BOSTON – His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetriados and Almyros, in an exclusive interview with The National Herald, spoke about the Coronavirus pandemic and the preventive measures taken by government officials, the issues and problems that the city of Volos faces, and also about the course of the Church.
Metropolitan Ignatios, who is considered one of the most prominent hierarchs of the Church of Greece and of the Orthodox Church in general, is a learned, eloquent, and prudent man. He loves and respects the Greek-American Community dearly, saying that “it is a beacon, which is called to illuminate the world in these difficult times we live in.”
The Holy Metropolis of Demetriados and Almyros is a prototypical local Church with outreach, philanthropic, educational, social, and catechetical ministries. It also has a strong theological presence since Metropolitan Ignatios has established the well-known Academy of Theological Studies of Volos.
The entire interview follows:
TNH: Your Eminence, what is the climate in the ecclesiastical life of your Metropolis during the pandemic?
Metropolitan Ignatios: It is true that the Coronavirus pandemic caused various upheavals in all aspects of our life, and in ecclesiastical life and ministry in particular. Mainly, the periods of Lent and Easter were painful, for the clergy and the laity, as we were deprived of the experience of the living Worship, but also of the communion of persons in the churches, during the Divine Liturgy. Many of the ongoing activities in the liturgical, catechistic, and charitable sectors have been suspended. This fact, however, gave rise to new ideas and original initiatives of communication and spiritual guidance of our people, inspired by capable workers of the parish work, clergy and laity. It is a good legacy for the future. In no case, however, can they replace the living communion of persons in Christ, which ultimately constitutes the Church.
TNH: How did the local Church of Demetriados receive the measures taken about the pandemic?
Metropolitan Ignatios: We have chosen to trust and obey the advice of the experts and the government, which is in charge of managing such crises. We, as Church of Greece, but also in our diocese, we advised the people not to be afraid, but to be careful and to take the necessary protective measures. We reject the irresponsible rhetoric and conspiracy theories, which is why we stressed from the very beginning that it is not faith which is put into question during this period of time, but the faithful which are tested, as it has been also stressed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. We have taken our measures, we have shielded our Temples and we believe that our places of Worship are always safe, because the people of God are full of love and respect the health and safety of themselves and each other.
TNH: Which are some of the most serious issues your city of Volos and the extended area face?
Metropolitan Ignatios: The city of Volos but also the whole region of Magnesia were severely affected by the recent economic crisis, at all levels. We managed, however, to establish both in time and on our own initiative, a network of social responsibility, where, in close cooperation with the Prefecture of Magnesia, the local Departments of Education and other institutional bodies, we succeeded in wrestling with various problems, in their genesis, preventing thus, many times, their uncontrolled swelling. It is extremely important that we created and experienced a climate of deep trust and constructive cooperation, thanks to which we are now ready to face the consequences of the pandemic that lies ahead, so that no one feels alone and abandoned.
TNH: Which are some of the questions the people and especially the young ask you about the Orthodox Faith?
Metropolitan Ignatios: In general, the most common question that arises concerns the theodicy, that is, the question of the young people that is often expressed with anger: how does God allow all these tragic things to happen around us. A second question is how Orthodox Theology can improve a person's life when technology offers a considerable number of solutions to enjoy. A third question relates to the differences of the Orthodox faith in relation to other religions but also to the various religious sects that appear like mushrooms and exploit the metaphysical concerns, especially of young people. Especially at this point, the Church needs a comprehensive catechism, adapted to the requirements of our time.
TNH: Can you please talk a little about the Academy of Theological Studies of Volos? What made you to establish it?
Metropolitan Ignatios: The Volos Academy for Theological Studies was founded in 2000 and since 2014 has been recognized as a Research Center by the State. Since its foundation, it functions as an open forum of thought and dialogue of the Church with intellectuals and society, without defensive reflexes or apologetic attitude, organizing international seminars, conferences and publications. The constant pursuit of our Academy has been the cooperation with other bodies, the joint discussion, with a spirit of respect for the otherness of each one, of the great problems of our time. This is exactly what pushed me to establish it, that is, the need for Orthodoxy to come out into the world, to address, starting from its own tradition but also with a critical spirit, the challenges of (post) modernity, trying to deal with issues have not, until now, arisen in history, cultivating critical thinking and the need of hermeneutics.
TNH: Your Eminence, does Orthodox Theology have anything to say today, and if yes what is it, and with what language or way should express it?
Metropolitan Ignatios: Orthodox theology is at a crossroads today. In the face of challenges unprecedented in its history, it is called to critically reflect on its rich tradition, to escape from the indiscriminate and sterile repetition of the letter, as Fr. Georges Florovsky used to emphasize, and through deep hermeneutical work to offer hope to man and world, and meaning in history. In a fragmented world that moves without a compass, theology has the tools and the language, a fresh language, that takes into account the current context of people, their daily needs, in order to offer the gospel of salvation to man who in the vortex of upheavals and changes, seeks eternal solutions to its existential impasses.
TNH: Given the transformation of Church today into an ideology of `religiosity' how can someone distinguish today what the Church is from what the Church is not?
Metropolitan Ignatios: It is true that the Church sometimes seems to be engaged in activities irrelevant to its mission (involvement in ideological or national conflicts, tying itself to the chariot of the state, etc.). Despite the human weakness that can be discerned in this situation, the Church remains the Body of Christ, that is, it still has as its head the Lord of history who leads it to the end. Often, all of us, influenced by its by-gone greatness, forget that its identity is not registered in the present, but in the future. And the pre-eminent place where this truth becomes visible, is none other than the divine Eucharist, the event of communion par excellence in which, as the Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas reminds us, is an image of the Holy Trinity and the coming kingdom. This is exactly what our Church can offer today, a new ethos where communion between people and all creation is not limited or hindered by gender, culture or social class, but is the highest goal of man, what we call theosis-deification.
TNH: What do you think about the Greek-American Community? What are we?
Metropolitan Ignatios: The Greek-American Community is an integral part of Ecumenical Hellenism. It is a beacon, which is called to illuminate the world in these difficult times we live in. We expect a lot from the Greek community, because we believe that it is able, with the means and resources at its disposal, to contribute to the rebirth, especially of Orthodoxy, on an ecclesiastical and theological level, to take a more active role, strengthening the mother churches, which often face spiritual, pastoral, theological, but even financial problems, and to consolidate and expand cooperation with institutions such as our Academy, aiming at re-enchanting the world. In other words, the Greek-American community is the favorite member of our family, who emigrated, worked hard, and now is called to enlighten the modern world with the values and traditions of Hellenism and Orthodoxy.