BOSTON – Very Reverend Protopresbyter Nikolaos Loudovikos is known internationally for his high degree of scholarship and his powerful thought in the fields of Theology, Philosophy, Psychology and Pedagogy, among others, granted and exclusive interview to The National Herald.
Fr. Nikolaos was born in Volos, Greece an studied at the universities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Sorbonne IV and Institute Catholigue de Paris, and Cambridge. Today he is a professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, visiting professor at the University Balamand (Lebanon), the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, (Cambridge, UK), and Research Fellow at the University of Winchester, in United Kingdom.
He is the author of sixteen books and numerus articles which have been translated into ten languages. He is also Senior Editor of the English language periodical Analogia, The Pemptousia Journal for Theological Studies. His books which are available in English include: A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor's Eschatological Ontology of Dialogical Reciprocity (Holy Cross Seminary Press, Boston 2010); Church in the Making: An Apophatic Ecclesiology of Consubstantiality (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York 2016); Analogical Identities: The Creation of the Christian Self. Beyond Spirituality and Mysticism in the Patristic Era (Brepols, Turnhouto, Belgium 2019).
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: Which are your thoughts about the life of the Church in Greece and in general in the World in the midst of the pandemic of the Coronavirus?
Fr. Loudovikos: Not only the pandemic, but also the economic crisis, the acute political and military confrontations, the progressive collapse of human relations, the decline of love (eros?) and trust, the rise of what I call the “imaginary subject,” that is, the subject who imagines himself more than he knows himself (something that frequently happens through social media), the almost uncontrollable development of powerful Artificial Intelligence and the risk of humans turning into cyborgs, as well as the upcoming global “surveillance society,” make the Orthodox Church extremely necessary today. At a time when man is deifying himself but not becoming better there is an immediate danger that all this very advanced technology will again serve the worst human passions, and the Church reminds us that man (human being), as an image of God, can indeed be deified through grace and communion with God only if he imitates the virtues of God as Christ reveals them to us. The Church firmly reminds that God is always there, a faithful friend, mother and father, waiting with much love for man to return to Him.
TNH: Does Orthodox Theology have anything to say today and if yes, what is it and with what language does it express it?
Fr. Loudovikos: Post-modern Philosophy is in a great crisis today, as it fails to offer us either a convincing Ethics for all, or a definition of the essence of man, or a political philosophy that stems from a commonly accepted interpretation of the essence of beings and the probable purpose of history. Psychology, on the other hand, fails to interpret human freedom, as well as the ultimate depth of human motivations, and does not know what to do with properties of the human soul such as Narcissism, which is both the oxygen of the soul and its death. Orthodox theology has some shocking things to say about all of the above, but also more – and I think it should do so using mainly the language of the above disciplines and answering their questions.
TNH: What answer can someone give to the Greek-Americans of the second, third, fourth generations, scientists, academics, businessmen, who say yes we believe but we hesitate, for psychological and aesthetic reasons, to receive Holy Communion with the common spoon?
Fr. Ludovikos: On the question of Holy Communion, Orthodox theology today seems to oscillate between a Eucharistic Nestorianism and a Eucharistic Monophysitism. The first seems to believe that the union of the divine and human elements in Christ was not real and complete, but external and “moral,” so therefore, each element keeps its physical properties completely unaffected – therefore, by analogy, the Eucharistic materials can be infected with Coronavirus, or anything else. The second considers that the human nature of Christ, as well as the material elements of the Eucharist, are completely destroyed by their contact with the deity, and the viruses disappear. I think that a more balanced approach, in the spirit of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, would be to accept the full communion of the divine with the human element, with full simultaneous communication between them. In this case, the natural elements remain, along with any viruses present, but the grace of absolute union removes their harmfulness – which is why none of the priests ever got sick from consuming the remainder of Holy Communion. However, regarding those who have a problem, let them also consider the fact that the Common Cup was instituted by Christ Himself during that first Eucharist. The disciples each had their own cup in front of them, but Christ, instead of pouring some of the wine into everyone’s cup, chose to offer everyone His own cup. Why? Did not Christ know that diseases are also transmitted in this way and that therefore, psychologically and aesthetically, this gesture is not so ‘kind’?
TNH: Do you think that the institutional representations of the Church but also the Church in general theologizes in our days or not?
Fr. Loudovikos: No, unfortunately the Church does not always understand that theology is its natural breath – it does not even understand how fascinating theology is. As for the bishops, they often forget that there are many gifts in the Church, besides their own. In fact, they are all “in the place and likeness of Christ” and not only their own, as is so wrongly believed today.
TNH: How can someone interpret the alteration of Faith from a relationship with God into an ideology of religiosity which can be replaced by another ideology?
Fr. Loudovikos: When faith does not become a matter of inner enlightenment and change, but is used only for national, social, economic, etc. reasons, it changes into a dead and dangerous ideology, and in the end is ridiculed and rejected.
TNH: Do you have an opinion about the phenomenon of Gerontism, Futurism and Prophetism that exists in our days as a kind of ‘guruism’ that is trying to control the lives of many people even, their very private issues? It seems that we have arrived at the point that we don’t care what Christ, the Apostles, the Church said and did but what the Geronta says.
Fr. Loudovikos: I think these are two, seemingly opposite, current phenomena and not one. One is the indiscriminate attachment to seemingly or even truly virtuous people, preferably clergy, or even better, monks, along with the anxious search for miracles and prophecies in them, and the other is the complete contempt for any spiritual guidance, which is automatically labeled ‘guruism’ and rejected. The paradox is that these two externally opposite phenomena have the same source! This source is the narcissism and self-worship of modern man, who values himself too much, perhaps more than God himself … So, in the first case, the believer seeks to please his narcissism in the supernatural, asking God to serve him with prophecies and miracles and clinging to ‘elders’, with an attachment which, in fact, even when he exaggerates the ‘gifts’ of the elder, uses him as the basis of individual narcissism, as described, for example, by Heinz Kohut and his theory of ‘selfobjects.’ In the second case, man considers that he does not need any spiritual guidance and places the things of God under his own immature judgment. And this crisis is immature, because it is always, more or less, self-indulgent. At this point I must add that the theology of the will is incredibly underdeveloped in modern Orthodox theology. The will is neither abolished, nor uprooted, nor replaced by the will of the ‘elder’. Not even in Monasticism is this done, and, if it is done, it is a serious mental illness. The personal human will is not lost, but only trained through comprehensive obedience (which is the opening of my will to the will of the other, and this does not only concern the will of the ‘elder’), so that from a self-indulgent will one becomes a Lover of Mankind and, in this way, also a Lover of God.
TNH: What attracted you to the study of Theology and to the Holy Priesthood?
Fr. Loudovikos: I started to read out to theology and the priesthood from a distance. The decline of modern philosophy and the impasse of conflicting psychological theories was one cause. But the main reason was the unexpected encounter with some modern saints who with their life proved that God really became man, and that the opposite is also possible.
TNH: What is your opinion about the Greek-American Community? What are we to you?
Fr. Loudovikos: You are beloved brothers! Due to my studies and my academic activities, I have been, from time to time, a priest in Greek communities in two different Western countries. Hellenism has not only to take but also to give amazing things to the modern civilized world, which I call in my recent books, precisely for this reason, the “Hellenic-Western world.”