SPEECH OF HIS EMINENCE, METROPOLITAN OF CORFU, PAXOI AND DIAPONTIAN ISLANDS NEKTARIOS, ON SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY
Your Beatitude, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Mr. Ieronyme,
Your Excellency, Mr. President of the Greek Democracy
Your Eminences, Metropolitans and Bishops,
Honorable Mr. Minister of Education, Research and Religious Affairs,
Honorable Messers Ambassadors,
My dear co-priests, in service of Christ,
My dear brothers,
“We confess with word, mouth, heart and mind, and with both writing and icons the incarnate advent of God the Word” today, on Sunday of Orthodoxy. We confess the presence of the living God within us. We are not delighted because of an idea or a philosophical movement. We are not delighted because of a religious system or a metaphysical hope. We live the happiness of the incarnate advent of the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son and Word of God in this world, a presence that starts for us in time and goes with us to the eternity. A presence of life and renovation of human nature, that is of every single one of us. A presence of “always” in “now” which is related to us, but also to the “forever and unto the ages of ages”. This presence is visible by the sensational eyes but also invisible. It is describable through the words and the speeches and the holy icons but also cannot be described because it is alive in our heart. It is a confession which saves us from the various fears of evil, but also those coming from the same mystery of life in time and in the world.
It is a confession that only the living experience of the Church can record as a historical fact but also can share it to take it as a hope of resurrection in our hearts, our relationships with the fellow people and the world, in our times, “forever”.
And this confession is joy because it connects the Church with History. It is not only a memory of the past that we need to preserve very carefully because Orthodoxy gave us identity and diversity, without which we would not exist freely. It is also because Orthodoxy will save the world, no matter how much the world denies to humbly surrender its will to the Love of God. Salvation is not only a promise of the future or of the eternal life. Salvation is the integrity of the human person. To be on the earth but to see also the sky. The harmony of the co-existence of soul and body. It is the finding of the authentic sociability which passes through the way and “ethos” (morality) of community. The community of “We” where every “I” (“ego”) is honored and offers its gifts not for personal glory but to serve the fellow ones and to receive as a reward from God “the keys of the Kingdom”, which are given to the ones who love.
Let us focus on these two key elements that indicate the importance of Orthodoxy for Hellenism. “Identity” and “Diversity”.
Orthodoxy gave identity to the Greeks. This does not imply that it abolished the History of our ancestors, the thirst for freedom, the language, the philosophy, the vision of culture which was spread till the depths of Asia by Alexander the Great, the Greek (as Macedonians are Greeks), who had the belief that he connected all the Greeks, even if initially “without Lacedaemonians”.
Christianity met Hellenism, “test everything and hold fast what is good”. It used and renewed all the elements of the Greek identity and added to them Christ and two paths and ways uniquely redeeming: Love and Resurrection. Christianity made Greeks not only to care about the propagation of culture, language, way of thinking but also to care about the life of all people. It made them missionaries of Truth and Love of Christ to all people that they could come across. It did not use Greek language and Tradition as means of Hellenization but it gave them language and meaning of life by means that people could understand. Let us remember the way Moravians and Slavs were Christianized. The alphabet of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
The encouraging for establishing Churches which constituted the connecting link of the Greek Byzantine Empire with these nations. The resistance to the Franc conversion of the East.
At the same time, Christianity gave life to Hellenism by offering to mankind the perspective of Resurrection. The one that the great philosophers could not think about, the salvation of the whole existence and not only the immortality of the soul was offered by Christianity. “O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!” The limits of philosophy are exceeded by Faith. So Hellenism was conjuncted with Orthodox Christian Faith and in “our East” acquired a new identity, the one we try to maintain until today.
However, Orthodoxy helped Hellenism to realize its diversity as opposed to the West.
The fact that we believe in Christ does not make Orthodox and Westerners all the same. The fact that we both love the Ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristoteles, does not mean that we both speak the same language or that we understand them with the same way and content. We remain a democratic Church, where there is primacy, the one of honor, but it is not accepted the path of Power, the compulsion of people, the subjugation of freedom in the name of salvation. We are also different as far as the traditions of Islam and Monophysite Christians are concerned. We worship the holy icons, where the Divine- human hypostasis of Christ is depicted and we do not believe in a God without body or solely spiritual. We follow the path of love, which turns to leniency, forgiveness, acceptance of our and others’ vulnerability, not because we want to justify and forget our fall, but because “Our Lord remembered us in our low estate”. It is not justice that comes first for God, but love. As God became “one of us”, by taking our human nature, we gave to Hellenism the opportunity to defend its rights and freedom without denying, however, the co-existence with the other people.
To be happy for its achievements but not self-sufficient and apathetic towards the pain of others. To keep Faith unaltered, but also to be “gracious” (openhearted) to others, having “place for them in the inn” and not perceive everything on the basis of interest. To respect human person, even if it makes our lives difficult.
Orthodoxy and Hellenism have followed together the same route in hard times. In the candle, in the icon and in the cross on the body, the Greek found their shelter. In schools of the churches and the monasteries (during the Turkish Rule), ordinary priests taught the young Greeks and kept alive the light of faith accompanied by the search for freedom. To “Our Lady, who wept and mourned a lot” the hope stayed alive that “with the years, with time, they shall be ours again”. In the relics and the holy icons of Saints and by the end of the Sunday’s Divine Liturgy and feasts, Greeks had their small festivals, elected their primates (elders of people) talked about their resistance to the Turks , found their spouses, got married and began their family life. Their lives started from the church, where they were brought to declare “I look for the resurrection of the dead”!
Orthodoxy and Hellenism stayed together in the wins and defeats, in the resistance to every evil enemy, in the liberation and in the refugee, in the great “NO”, in the fight to re-establish our homeland. Together we won, together we lost. All those who tried to break this indissoluble bond have stumbled in front of the hearts of our people, who can accept ideas, systems, institutions and modernizations to everything, but it cannot accept the breaking of the Church and State’s bond. Not because the Church will not survive, but because every single attempt will eradicate the heart of the people. For Tradition is not only yesterday, history, customs, but “the water that speaks”, which “will well up to eternal life”.
Orthodox Tradition has much to say to people nowadays. Three are the elements we would like to emphasize. The first one is the asceticism, that is not only about having a measure and austerity, values that we have put aside to the altar of greed and self-sufficiency of our times. It is also the shift to the inner human. The one who feels like he/she is enslaved in his/her passions, in the domination of his/her ego, which makes him/her wear a mask. It makes him/her believe that passions are their right and at the same time that by hiding them, they may have a good image to show. Orthodoxy shows us the path of humbleness through the ascetic way, to have a measure, to admit our mistakes and be responsible while trying to be real.
Our hypostasis who attempts to fight to become an image of God. To give up the priority of rights and show love to fellow people. To give up the priority of anger and desire for revenge and to show forgiveness which is a source of creativity for all. To give up the priority of the ephemeral which we think it will not pass, knowing that we are called to “become children of God”, the ones who “are looking for the city that is to come” while working with virtue to receive the keys of love that open the gates of this city. Let us see our monasteries, which do not only preserve “ typikon” (worshipping orders), cultural treasures or the anxiety to save the soul, but also reveal the joy and grace that authentic people have occurring from their love of God and fellow people!
The second one is “ethos”, moral that will lead us to prioritize the collective, without suppressing though the individualistic. It is time to repent and awake in a period when we still mourn our lost Paradise of economic prosperity. For recovery, resistance is necessary. Resistance is equal to free soul, which asks for progress and joy for all, if possible. It asks for powerful institutions, which will preserve the law, since they will not grant amnesty to amorality, but they will seek the accountability of the consciousness. Having consciousness means that one’s self is not governed by ego and personal interest but by every fellow person and one is not allowed to go against the law and harm the whole. Orthodox Tradition paves the way for this. Let’s see our parishes, how they offer food to the ones of our fellow people in great difficulty.
They also cover the need for communication, a warm hug of consolation, the thirst of the youth for love and hope. It is a philanthropy that approximated the whole existence and is not limited only on the daily bread. Our priests, those who offer in ecclesiastical life, the ladies who serve at the charitable councils and charity breadlines, the catechists and the members of the youth sectors, along with the ones who strengthen with every possible way and voluntarily every effort, indicate that the moral which activates people is achievable!
The third one is “paedia”, education, which is human-centered, their quality, their value as images of God, their dignity when they are not leave themselves to sins and to the arrogance of easiness, just like the technological culture promotes. Education of values. Education of memory and not oblivion of History. Education with Religious Lesson that will have as a basis Christ and not a panreligious syncretism as unfortunately has been introduced to schools, because Orthodoxy is not a religion among the others human-centered philosophies, but the “precious jewelry”, through which we will be able to co-exist knowing that we are different, without being absorbed in fear of staying behind. Education which will not isolate us from Europe, but it will grant us the ability to accept or deny various mentalities such as the ones who hatters human beings and their souls, abolish the sanctity of the family, decolourise our world from Christ, Love, Resurrection. Let’s see the education of the Three Hierarchs, the education of our Saints, the education of our poets, of Solomos and Kalvos, Palamas and Seferis, Elytis and the greatest Papadiamantis. Most importantly, however, the education of the Divine Liturgy, which with meaning, language and communication with Christ and the Other makes everything “always, now and forever”!
In Corfu, place of our episcopal service, there is among others, a precious treasure, the relic of Saint Theodora the Empress, the one who restored the holy icons, proved the bond and the mutual assistance of the Church and the State and towards the end of her life, she became a nun exchanging her clad in royal purple with the small bare cloak of the nuns. Today, as we recall the Orthodoxy which she protected not only when empress but with her sanctified life, let us also remember our duty: all of us, to each his one, are invited to preserve the unity and the common route of Orthodoxy and Hellenism. Not because of fear of losing privileges or anxiety of not changing our lives, but because everything that has been tried, everything that has given identity to people, everything that keeps us different and at the same time meets the needs of this world is our root. When it is dry, the tree stops producing fruits and does not exist further.
“Let us beseech God that we be instructed and strengthened by their conflicts and struggles unto death for the sake of piety and by their teachings, and let us fervently pray to be shown forth unto the end as imitators of their godly conversation, may we be worthy of the fulfillment of our petitions”. Amen!