This article is in response to the ‘storm’ created (through the Greek media) following a “much-maligned” interview given by me recently to the Athenian newspaper “Ethnos”. I characterise the particular interview “much-maligned” because indeed it “suffered greatly”. And this, not only as a result of the sleight-of-hand tricks utilized by the ‘lady’ introduced to me as a Journalist, but also as a consequence of the ensuing unjust “criticism” and whatever interpretation other Journalists attempted to read into my statements as well.
I now write in self-defence, to censure as composedly as possible the “critique of the criticism” which was levelled at me from various directions, even in some cases from friends; something which did not surprise me. At the age I have now reached I know what “concessions” we must make when appraising names! After all, this is the real issue here.
For “criticism” to be just, it must also be bold. Only then is it true and effective. Bold, however, does not mean vulgar. Above all it means to be sincere. To say what you believe. Only then do you “confess”. And confession is always a brief procedure and “declaration” which aims at nothing more than stating what is vital and substantial, evaluated without fear or empathy. If, however, criticism in the form of a “confession” means faith and unshakeable conviction, then there is no room for “negotiation”, i.e. “minced words”. And if there is one who is obliged at all times to “confess” without “mincing his words” then it is primarily the Clergyman. It is he who embodies in the world of everyday fluidity, the non-negotiable representation of the triple office of Christ as “priest, king and prophet”. All of this occurs, however, not unto himself as an isolated individual, but as “the tip of the iceberg”, buoyed by the whole compact body of the faithful! This is the official dogmatic teaching of the Church.
An illustration of criticism - exemplary for its boldness, its brevity and its accuracy - I admired in just a two-worded description of that deception which tyrannized the ill-fated former Soviet Union for 70 years under the guise of “Communism” or “Real Socialism”. And when I say a “two-worded description”, I literally mean “just two words”. One word was POPOVICH, the other MEAT. I heard this description in Moscow long before the fall of the atheistic regime, in the early 1970’s. Back then I naively asked an elderly but faithful intellectual: “Truly, how do you get along here with everyday life? He answered without going around in circles: “Before Communism, the sign on the butcher’s shop wrote POPOVICH (Papadopoulos) and below in the display window one found MEAT. Today, the sign above reads MEAT and beneath it, all one finds is POPOVICH, mute and motionless”.
This, dear readers, says much. Not only about the tyranny of the former Soviet Union, but about every form of tyranny and in every age - irrespective of whether it is imposed by an authoritarian political regime, by papal terrorism within the Church, by a situation of ignorance and indifference (for comfort’s sake), by a non-discerning trendiness and a sheep-like attitude, or by that cold mind-set of “compliance on all issues” which is propagated by everyone, particularly in recent years, so that no one is inconvenienced in any way.
I am obliged to observe, therefore, again in the form of a “confession of faith”, i.e. “without fear or empathy”, that the present most cunning age tyrannizes people inhumanely because it treats them as “masses without will”. It is no coincidence that the ruthless media, which the prevailing power structures have at their disposal, are called “mass” media and not “general” media, as I have had to correct for years now!
In other words, our age is no longer one of respect for “deeds”, but for “names”. It is not an age of truth, but primarily of impressive sensationalism. As the late Yiannis Tsarouhis put so well, “today you are whatever you declare yourself to be”. In this way, however, both the “offices” and their “officials” in various fields are unavoidably or insensitively belittled, together with the public. Idols are created on the same lines as television stars, systematically cultivating in the absorbent public a “lust for titles”, and at the same time creating within those very officials, conditions of internal alienation. The incessant craving to be “in the limelight” and “admired” could well be called “lust for public approval” as a reflection of “lust for titles”.
Given, however, that this “intoxication” and enthusiasm from both sides cannot last as a stable situation, we have as a consequence what is termed in psychology “cyclothymia” (cyclical mood swings). In other words, a condition in which feelings and moods change to opposite extremes from moment to moment. In this two-way, bi-directional amphidrome of “glamour/disappointment”, it is not only the people who, at the appearance of a Leader exclaim “hosanna”, yet are prepared at the first cyclothymic opportunity to scream “crucify, crucify him”. It is also the high ranking title-bearers who, when deprived of applause and “opportunities” on television, “relapse” into the irritation and bitterness of isolation, with all the relevant repercussions for their colleagues and for society as a whole.
And when these sickly phenomena are observed in secular Leaders, then the corrective “hand” of the “ruling people” is given the opportunity to chastise them - as a formality at least - come the next elections. However, when the Leaders belong to the Church, then the danger and the temptations are greater, since they are not elected for a set period but for lifetime service. Perhaps for this reason the wisdom and compassion of the Fathers sought to protect all of us, most especially the office-bearers in the life of the Church, by commanding us to fear “the praise of the people”.
Having said the above, this does not mean that any individual may deny the respect, which by definition is due to office-bearers in whichever hierarchical areas of Church or State they may serve. Nor additionally does anyone have the right to deny the moral right of a leader to desire popularity. By these observations we wish to stress that, above every value or office, we must place the human person as an inviolate “icon of God”. No one has the right to ignore such a sacred value, neither when this is observed calling out and non-discerningly applauding, nor when it is disapproving in a “state of frenzy”. Let us not forget that Christ’s “heart went out to the people” when He saw them “as sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6.34). And this warm-heartedness did not diminish even when He rebuked them exclaiming “this crowd, which cares nothing for the Law” (Jn 7.49).
In scientific works and in simplified critical treatises the writer has attempted extensively to analyse the sacredness of the human person. He has made the fundamental distinction between the person who is “infinite” as is God, on the one hand, and his actions or thoughts, “conducted” in time and space, on the other. It is precisely this distinction which permits us to characterize an action e.g. “theft” or “murder”, without referring to the perpetrator as a “thief” or “murderer”! The reason for this is that the personality of the perpetrator is not exhausted by one single action or thought. In the immediately ensuing moment he might, by the grace of God, perform miracles, and become “a citizen of paradise” as the thief on the Cross!
With these given axiological thoughts on Christian Ethics - to which all of us, without exception, are answerable, and not just to social contracts, or to irresponsible “prim-and-properness” or to “conventional lies” - the writer has attempted at all times to place his views on record, responsibly and with fear of God, both in his official texts or correspondence, and in his equally responsible statements, whenever he has ascertained that the values which he has sworn to protect “till his last breath” were being jeopardized in one way or another! There is no more sacred accountability in the Church than the oaths of the Bishop undertaken during the awesome moment of his ordination. Through this accountability the Church renders the Bishop in “the place and type of Christ”, with whatever weight that might entail both for himself and for the rational flock of God!
For precisely this reason, in my contentious interview referred to at the beginning of this article, I declared unreservedly that which I had also declared during my Enthronement as Archbishop of Australia: “No one can be obliged to respect me any more than what I respect him. But by the same token, not any less either! If I betray one or more persons and do not observe a promise or duty that I have undertaken, they have every right even to spit upon me, without being ashamed of the Engolpion of Christ I wear around my neck as a Bishop. That Engolpion weighs upon me alone. This is why I, first, must respect it”.
With this opportunity we should not omit to add something very significant: the Engolpion on the chest of an ordinary Assistant Bishop is exactly the same borne by a Metropolitan, or by an Archbishop, or by a Patriarch (regardless of whether some wear it in duplicate or triplicate!).
We should also add here that: When, according to the degree of your responsibility, you “censure” any Office-bearer of the Church or the State, even your own immediate Ecclesiastical superior, with regard to specific common and sacred interests, or with regard to the violation of specific and official obligations, you are not “reviling” him, because that would, on the one hand, expose you as a “reviler”, and on the other would not allow you to offer him assistance. By way of responsible censuring, on the contrary, you remind him of the duty entrusted to him from above, not only for the common good stead but also for his own prestige and honour. It would be most edifying to remember here how Orthodox Clergymen of every rank pray aloud commemorating their Prelate during the Divine Liturgy:
“Among the first remember, Lord, our Archbishop....grant to your holy Churches that he remain in peace, safety, honour, health and length of days rightly teaching the word of Your truth.”
Two crucial truths are professed emphatically in this most sacred text of the Commemoration:
a) That the commemorated Prelate is not the concern just of his own Local Church and jurisdiction. He is the concern of all the Orthodox Churches around the world which, together, comprise the system or network of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That is why the prayer to God is offered very specifically for him: “grant to your holy Churches...”.
b) For the commemorated Prelate five specific liturgical petitions are offered. That he remain in peace with “safety, honour, health, length of days and rightly teaching the word of Your truth”, which is God’s!
If we pay careful attention, these petitions commence from the most simple (“safety”), and then scale upwards to the greatest and most sacred (“teaching the word of God’s truth”).
Accompanied and, in a sense, “shielded” by such formal prayers and expectations, each local Prelate of the Church, during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, is entitled on the one hand to feel strengthened by God in response to the prayers of the people, whilst on the other, to feel obliged to all his Concelebrants, regardless of rank, since all “commemorate” him in such an institutional manner, “with one mind and with one heart”.
That is precisely why no local Prelate has the right to deny or to ignore the right of his Concelebrants to judge him, even to censure him, if he is not credible through appropriate care and firmness, particularly in “rightly teaching the word of God’s truth”. It goes without saying that “rightly teaching” does not mean just with phrasal and rhetorical statements, but with the whole public image portrayed through the demonstrated conduct of the Prelate.
After all the above, if Mrs Gianna Balis had shown even an elementary respect for the text of my butchered interview in the “Ethnos” newspaper, all reasonable and good-willed readers would have been able to see, through the preceding and subsequent components of my interview, in what state of vigilance in God and theological sensitivity I judged specific actions not only of my Prelate, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos (in relation to S.A.E. - the Council for Greeks Abroad) but also of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens (in relation to the conduct of the Theological Dialogue with the Roman Catholics, and other issues). Both Prelates, for a long time have had in their possession my official and thoroughly documented Reports to them. Yet they have deemed it unnecessary to respond.
For the time being I will say no more because I do not wish to make public the internal documents in mention. Both Prelates, however, may do so if they feel that I have been unjust to them even in the slightest. More so, if they believe from the article of Mrs Balis that I have “reviled” them.
The real enemies and revilers of both should cease acting hypocritically like champions and protectors of the Church. Especially the well-known slanderers in the local Greek Press here, but also their counterparts in Greece. They do not have the right to have a say in matters of the Church against which they plot, night and day, underground like “termites” and openly with brazen audacity.
This Article was published in the Greek Australian newspaper