The following interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou was done by the journalist George Mylonas, and published in the newspaper Ark of Orthodoxy (Κιβωτός Ὀρθοδοξίας) on November 12, 2015.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
It is supplemented with the following lecture: The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life
In the paper you presented before the Hierarchy, you spoke of a theological crisis. Do you think the Pan-Orthodox Synod in 2016 will have fruitful results in this direction?
From the studies I have done I do find that there is a theological crisis, because today there are prevailing some theological movements that differ from Patristic theology. I do not think that the Pan-Orthodox Synod of 2016 will address these issues. And this is the big problem. The themes that have been fixed and the topics that will be discussed are not serious theological issues. I mean that it will not deal with the "filioque" and the "actus purus", which the Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Synods dealt with, so in my opinion, this shows that the Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conferences did not prepare in the best way the themes for the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, to be convened. I believe that the Synod of Saint Photios the Great (879-80) is a continuation of the Second Ecumenical Synod and the Synod of Saint Gregory Palamas (1351) is a continuation of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod. When we do not deal with such serious theological issues, this indicates that the theological crisis remains.
How do you judge the work of the Greek delegation regarding the Pan-Orthodox Synod?
At present, I am not familiar with the texts presented. I believe that at some point texts will come for the Hierarchy to discuss that begin with "ad referendum", and of course, not as a fait accompli and for approval, but for their processing and the final decision of our Hierarchy. For example, if the texts have the phrase "dignity and sanctity of the human person", that supposedly nature is forced and sinful, while the person is sacred, because it is connected with the "freedom of the person", this I cannot accept because it negates the theology of the Fathers, where nature is good and the person with his gnomic will causes sin.
Where, then, should the Greek delegation give special attention?
As mentioned earlier, the theme has been determined and it is not likely other issues will be included, unless it is made when the time for the calling of the Holy and Great Synod approaches. I have been informed that there are some Churches that feel troubled to pose serious theological and ecclesiastical matters.
Are you optimistic that the problems between the Orthodox Churches will be dealt with decisively?
I don't know if I should answer this in psychological terms, involving the words "optimism" and "pessimism". In the Church we speak with theological terminology, with faith and an ecclesiastical mindset. However, I am seriously troubled, because, unfortunately, what I notice is that the views of the various Orthodox Churches are influenced by national interests and geopolitical strategies. This bothers me a lot. When the theological message is influenced by nationalism and political considerations, this shows its secularization.
As a result of the economic crisis, we see "volunteer" priests in the Metropolises of the provinces. Can this be a solution to the problem?
With the term "volunteers" you certainly mean the unpaid, namely priests who are ordained and serve Christians without receiving a salary. This is done on a small scale in some Metropolises, due to various pastoral needs. Generally, volunteering is a great value and important and it is developed in the Church, but one cannot rely only on this for the clergy. Every clergyman has a family and different needs and they shouldn't be in need, nor should Christians be charged to support families of clergy. Can you imagine if there prevailed "voluntary" teachers, professors, civil servants and functionaries?
In any event, the salaries of the clergy is an obligation of the Greek State, which at times made a contract with the Church to give salaries to the clergy by its signing over ecclesiastical property. Every honorable State must respect its contracts which have been brought to pass.
The government, after the debate on the subject of teaching religion in schools, opened the issue of gay marriage. What should be the attitude of the Hierarchy?
The issue of "gay marriage" opened a long time ago, but every time it progresses towards society tolerating this issue. It especially concerns me when society tolerates many diversions, when in the name of so-called human rights principles held throughout the ages are circumvented, which govern society and create a great civilization.
The Hierarchy at its meeting of October 17, 2013 discussed the issue and made its decisions. Eventually, it must be firm with a prophetic word in denouncing diversions, from wherever they come from, but also at the same time love sinners and those who are repentant.
As for so-called "gay marriage", this introduces a third form of marriage, after the ecclesiastical and political. Each individual can make their choice, but must not degrade the level of society, nor should so-called human rights undermine the human being himself, because with the passage of time human rights change, sometimes they are superhuman and sometimes they are subhuman. Thus, everyone has their choices, but I repeat the Church should indicate the height of humanity and of the Orthodox Christian and should show love for the repentant.
It seems it is opening the way for cremation in Greece.
This issue has also been discussed in the past. The Church made its decisions, that incineration is an act that is not consistent with its tradition and whoever voluntarily has stated their desire to cremate their body actually indicates their appropriate autonomy from the Church. This is why funeral and memorial services are not done on their behalf. But it is left to the discretion of the Metropolitan to allow for a simple Trisagion. This is not lack of love for people, but exact observance of Orthodox teaching and respect for the free choice of people.
The Archbishop in the Synod stated that "the enemy is within the walls." How do you see relations with the State evolving?
Repeatedly I have spoke that we should not speak about the separation of Church and State, because no one in a State is separated from it. Every club, every organization has a relationship with the State, so we welcome that you used the term "relationship" instead of "separation". There is now in the current Constitution the distinction of the roles of the ecclesiastical and civil administration, and in a few points this distinction can be better defined.
The words of the Archbishop, that "our enemies are no longer far and away, but within our walls. We see it and smell it," refers to the issue of teaching religion in schools, and expresses his view that in Greece and Europe there are people who are "taking advantage of our dire financial situation" and "under the rules of our economic relations," will pursue "by all means the alteration of our Greek society, starting with our schools." This is a reality which we constantly see around us. We sense, that is, an attempt being made to be cut off from our traditions and for the alteration of our cultural lifestyle, which began from ideologies expressed in western movements.