BOSTON – Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta in an interview with The National Herald speaks about the new conditions and changes that suddenly entered the life and worship of the Church. He said “were caught off guard.”
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: Your Eminence, what is the climate among the parishes of your Metropolis about the coronavirus pandemic?
Metropolitan Alexios: The COVID-19 pandemic, which has fallen upon us and is currently troubling the entire world, is an unprecedented incident for all of us. Certainly, there have been several other pandemics throughout the world’s history, nevertheless, for our age, such a trial is, as I already mentioned, unprecedented. Consequently, both we who have the responsibility of the Church’s administration, as well as the faithful people of God, were caught off guard, before this sudden event. Since the beginning of this whole tribulation I mentioned in my homilies and in encyclical letters that the only way out is through prayer and caution. Therefore, we thought that it was not only mandatory but prudent as well to follow the guidelines of the state and hold the services with closed doors.
TNH: Did you ever imagine that you would officiate at the services in the naves behind closed doors without the presence of the Church?
Metropolitan Alexios: I had never imagined that something like this would happen. It goes without saying, that it was not a pleasant experience to celebrate the services of Holy Week without the people. Yet, instead of complaining or having doubts, we took the challenge and glorified the Lord in such a way that the Services were officiated and the People of God stayed safe. I should note at this point that the people responded beyond any expectation. Hundreds of faithful contacted either the Metropolis, or their parish priests to let us know they followed us and that they support the Church, although they were not able to physically be present at the services. I need to mention here, that according to the data available to us, the number of people who attended through live stream was surprisingly very large.
TNH: Would you share some of your thoughts?
Metropolitan Alexios: I will remind you of the message of our Patriarch on the pandemic, in which His All Holiness called us to “experience this period as the way in the desert.” We do not go to Church in order to be nostalgic or melancholic, but we go in order to pray that God may deliver us “from all affliction, wrath, danger and necessity.” Holy Week might have been difficult, but everyone’s prayers were more intense and more fervent than previous years.
TNH: Are there some things that the pandemic pushes for discussion in the Church such as the way we commune with the common spoon?
Metropolitan Alexios: As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the Church is guided in an infallible way. The infallibility of the Church is ensured through the consensus of all the people of the Church. Such consensus does not occur by constituencies, only in the Holy Spirit. Thus, when all this is going to be over, God willing, and if the Church as a whole brings to discussion the way in which Holy Communion is distributed, then we might speak more on this matter. Besides, the Archbishop himself has referred to this matter.
TNH: Understandably it is a matter of faith, but how do you answer especially to young Greek-Americans of the second, third, and fourth generations, who say yes we believe but we don’t feel comfortable aesthetically and physiologically with the common spoon?
Metropolitan Alexios: It really astounds me the fact that this question is repeated quite frequently these days. I have completed over forty years of ministry in the U.S. and no one ever asked this question before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Many years ago when I lived and served as then abbot in the Monastery of Gerokomeion in Patras, we went together – the other brothers hieromonks – every Saturday and gave Communion to the patients of the nearby hospital of contagious diseases. The brothers of the Monastery had established the tradition of the weekly distribution of Holy Communion to the hospital, since the mid-1940s. Every Saturday we gave Communion to dozens of patients, suffering from every sort of contagious disease and then we returned to the monastery and consumed what was left in the chalice. Never did a brother of the monastery get sick or was infected because of this practice.
Before I conclude my answer, I would like to add something: Holy Communion is a matter of faith not of logical reasoning. Some years ago, I had mentioned in one of my sermons that both the believer and the unbeliever, when they receive Holy Communion they taste bread and wine. What they actually receive depends on the faith that each one of them has. For the Prophet David states, “the heavens declare the glory of God” for someone else the heavens declare nothing. It is faith that makes all the difference.”
TNH: Do you have any thoughts about the political leaders here and in Greece?
Metropolitan Alexios: Allow me to mention one more time that the situation is rather uneasy. In such these difficult days, like the ones we are currently going through, the question whether the political leaders of this country and of Greece believe in God occurs almost naturally. In their public announcements, they repeatedly declare their faith in God. In fact, in reality, though, we realize that there is not even a trace of faith in them. Of course, there are some exceptional cases of politicians like G. Bilirakis or John Sarbanes or others whose name I omit here, however, they only constitute exceptions to the mainstream.
That said, instead of constantly complaining about the politicians, we should wonder if we as clergymen are carrying out our duty as we ought to. As I make my own personal reflection, I would dare to say that in many ways we have failed. Often we reached out to men in power not to preach Christ but to request money. It is vain to anticipate a solution from secular leaders or secular means, “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth,” as the Psalm says. There might be many to be held responsible for the wrong decisions or omissions, but the current moment is not suitable for arguments or hard feelings. On the contrary, this current trial should compel all of us who believe to fall on our knees, like the Ninevites. Let us not forget that we Christians have been named after Him who overcame the world and all the evil that is in it.”