It claimed to be the City, comprehensive and unique. It claimed the whole man for its service, just as the Church claimed the whole man for the service of God."

It is, therefore, about two cities, the ecclesiastical and the political, which had a different way of organization, different purposes, but at some points they met each other in dealing with everyday issues. In general, Christians were aware that they had another homeland, heaven, as the Apostle Paul writes: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21). And elsewhere he writes: "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (Heb. 15:14).

Christians felt like "strangers" and "foreigners" (Eph. 2:19). And while they were forced to live in a Roman Empire and were citizens of it, nevertheless, living in this earthly homeland, they had "another system of allegiance of their own," they had another "another system of fatherland," according to an ancient ecclesiastical writer.

"Christians did stay in the world and were prepared to perform their daily duties faithfully, but they could not pledge their full allegiance to the polity of this world, to the earthly City, for their citizenship was elsewhere, i.e. 'in heaven.'"

This means that the first Christians found themselves in a difficult situation, since "the conflict of the two cities (fatherlands) was inevitable," and this explains the persecutions of the Roman Emperors against the Christians. So, the Church found itself in a contradictory situation and faced the question of whether it would deny the world and the human city or Christianize it.

Therefore, two trends emerged. The first trend was "the flight into the desert", with the monastic communities, organized as new cities with other laws and another purpose, and the second trend was the "building of the Christian Empire," to "rebuild the world according to the law of the Gospel."

Both propositions were tested in practice. There were cases where monastic communities were organized based on the early Church of the Acts of the Apostles, and other cases where the structures of the Roman Empire were transformed. Of course, there were also cases where both proposals failed. Mainly it was observed that "the idea of an 'ecclesiastical' empire was a failure," "but the desert succeeded better" in expressing the life of the Gospel.

And Fr. George Florovsky observes: "Christians are not committed to the denial of culture as such. But they are to be critical of any existing cultural situation and measure it by the measure of Christ. For Christians are also the Sons of Eternity, i.e. prospective citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Yet problems and needs of 'this age' in no case and in no sense can be dismissed or disregarded, since Christians are called to work and service precisely 'in this world' and 'in this age.' Only all these needs and problems and aims must be viewed in that new and wider perspective which is disclosed by the Christian Revelation and illumined by its light."

These observations of Fr. George Florovsky are very important for our time, because unfortunately, in some places, the secularization of the Church can be observed. Of course, the Church is not secularized, but its members, who change the teaching of Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers. Many members of the Church come to terms with the mentality and structures of this world, identify with the hedonistic and pleasure-loving way of life, limit themselves to the senses and sensations of this world and forget the life that Christ revealed.

Beloved children in the Lord,

Hence, today we enter the new year 2023 and we are called to transform our lives, to put them on new foundations and a new perspective, not to be enslaved "under the elements of the world" (Gal. 4:3), but to be "fellow citizens of the saints and and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). Living in this temporal life, if we cannot transform it with Christ's teaching, at least we must strive not to become slaves to corruption and not to betray Christ.

I will conclude these short thoughts with an amazing speech by Fr. George Florovsky about how the early Christians lived: "In 'this world' Christians could be but pilgrims and strangers. Their true 'citizenship,' politeuma, was 'in heaven' (Phil. 3:20). The Church herself was peregrinating through this world (paroikousa). 'The Christian fellowship was a bit of extra-territorial jurisdiction on earth of the world above' (Frank Gavin). The Church was an 'outpost of heaven' on the earth, or a 'colony of heaven.'"

Within this prophetic and apostolic spirit, we must live this new year, that is, live in this world, try to transform it, as much as possible, but keep our eyes on God and our heavenly homeland, and to feel that the place where we live is "a colony of heaven", waiting to go to our real homeland. Then all the things of life, this same life, but also death will have another meaning.

I wish you a many years with the inspiration that Christ gives.

With paternal blessings,


Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.