Students of the 7th General High School of Kallithea in Greece recently interviewed His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou, asking him 19 questions about contemporary ecclesiastical issues, as well as personal questions in their search for guidance on difficult questions. The questions and answers that were published in their school paper are below.
1. Question: Is there a definition for the soul?
Answer: The soul is a creation of God that took place by His energy; it is living, immortal by grace, distinct from the body, but united with it. Man consists of soul and body and each of these by themselves do not constitute a man. The Church does not believe in the preexistence of the soul without the body, nor in the preexistence of the body without the soul. The soul is the spiritual component of man’s existence that gives life to the body. It is amazing for one to come to know the soul of a person and not only focus on their body.
2. Question: What led you to become a Priest?
Answer: I became a Priest because of the ecclesiastical lifestyle I lived from a young age, and my love for God and man. It was the natural outcome of an ecclesiastical life and I feel very well. As a young child I loved the Sacred Temple and I was connected with it. I was inspired by people who had a love for God and the Church. I became a Priest out of love and not because I had nothing else to do. Now I am not only happy, but free. I do not care about “being” but about the “quality of being”, I do not struggle for happiness but for freedom. There is a big difference between the two.
3. Question: How do you feel about your position and what is your relationship with God?
Answer: As a Bishop I feel I have a responsibility for Christians, for Clergy, for the youth and for the aged. I am a servant of all and whenever they want I am their father and healer. Of course, when one liturgizes and prays, they feel the presence of God. God is not an idea, an impersonal being, a value albeit a most perfect one, but erotic love and a lover and as erotic love He moves towards man and as a lover He attracts to Himself those worthy of erotic love.
4. Question: Why have people, especially the youth, distanced themselves from the Church?
Answer: They distance themselves because they feel the Church to be something it is not, they feel it is like a religion, like a souvenir shop, like a nursing home, etc. We are all to blame for this, us Clergy for having not shown what the Church truly is and the youth who do not seek the deeper “being” of the Church. To find something deep you must love it, feel pain for it and search it. The Church is not a place of rebellion against all incumbents and all hypocrisy, but a spiritual beacon that illuminates and guides.
5. Question: What is and what should be the role of the Church in today’s crisis?
Answer: Her role is always the same, which is to unify and heal. When there is a sensitive Priest in a Parish, he can organize it and operate it as one spiritual therapeutic community. The Church is the mother of all, and receives all without discrimination and offers to them meaning in life.
However, I must say when I speak of the Church I do not speak of an established institution, of a Synod of Bishops and a group of Priests, but of a union of Clergy and laity who are baptized and live according to the words of Christ. You are also members of the Church. Do not separate yourselves from the Church.
6. Question: How does the Church use its wealth?
Answer: First it is an intricate myth that the Church has a lot of wealth. It is the so-called myth of immense wealth. The Church currently has 4% of its original property from which it occasionally gives for the establishment of hospitals, schools, universities, institutions, etc. And now, what it has available, it gives for philanthropic purposes. Often the Church has helped restore the State so that it does not go bankrupt. This is a truth that no one should ever forget. Further, the real wealth of the Church is her theology, her worship and her members, the Christians.
7. Question: Should the Church be modernized on some issues and which ones?
Answer: The Church has a tradition which has the ability to adapt to every age without losing her essence. There is no need to secularize it, to make compromises, but it invites people to search. It is a place that is similar to true eros, which is not trivialized, but invites people to seek the inner beauty of another. The beauty of people is not only external, but internal. This happens with the Church as well. On some issues there can be modernization, when it is connected with the provision of truth and not the loss of her life.
8. Question: What do you have to say about the corruption of Priests?
Answer: They do not exist to the extent that others mean. In every country fallen situations are observed to reveal the human element. The majority of Priests begin with a good purpose of voluntary sacrifice and offering. Along the way some have lost their objective due to many factors. However, the branch of Priests is among the best in our society. Others led us to the current economic crisis, not Priests struggling to help people and balance the society, to comfort the afflicted.
9. Question: What is your opinion of atheists and those of other religions?
Answer: I cannot make a distinction between atheists and religious people based on external criteria. I do not think there are atheists, because those who proclaim themselves atheists believe in something and to this they give divine characteristics. There may exist atheists who believe, and Christian atheists. Atheism is not only an ideology, but practical life. Besides, perfect atheism is a step below perfect faith, in a paradoxical way. Those of other religions have their own tradition, which is a component of every culture. We should all take care not to be fanatical, racist, violent. Religious fanaticism is equal to the worst form of schizophrenia.
10. Question: How does God judge the good person and the bad Christian?
Answer: I cannot know. I can’t enter into the mind of God. However, I like to say that I rejoice that I will be judged by God and not by people, because God sees within our soul, our intentions, and is a lover of men, while people judge externally and are very cruel. I fear much the heartlessness of people.
11. Question: How is the relationship between Orthodox and Catholics today?
Answer: There are different traditions, theological differences, as well as cultural, social and psychological differences. The theological dialogues made today, when they are done honestly and without agendas, can benefit the well-intentioned who are seeking the truth.
12. Question: In school we spoke about the Mystery of Marriage. What do you think about the decision to allow same-sex marriage? How about political marriage?
Answer: The Church has her own theology about marriage. Marriage is the union according to Christ of a man and a woman to become a family and create a space of love and peace. The teaching of the Church does not adopt marriage between people of the same sex. This cannot happen. But the Church is not responsible for those who want to live outside of her tradition and want to have a political marriage.
13. Question: Should only the Orthodox faith be taught in schools or should others?
Answer: There is a lot of discussion about this issue. Many plans have been proposed and opinions voiced. In every proposal there are pros and cons. Beyond the right educational program that meets the purpose of education, I think the matter depends on the professor who teaches and the pupils who seek and thirst. It troubles me when someone teaches without believing and when people listen mechanically, indifferently, without a desire to search.
14. Question: What is the relationship between fasting and Holy Communion?
Answer: Holy Communion is the pinnacle event of ecclesiastical life; it is a communion, mixing, union and love. And any event like this requires a sincere approach with appropriate preparation. Fasting is a way of preparing by those who are able to fast, but participation in Holy Communion is based on the conditions exclaimed by the liturgist: “With the fear of God, faith and love, come forth.” What is required is fear of God, faith and love.
15. Question: What is the importance of Confession?
Answer: Confession is the mystery of dialogue with God through the Priest. We are used to doing monologues with ourselves, shutting ourselves in sunless interior basements and we do not have the strength to open the closed compartment of ourselves, so there is darkness within us and mildew. By Confession we stop the tragic monologue and partake in a dialogue with God, leaving the world of illusion and opening ourselves up to the light of truth.
16. Question: What is sin?
Answer: Sin is sickness, death, termination of the relationship with God and our neighbor; it is a sickness of self-love and selfishness.
17. Question: What happens to the soul after death during the first forty days?
Answer: With death man is not led to the “absolute zero”, as some claim. When the soul is separated from the body, it lives and will return again to the body, which will be raised. I have not encountered in any patristic writing that the soul remains with us for forty days after the death of the body and then it goes somewhere else. The soul is immaterial, and upon exiting the body it continues in life it had here, according to its wishes.
18. Question: Some believe that the Second Coming will take place soon. Can this be predicted from Holy Scripture?
Answer: Christ taught us that we cannot know when the Second Coming will take place, but it will occur suddenly. The issue is that we are honorable to God, to our neighbors, and with ourselves every day, that we are at peace with our conscience, and that we love our fellow men without selfishness, which is the most important thing. I cannot accept the false prophets who cause agony and questioning among people. I like to talk about life, love, altruism and divine eros.
19. Question: What is your opinion of Darwinism?
Answer: There are various theories about creation and the evolution of man. The conflict between Christianity and science is primarily in the Western world, among other Christian traditions. In Orthodox theology, as expressed by the Fathers of the Church, there is no conflict between theology and science, because theology and science operate in different fields.
However, for me as a Cleric and theologian what primarily occupies me is another evolution: How we as people can become deified – gods. How we can transform our animalistic actions to human and divine. How self-love can change to love for God and love for people. How the hell of our lives can change to paradise. How our biological impulses can progress to divine eros, which also transforms human eros. How we will cease to view our neighbor as instruments for pleasure and view them with complete joy. How we can become people of the God-man.
I do not like being shut in prison and to be given freedom to adorn well. I want to leave every sort of prison. I want freedom of the spirit, to be lifted above the ephemeral, and seek the transcendence of death.
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, “Συνέντευξη τού Σεβασμιωτάτου σέ μαθητές Λυκείου «Μέ τά μάτια τών μαθητών»”, September 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.