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The Orthodox Ethos Podcast
Episode 8
April 22nd, 2020

Facing the Coronavirus with Faith: Pleas from Mt. Athos and Greece

In Episode 8 of The Orthodox Ethos Podcast: 

  1. Orthodox Christians Unite to Petition for the Opening of the Churches for Pascha in Greece 
  2. A Plea from Elder Parthenios, Abbot of St. Paul’s Monastery on Mt. Athos: OPEN THE CHURCHES!
  3. A Cry from the heart of Athens: Shame on the Chief Priests and Rulers of the People! 
  4. The Ancient Church’s Witness of Love and Faith in Time of Pestilence 

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Facing the Corona virus crisis with faith: Pleas from Mt. Athos and Greece

Today on the Orthodox Ethos podcast:

Orthodox Christians unite to petition for the opening of the churches for Pascha in Greece;

A Plea from the Elder P. Abbot of the Monastery of St. Paul’s on Mt. Athos: Open the churches, a cry from the heart of Athens;

Shame on the chief priests and on the rulers of the people

And the ancient Church’s wisdom, and the witness of love and faith in the face of pandemics.

In this podcast, I want to talk to you communicants, as much as possible, of the cries and the pleas of the faithful of Greece during this trying time of both the Great and Holy week in Pascha. And the joy we are all looking to have during this great festal period, and yet being deprived of that and how the people of Greece, the faithful have responded.

Now I cannot recount everything that is happening. There is a lot going on. But I am going to give you some highlights. And it was clear, from the great response that we received from our posting of the letter of Elder Evthymios of Kapsala on Mt. Athos, that believers everywhere are in agony over the current situation in the Church the world over, with our churches being closed and our life, Christ, in many places being taken away from us, our access to the Holy Eucharist and the divine services.

So in today’s podcast, we are going to try to give you access to a few of the most prominent and most important representatives and their actions, during this time here in Greece, who are all calling for the opening of the churches.

Before I get into some of those examples, we are going to have some clips to show you. Let me commemorate a few that I am not going to be able to show you, and that are also important to talk about, just a few names and events that happened over the last few weeks.

One of the most well-known stories was a priest in the heart of Athens, Fr. George S., who is well-known for his philanthropic and spiritual work. He has many spiritual children, and does much work among the poor. He was, I think Sunday during Divine Liturgy, I am not sure, he was caught on camera at the door of the church, communing a child. And this went viral. The police were called and charges were laid against him for breaking the law, which forbids, supposedly, the communing of children, which is preposterous, there is no such law. But charges have been laid against Fr. George. He has become kind of a target of those who are extreme and against the Church here in Greece. And also a hero for many of the faithful.

Another person and event that has been in the news quite a bit is the Metropolitan Nektarios of Kerkyra. Charges were pressed against him when he invited the faithful to come and commune on Palm Sunday and the Feast of the Annunciation. And he speaks in several videos online boldly, speaking to the faithful to come and to commune. He has ordered the priests, he says in the video, to commune people at the end of the services, even though the services were held behind closed doors. And this was apparently considered illegal, and he is now facing charges as well.

There is another priest who, just a few days ago, Fr. Christopher Gourlis in Chios, I think is his name, in Chios. He was fined five thousand dollars for the great sin and illegal act of leaving the church doors open and allowing people to come in and venerate. I think it was on Holy and Great Saturday, and Holy Friday evening. So that apparently is an illegal act.

But going to the supermarket and having tons of people in line to get into the bank, and everyone pressing on one another, that is not a problem in contemporary Greece. Another person that you probably heard about, it was well-known, was the first to resist the status-quo with this new law, and that is Metropolitan Seraphim of K. He was arrested, you will remember, during Great Lent for holding the services of the Canon of the Akathisasm on Friday evening, during Lent.

I want to read to you his Paschal encyclical. He commemorates and kind of summarizes, how he puts it is very succinct and helpful. This is his encyclical that just came out a few days ago.

The Divine Liturgy was unfortunately forbidden by legal decrees and autocratic imposition and power of the state, contradicting the Divine and Holy Canons of the church and the relevant articles of the Constitution, regarding Diving Worship, even while the Orthodox Churches of Bulgaria, Georgia, and Serbia, observing with exactitude the measures established by the state, did not cease even for a minute the Liturgical and Worshipful life of the Church in their Holy Parishes and Monasteries.

Now, of course there are different circumstances in different parts of the world, even in those countries, but for the most part, that is the case. Some have been critical of Metropolitan Seraphim, and were when it first happened. I want you to hear the words of a great contemporary missionary in the Orthodox Church, Fr. Thermi., an Orthodox missionary to Sierra Leone, who is from Australia and is well-known to many of you I am sure. And if he is not, you should become familiar with his work. He is a great missionary in the midst of Western Africa for the poor. He was, during the ebola outbreak, at the epicenter of this very contagious disease.

He knows something about how we ought to respond to epidemics. During that ebola outbreak, Fr. Thermi did not close the churches, did not stop the Divine Services. He took measures, but he did not stop communing people. Even though there was something like 50-85% likelihood if you contracted the disease, you would die. Here is what he said about meeting the challenge presented by a pestilence. Actually, I recommend listening to the whole interview with Hank, Hank Unplugged is the name of the podcast. You can find it online and on YouTube.

Here is the part where he talks about Metropolitan Seraphim of K. Let’s listen:

“I believe, brother, in the Orthodox Church tradition, plagues, there were some plagues in Byzantium, killing 100 million people during the time of Justinian, and there are others. I won’t bother you with them. The Church has got prayers for that. And it has processions that we will go around with a cross. They used to go around Constantinople with a cross and pray. Right now in Greece, I am embarrassed to say that they are not allowed to have church services. They even arrested a metropolitan, a hero in my mind, metropolitan of K, Seraphim. I am mentioning his name deliberately because I think he is a hero. They had their church service and he was arrested. Of course, they let him go, he explained. But he had to conform. He has to conform to Caesar’s laws.”

There are in Greece who would agree with Fr. Thermi. In Thessaloniki, in the days leading up to Pascha, a group of organizations and unions issued a statement on the closure of the churches, and petitioned the Greek government to open for Pascha. And here is what they say in their statement:

Why have they closed our homes, the Holy Churches. Why can’t the same rules and measures that apply to supermarkets and banks apply to the Holy Churches? How is it possible that this is happening in Greece? in Orthodox Greece? When at the same time, in other Orthodox countries churches are open, services are happening and the faithful are participating. We want to celebrate Pascha in our churches, with all the necessary public health measurements in effect.

I am going to play for you, and we will listen to what the video has to say, that they issued. I think it is very moving and instructive.

Video: We ask for Pascha in our churches

Why have they closed the doors of our churches, of our house? And you hear the voice of the government official: Our churches will be closed to the faithful. Liturgies with the doors shut she says, without the faithful, and also without loudspeakers. And again our churches will be closed to the faithful. Why? Lines and crowds of people outside the banks. Our churches will be closed to the faithful. And then there is a photo of the president of Bulgaria and he says, I cannot close the churches.

And then, in the interview with Metropolitan [..] In an interview with the Orthodoxy news agency, in which he says, “I am ready to go to prison, rather than have the churches be closed.” And then a photo from the president of Belarus, let this be very clear, we do not forbid anyone to go to church. And then images from the church services in Georgia. This is a video that has gone viral. And I will have it in the description below, showing how they were able to do a very well-organized and beautiful Divine Services with people in the yard of the church, communing of the Holy Mysteries, and yet taking all the necessary measures that the state is asking the church to take. And it was very much possible in Georgia.

And so the people ask: Why is it not possible for us in Greece? We are asking for Pascha in our churches, in our homes. That is the video put out by the faithful in Thessaloniki. So these are some of the most obedient faithful, when the question of obedience comes up. These are some of the most obedient faithful in the church. People who are in church all the time, who are serving the church, assisting the priest. And they are not afraid to speak the truth in love, both to the leaders of the church and to the state. And certainly, I don’t think most people here in Greece consider them to be disobedient by expressing their great love and piety.

I want to move onto an important, probably the most important figure who has spoken out in the last couple of days, and that is Elder Parthenios the Abbot of St. Paul’s monastery on Mt. Athos. A video of him talking was issued by the monk [ ]. And it has become viral in Greece. The elder, well-known in Greece, a venerable figure on Mt. Athos. Probably one of the most respected, if not the most respected abbot and elder on Mt. Athos today. He began his monastic life in 1954. That is 66 years ago. And he became the abbot of St. Paul’s in 1974. That is 46 years ago. So he is without question one of the most respected and venerable abbots and elders on Mt. Athos and in Greece today.

In the video, he speaks about the unprecedented nature of this year’s feast, and lamenting from the bottom of his heart the absence of the faithful. Let’s watch.

He says, in the beginning here, how much it cost him. It was really hard for me, he said. The only year in which we celebrated Pascha alone. For with the measures they have taken, to forbid the faithful to come, we celebrated Holy Pascha with a few workers who stay here year around. I tell you with much love that I am pained and in anguish for all the faithful who are coming here and are for us a consolation.

We had Pascha together, the resurrection, and all together we proclaimed, “Christ is risen.” And we were filled with great joy. This year, on account of this temptation, which God allowed, maybe due to our sins, and to shake us up, for people have departed from the path of God. And they have lost their minds. There are things that have made no sense, he says. Our churches, in Athens, and the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki were like a graveyard, he says. Everyone was shut up in their homes. The churches were closed.

He asks, What is this? What is this? Unfortunately, he says, our politicians, yes, they take certain measures, and they do well, for these are human initiatives. We do not judge them, he says, they do what they do. But I am sending them a message, these measures are not enough. I am addressing our political and ecclesiastical leaders, call the people. Open the churches. Let the people come out. Bring out the icons. Go in procession. Do litanies. Call upon the all-powerful God to remove this affliction. The leaders of this age are not able to save us. Only the all powerful God. He will save us. Open the churches. Bring the people out, he says. Take the icons out. We need to fall down, prostrate, like the Ninevites. Let us implore God in His great power to remove this evil scourge. Otherwise, who knows what will become of us.

Do not be deceived. Only God will save us. Only our mother, the All-Holy One. Only the Holy Apostles and all of our Saints. Only our prayer and faith in God, he says. What has saved the world? Our faith. Put aside the lukewarm, the unbelief. We are Christians.

I say to the politicians: You are preparing the mark for the people. You are preparing to mark the people, but this will be the greatest scandal. For they are doing wrong. They are wronging the Christians. We Christians trust in the invincible power of God. We are baptized, Chrismated. We have the seal of God. The seal of the gift of the faith of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Whoever is baptized and wants to receive the mark, let them be. Let them do whatever they want. However, do not pressure us Christians. Whatever you do, know that Christ is victorious. Christ is the victor, he says. Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him I will confess also before my father, who is in heaven. Whoever will deny me, I will deny. Do not entrust yourselves to […], Masons, demons, for they do not believe in anything.

We however, believe in the true God. And no matter what it will cost us, we confess Christ and Him crucified. And in Him we have our hope, and in the all-powerful God, and nowhere else. Many years to all of you. Christ is risen, truly is risen. Our Lord has overcome the world. Do not be afraid, he says, for I have the authority and I have overcome the world. This is our confession. This is our faith. Thank you very much.

This is the venerable elder Parthenios of St. Paul’s on Mt. Athos, a great witness and great man of faith. And respected by everyone in the church here in Greece.

So this is a second elder from Mt. Athos. Another cry from the center of the Church, the Garden of the Panagia from where so many saints in our day and age have come. And we see, there is a commonality here between this call and the call of the other, from Elder Parthenios, repentance is called for. And opening of the churches. Trusting in God, and not putting our trust in the rulers of this world, for they cannot save us.

We will go on to another cry from the heart of Athens this time. With great pain of soul and heartfelt words, we are going to hear from Fr. Vasilios Boloudakis, speak the truth in love in a very powerful and short sermon he gave on April 17th, Great and Holy Friday in the Holy Church of Saint Nicholas [ ] in Athens.

Video: Fr. Vasilios Boloudakis homily on Great and Holy Friday:

He begins, at the end of the service, and he says: We have been obedient. And we have left our Christ alone with just a few of his disciples, just like at that time, he says, in the Scriptures. And they came out. With knives and clubs to arrest the pilgrims, he says. Suddenly, suddenly our country was filled with thousands of police, police officers, illegal immigrants, criminals, murderers, rapists, thieves, official and unofficial. They walk free.

And the faithful are questioned. Where are they going? What do they want to do on such a day? Fortunately, one was found among the politicians, one in the world of politics, he says. And he was from a party that does not lie on the right side of the highest. A politician was found who said, finally on Holy Friday, let the [epitaphian] be, leave it alone. Speak a little from your heart, he says. Allow yourselves to permit the faithful to watch the procession from their balconies.

It is an event going back 2,000 years. And for the first time in two millennia, this is happening. First time in two millennia, this is happening. And unfortunately in our days, this has come to pass that we should drink from this bitter cup. The chief priests and rulers of the people, conspiring together, how they might keep Him far from his faithful.

Shame, he says, shame on the chief priests and the rulers of the people. Shame. History will never erase the shame. This indignation of the people of God, the wrath and curse of God will come down upon the heads of all those who decide to deprive the faithful of the body and blood of our Lord, many of whom have prepared for the entire year, carrying out a struggle, a penitence, in order to commune on the day of the Holy Resurrection. For the whole year, he says, to come and commune on the day of Pascha.

Shame, he says. What has become of the church of Greece? Shame, he says. I am ashamed. I am ashamed. I stand in wonder that the people do not rise up. They have imprisoned us with a scam, he says. Or a flu, he says. Everyone says as much. The TV channels, their owners, the journalists, this is what they say between themselves. But to us, they say lies, in order to keep us imprisoned in our homes.

And they say now they are forecasting another flu in September, and then the churches will be closed for Christmas. No sirs. No sirs. Take us to prison. We will perform the Divine Liturgy in our cells and thus give account to God, that we had no other possibility. Shame. Even at this hour, repent, repent, you chief priests and rulers. Otherwise, the wrath of God is coming upon your heads. Why don’t you bring the renowned doctor? Mr. […] to speak with our favored one here, in the government. Have a talk. Broadcast it live. Why?

Why does every country have its own one doctor? Doctors in the hospitals tell me that they cannot speak out, as they will be fired. This is democracy? You can keep it. I would rather die from the flu than have you (help me). Forgive me. Forgive me, my people of God. However, I can no longer bear this indignation.

That was Fr. Vasilios Boloudakis, a very well-known priest in the heart of Athens. He is the editor of the journal, Orthodox Depos, and Parish Life. And really from the heart, so many people were moved by this lashing out, this righteous anger coming from Fr. Vasilios Boloudakis, as he expressed the thoughts and feelings of many, many people in Greece.

I think the value of sharing these witnesses from Greece is to help all of us gain perspective. And to put into proper context the challenges and the responses that we are offering, and we are all facing, each of us in his own circumstance. Of course, we are talking about Greece, and it’s a circumstance that is unique in many ways. But in some ways, in many ways, it is common to all of us, and many of you can relate.

And so, of course we need to apply this in our own circumstance with discernment. But I think it is very important in this day and age that we step back and we gain perspective on what we are experiencing, what we are seeing, and that we do not assume that we know everything, that we have arrived, and we have decided that this is what the Church should be doing.

We hear from all of these voices. And that is why I am sharing with you these contemporary voices.

But I want to go back now, and close today’s podcast by sharing with you from the ancient church. And then we can compare notes and see how we are doing.

Of course, we are going back to the great ecclesiastical history of Eusebius, and we are going to hear from the mouth of the great Dyionessius of Alexandria. His experience of the plague in the middle of the third century. This is Pascha, 250 AD. And this text is so powerful in teaching us, showing us how true disciples of Christ act and live during times of pestilence, plague, trails, scourges, how they encounter these, and how they understand what God is expecting and asking them.

So, it is not unlike our time. Pascha had just ended. They had just gone through the joyful celebrations, and the great Saint of Alexandria Dyionessius relates the following.

After both we and they, and he is speaking about the pagans, had enjoyed a very brief season of rest, this pestilence assailed us. To them, more dreadful than any dread. And more intolerable than any other calamity. He is talking about the idol-worshipers, the non-believers. And as one of their own writers has said, the only thing which prevails over all, hope. They have lost all hope. But to us, this was not so. But no less than the other things, was it an exercise and a probation. For it did not keep aloof, even from us, but the heathen it assailed more severely than the Christians.

Further on he says, most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly. And ministered to them continuingly, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick, and gave strength to others, died themselves, having transferred to themselves their death. And a popular saying, which always seems a mere expression of courtesy, they then made real in action, taking their departures as the others.

He is talking about this expression, in another translation is, your humble servant bids you farewell. He is saying that this expression of courtesy, they made real in action. Truly the best of our brethren, he says, departed from this life in this manner. Including some presbyters and deacons, and those of the people who had the highest reputations, so that this form of death, through the great piety and strong faith, it exhibited, seemed to lack nothing to martyrdom.

And they took the bodies of the saints, in their open hands, and in their bosoms, and closed their eyes and their mouths. And they bore them away on their shoulders and laid them out. And they clung to them and embraced them. And they prepared them suitably with washings and with garments, fearing nothing. And after a little while, they received like treatment themselves. For the survivors were continually following those who had gone before them. Unbelievable.

But with the heathen, everything was quite the opposite. They deserted those who began to be sick. They fled from their dearest friends. And they cast them out into the streets when they were half dead, and left the dead like refuse, unburied. They shunned any participation or fellowship with death. Which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.

And this last line is so instructive. It is the same witness, from age to age. Whether it is with the ancient Christians of Alexandria, or with Elder Parthenios on Mt. Athos in the 21st century.

Without God, there is no hope, he says. Without God, no one escapes this life alive. or as Elder Parthenios put it, do not be deceived, only God can save us.

So the only question that matters, brothers and sisters, is: How will we live? and, how will we die? The two go together. Death is the fruit of our life, the quintessential moment for each person. How will we live? and how will we die? How will we live this very short life God has given us? Will we imitate Christ? imitate the Saints? follow the Holy Fathers? love Christ and fear nothing? and lay down our life for our neighbor?

These are the questions that we all have to ask ourselves, and answer. These trials and tests, which are so far, for most of us, hardly trials and tribulations, just the beginning of the pangs that are coming upon the world. Let them be a bell, to wake us up from our slumber and begin the path with doubled zeal, the path of repentance, the path of acquiring the Holy Spirit and all the virtues.

Until our next episode, I wish you well.

God Bless. Christ is risen!

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