BOSTON – A discussion/interview with the respected Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyiannis – preacher and author of more than fifty books – was a revelation many decades after first meeting this reporter during studies in America.
Father Bakoyiannis was born in the town of Kiparisos Agrinion and ordained a Priest in 1980. He is a graduate of the High Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens and the Theological School of the University of Belgrade and has a Master of Theology from St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary and a PhD from AIU in the United States. He has been writing since his college years and the Greek publishing agency ‘Thavor’ (www.ekdoseisthavor.blogspot.gr.) was founded with the sole aim of publishing his books. Many of his books have been translated into English, Romanian, Russian, Swahili, and other languages. From 1985 to the present he has been serving in the Holy Metropolis of Patras.
Asked what he thinks people expect from priests so that they might come to Church, he replied: “Listen to this story.” Father Bakoyiannis said that, “in 2017 an event took place in Thebes honoring St. Efraim of Katounakia. They posted a picture of him on column in the city as an advertisement (he died in 1998). A young man passed by, stopped, got off his bike, and repeatedly looked at the picture of the Geronda. The Priest of the parish, Fr. Spyridon, came up to him and the young man said, ‘I want to see this Geronda. His glance has calmed my soul! I want to see him!’ When the Priest explained that the Geronda had died, the young man broke out in tears. His glance was enough to change his life. It was the glance of a saint. It illuminated the love of Christ. That is the type of glance people need so they can come to Church. Love: sincere and genuine! However, we cannot attain this glance through asceticism alone but by consciously living in Christ and for Christ! Otherwise, as Elliot would say, we are ‘embalmed Christians.’”
Regarding the phenomenon of ‘guru gerondes’ (elders from monasteries) who advise people not to take the COVID vaccine, Fr. Vassilios said that, “a college student told me during confession: ‘Father, we do not want priests to tell us about the vaccine! We want to hear about other things, things about God!’ Is that wrong? Right? As I see it, he was correct! The vaccine is a medical issue and not ecclesiastical; therefore, it is not in our sphere of knowledge to tell people to do the vaccine or not to do it. The matter is personal.”
Asked what he says to people who want him to direct their lives, even in the most personal areas in the context of confession, Fr. Vassilios, who is a Father confessor himself, said that “we, the Confessors, are not dealing with monks who are obligated to get the blessing of their Gerondas, even for the slightest detail of their lives, so that they can overcome their will. But, quite differently, we deal with Christians who live in the world, working, having families, etc., for whom we are responsible only for their spiritual guidance. As far as their worldly issues are concerned, they decide on their own, and we give them our blessing.”
Fr. Vassilios explained why he writes so many books and articles. “As a Priest, my only purpose is the spiritual benefit of God’s people, hoping for His mercy. ‘The world is not changed with guns, but by books,’ the Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios had once said. Indeed, reading books is important. The lately departed Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis, when (in 1981) he laid his hands on me and blessed me as a ‘Spiritual Father’, among his many bits of advice was his telling me, ‘give books to your spiritual children, because our words flee and are forgotten’ printed material remains.’ From then till today, I have tried to adhere to his advice. So much so that I believe it to be negligence, delinquency, a sin, when I do not do this because I am depriving a brother the benefits he would have gained by reading a book. The words of prophet Jeremiah, ‘cursed is the man who does the work of the Lord carelessly’ (Jer. 31:10), has become for me a ‘nightmare’ – in a good way.”
When asked which of his books in English he would recommend to Greek-Americans to read, he said “all the books that speak about faith in Christ are beneficial. However, since in our days Christ, as our God and Saviour, is disputed and fought against by different parties and religions (especially as God in the flesh, which has always been a sign spoken against), I would recommend the book Τρία Xρόνια στον Σταυρό” in Greek, translated into English (with more details), with the title Jesus: His Unknown Side. It was published by the reputable publisher Theodore Stephen Mills (www.archangelsbooks.com).”
Fr. Vassilios, having lived in the United States, has much love and respect for the Greek-American community. He said, “we cannot think of our fellow Hellenes in the Omogenia detached from the Church. In the past, the concepts of being Greek and (Orthodox) Christian were identical. One article of the first Greek Constitution, after the revolution (1821), reads: ‘Whichever native residents in Greece believe in Christ are Greek!’ That is, to acquire ‘Greek nationality’, you needed to be Christian. The primary feature of a Greek is ‘Orthodox Christian’, which is the primary element of our fellow Greeks in the Omogenia in America, and this for us is a reason for boasting. Fr. Mihalis Karapatakis from Patras (he passed away in 2019) would from time to time visit various states in America to hear confessions, and he was stunned by the reverence of our fellow Greeks in the Omogenia. That is mainly due to the exceptional priests of the Archdiocese, who, as much as I know, sacrifice themselves for their flock. The fact that in ‘a foreign land’, you keep our faith and our traditions keeps us in check here in our country, where these are disregarded. Thank you very much for the hospitality in your newspaper, and I wholeheartedly pray the Lord strengthens you so that you can support our Omogenia in America.”