Translator’s Note: His Eminence Nicholas (Hatzinikolaou) is metropolitan bishop of Mesogaia and Lavriotiki, suburban areas of Athens, Greece. He studied physics in Thessaloniki, Harvard, and MIT (receiving his PhD from the latter), and went on to work for NASA. His career took a decidedly different turn, however, when, after several years on Mt Athos, he became a monk in 1989 at the monastery of Stomion of Konitsa in Epirus, where Elder Paisios had served for a time. Soon after he became a priest and in 2004 was elected metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki. He is known as an active metropolitan who addresses the wisdom of the patristic and ascetic tradition to the needs of contemporary believers, especially the youth. He also contributes regularly to discussions on scientific questions facing the Church, putting to good use the knowledge gained in his secular career as president of the Synodal Bioethics Committee of the Church of Greece. A fair number of his talks and publications are available in English, online or in print.
To the devout parish priests and the pious people of our sacred Metropolis:
Dear Fathers and Brethren,
The resurrectional period has ended for this year, and we now live in the expectation of Pentecost. Our soul oscillates between the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord and the hope of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
“Glory to God for all things.” I wish to all the rich blessing of the Comforter. The suspense of the elections for local governments and the European Parliament has also now passed, and as always the tension of the divisions between us is now succeeded by the invitation to unity and common effort, so that all together we can face the assault of daily life, which has grown hard to bear. Our problems are so difficult that perhaps those who lost in the elections ought to feel more relieved than those who won. For our part we wish strength and success for their mission. I am certain that the elected representatives of the local communities will, with their enthusiasm renewed, do whatever good they can together to relieve our people, torn apart as they are by the general crisis. We too as the Church, in the measure to which we are suited and to the degree that will be requested of us, will support every good effort will all of our powers. The cooperation of us all is, especially today, both necessary and of immense potential.
This past Sunday, however, was also marked by another important event of an ecclesiastical character: the meeting of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with the Pope of Rome Francis in Jerusalem, in front of the Holy Sepulcher, fifty years after the lifting of the anathemas. The media featured the event and spoke of love, reconciliation, forgiveness, mutual understanding, and progress in the relations of the churches. Some other voices discoursed of betrayal of the faith, compromise, and submission to the directives of the new age and of global relativism. Since it is likely that all of these express, each one separately, part of the truth, but that on their own they conceal its secret and lead our thoughts and sense of the faith in mistaken directions, I thought that I ought to communicate with you, given my spiritual responsibility as the bishop of our area.
Who could claim that love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are ideas contrary to the truth of the Gospel? What, I wonder, would be the benefit of retaining anathemas that lasted approximately a thousand years, essentially preventing communion and cutting off millions of unsuspecting believers, mainly of the western world, from the sacred body of our holy Church for entire centuries to this day?
On the other hand, how can we deny that the awful schism of the eleventh century led to an uncontrollable transmission of heretical opinions and teachings that irrigated the whole life of western Christianity and ended up distorting the face of Christ, changing the ethos of the faith, and deconstructing the sense of mystery? How can we deny the result, namely that the faith was denatured into the acceptance of Christian viewpoints, communion with God was replaced by social works, the Church ended up as a religion, theology as conjecture, and the revelation of God as verbal argument without a substantial referent? We will not do injustice to the truth if we say that the West, after the breaking of communion with the Churches of the East—and in essence its tearing away from the ecclesiastical body—became estranged, was led inevitably into delusions, adulterated the faith both as theological confession and as lived practice, and enervated the working of grace, since it replaced it with an ethical endeavor. This is the reason why saints such as Gregory Palamas and Mark Evgenikos struggled so much to emphasize the difference of Orthodoxy from the false papist beliefs. A demonstration that the West unsuspectingly swims in a sea of altered ethos, of delusions and heretical opinions, is that it finds it difficult to comprehend the aforementioned sainted theologians, and Orthodoxy itself, with the result that communication between us requires interminable dialogues with dubious results.
For this reason, our first duty is not to contrast ourselves spitefully with the inheritors of the false belief and to condemn them, but with love, pain, and humility to confess and to put into practice the Orthodox faith within ourselves. That which essentially separates us, my dear brethren, is not the vindication of some primacy, nor is it the grievous results of historical perversions such as the Crusades, nor even the deep wounds caused by the organized delusion of the Unia, nor perhaps is it the different types of some liturgical and sacramental acts. These are all, of course, great misdemeanors that provoked extremely deep wounds, yet which could somehow be set right within our Church. That is why initiatives of forgiveness in this direction are definitely blessed, as long as they do not strike at the integrity of the Orthodox ethos and dogma.
What is worse is that words such as mystery, grace, humility, faith, love, truth, theology have been stripped of their spiritual meaning, desiccated of their content and denatured into secularized expressions with a religious coating. The heresy of the West has distorted the face of Christ and the face of the human being has become ugly as a result.
How then can we mistake these things? We neither can nor should. Yet in addition to all this there is a tragic reality. Just as tragic as the delusion of the West is the deviance of the East. The West has lost its faith. The East, for its part, holds on to the Orthodox faith up till today, but I wonder how much we Orthodox live it. And if our life is foreign to our Orthodox faith, are we not perhaps in the end worse than those who, having lost it, are ignorant of it? Instead of shouting against the westerners in insulting tones, should the goal of our criticism perhaps not be ourselves? Truly, of what benefit is it when we endorse a faith that is not confirmed by our life? What good is there in a harsh criticism of others who were born and educated thus, when there is no corresponding criticism of our own inconsistency?
In the final analysis, maybe what is chiefly needed in inter-Christian relations is not inexorable criticism of the “Western delusion,” nor a multitude of expressions of premature friendship, so much as the courageous confession of our Orthodox faith and a humble invitation to the westerners, lest perhaps they end up living, with more consistency, that which we hold as faith but do not confirm by our life—of which for their part they are ignorant as ethos and teaching, but maybe seek as truth. What we need is the unity of the Orthodox in humility and our confession to the world of the heterodox in love. Not so much criticism of others for their delusions, as our own repentance for our lack of lived witness. If they do not see the difference in our lives, then how can they recognize it in our dogmas?
If, on the one hand, the West does not humbly confess its dogmatic deviation and does not feel the need for its return “unto all truth,” and on the other hand, the Orthodox East does not live the blessing of its theological wealth as a responsibility nor discern the need for repentance for its inconsistent witness, then the dialogues, the premature common prayers, and the common meetings will possess only a worldly and social significance, whereas in reality they will deepen confusion and will distance all of us from the one and saving truth.
Brethren, “watch, stand fast in the faith, take courage, be strong, let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13–14).
With prayers and much love in the Lord,
+ NICHOLAS of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
June 1, 2014
Translated by Nicholas Marinides. Greek original here.
Nicholas Marinides hails from Buffalo NY. He holds a PhD from the Department of History at Princeton University, with his dissertation on the topic of lay piety in seventh-century Byzantium. He is also a research fellow in the Department of Theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he currently lives. Some of his published work can be accessed online.