His Beatitude Hieronymos II of Athens and all Greece gave the address below in his meeting today with Pope Francis in the “Throne Room” of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece in Athens. This meeting between the Pope and the archbishop, within the framework of the 35th apostolic trip to Cyprus and Greece of the Bishop of Rome, followed their personal greeting at the archbishop’s palace.
Address of His Beatitude Hieronymos II of Athens and all Greece
This day of your visit and reception to the Holy Archbishopric of Athens is particularly significant to us, following the kind invitation addressed to Your Holiness by the honorable Greek State through Her Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic Ms. Aikaterini Sakellaropoulou.
We receive Your Holiness with feelings of brotherhood and honor. A warm welcome to You and the members of Your Entourage in the seat of the Church of Athens, in the vicinity of the sacred rock of the Acropolis, near the historical site where, for the first time in European history, Paul the Apostle of the Nations and founder of our Church spoke of the unknown God, our Lord Jesus Christ: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17,23).
We have the honor of receiving you to our fatherland for the second time, as the moments of our joint visit to the island of Lesvos, together with the Primus of our Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, with the aim of raising global awareness in the face of the challenge of the refugee and migrant issue, are still fresh in our memory.
We receive Your Holiness in a period particularly crucial not only to our fatherland but to the entire œcumene. The rampant pandemic crisis changed the lives of people all over the planet. It still does. Various problems came to the surface: violence, insecurity, fear, despair, and mainly frustration have taken over people’s souls, independently of color, religion, language, or culture.
We are all equal before the corruption of death. The anthropology of the Orthodox Church describes the corruptible state of man, the transient nature of creation while identifying death with sin. Our Christ freed the human race from the corruption of sin. He raised the fallen man, transformed his life and, “trampling down death by death”, as leader of life and death, offered life eternal and everlasting.
In the texts of Apostle Paul, the identification of death with sin manifests itself clearly. Equally manifest is the faith of the Apostle in the fact of Resurrection, though, as the hope and the new life offered by the Risen Jesus are highlighted with an entirely particular emphasis. This is why the Apostle preaches the good news of the peace of God, which abolishes violence: “and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Ephesians 2,17). Indeed, the world is in such dire need of this peace, as Christ is the only one who sends “the multitudes away” (cf. Matthew 14, 22-34), chases fear away, and restores our faith.
The peaceful march of the Church and science side by side helped, contributed, and still greatly contributes to addressing the pandemic. Together with scientific achievements the word of Christ protects the gift of life, enhances the faith of people, expands peace from an individual to a social state.
Moreover, it is necessary that all of us, Christian leaders, jointly bear witness to what the œcumene needs right now. The Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios rightly pointed out that the pandemic that has fallen upon us does not threaten the faith but the very life of man. Our duty is to clarify this essential distinction and help people cease to fear.
We receive Your Holiness to our hospitable Greece, the country which knows well the virtue and gentility of hospitality. Besides, in our times too many Greek mothers tend to numerous of our refugee brethren throughout Greece. In their minds, the Christian teaching has been put into practice, as an Erlebnis applied. It did not merely remain an empty word. These mothers continue teaching us the best that the human soul contains and can offer, with their altruism, love, acceptance, understanding, and disinterestedness.
It is such a relief to see your great sensitivity to the refugee and migrant issue. I recognize your great offer to the integration and reception of so many refugees over the last years. At the same time, I feel the need to join you in pointing out that we ought to sound the alarm before this tremendous challenge. If the global community, the leaders of the powerful states, the international organizations do not make bold decisions, then the constantly threatened presence of unprotected refugee women and children will keep growing globally. The self-evident rights to education, religious freedom, and equality will continue being undermined.
Jointly we must move the mountains, the walls, and the intransigence of the power of the Earth. Beautiful words no longer suffice. Our fellow human beings in Afghanistan can no longer endure such suffering. Sadly, they will be forced to leave their country only to be instrumentalized by other states, a practice systematically applied by our own neighbor, Turkey. Forced to seek safe haven, they are likely to be led to political or religious conflicts. It is therefore our duty to stop the migration flow before it is set in motion, that is now! We’ve run out of time! We owe this to our children and the generations to come. Besides, the refugee issue is a complicated one. Apart from the financial, social, and political inequalities, there are also ontological implications inherent in it. It derives from the inequality experienced when anyone dissimilar is not within a relationship. This particularly concerns us as Christians and theologians.
We receive Your Holiness at a moment equally crucial to the entire œcumene and the future of our children. The recent agreement on the reduction of carbon emissions in Glasgow was a disappointment to most people. When it comes to the environment, however, there is no place for compromises. This great gift of God is under threat and unless we take bold initiatives, the future ahead of us is very bleak indeed.
I call upon Your Holiness to join me in condemning this myopic policy of the leading states, powerful in the production of energy. It does not suffice to project wealth, profits, and easy solutions. It does not suffice to use shallow arguments about more time supposedly required for adjustment. We owe this to our children. Besides, we share almost the same age grid and at this stage should try to take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. We live and have lived our lives, having enjoyed the beauties of God in nature and the environment. But what does the future hold in store for the younger generations?
I am confident that the doors of Your Holiness are open to this call, and this is why I would like to ask you formally to take joint action in this direction. The Church of Athens and all its entities will be at your disposal.
Furthermore, we receive Your Holiness at a conjuncture in time when Christian leaders seem to have been outpaced by developments. The modern culture has departed from the meaning traditionally assigned to it by religion. It now relies on the meaning produced by what, essentially is a new form of religiosity: digital technology. The abolition of the boundaries of space and time generates the illusion that man has neither limits nor limitations; that he or she has achieved immortality upon the earth, whereas we defer immortality until the end of this age. He or she is almost enchanted by the facilitation and the potential provided by digital development, to such an extent that he or she no longer realizes the unfreedom with which eventually this development threatens him or her. This is why he or she ever more impatiently awaits its next miraculous application, indeed forming endless queues to acquire it. Unfortunately, however, it seems that the disenchantment of the world, promised by the Enlightenment, proves to be a fallacy.
What is more, we receive Your Holiness at a particularly historic conjunction for our fatherland: two hundred years have passed since our national regeneration (palingenesia, in Greek). The bicentenary of the struggles and sacrifices of our heroes against the darkness that the Ottoman yoke attempted to impose at that time. The light won, though, faith prevailed, the sacrifices were vindicated, and the cradle of democracy rose again.
At this historic juncture, we believe that Your Holiness, as the modest and at the same time dynamic Leader of the Roman Catholic Church, have the courage and the honesty to consider the marks missed and the omissions of predecessors of Your Holiness who kept aloof from the struggle of our people for freedom. It is not my intention to put you in an awkward position. However, I do believe that between persons who wish to be called and indeed to be brothers in Christ the best language is and remains that of sincerity. Far be it from us to engage in diplomacy in its bad sense or in diplomatic proceedings.
Personally, I hold the person of Your Holiness in great esteem and affection. Right from the start of your ecclesiastic course, you have ministered unto man by imitating our Lord, who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10,45).
You were born, grew up, and ministered to a country that knew hard adventures and great financial, class, and racial inequalities. You chose, not at random, to take on the name of a Saint of Your Church, Francis of Assisi, about whom you had aptly said that “he brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” 1.
This is why I have the certainty that Your Holiness, as the ground-breaking Primate of the Roman Catholic Church, knows how to shake off the burdens of the past, and particularly those in connection with the events of the Greek National Uprising, which have sadly wounded the pleroma of our Church. We owe it to the blood spilled by those heroes and martyrs of the Greek Revolution that they be restored by Your Holiness in the historical process. I have absolute trust in your power of judgment, your spiritual greatness and long ecclesiastical experience.
Finally, we receive Your Holiness by recognizing in your person a competent and humble worker of the message of the Gospel about our unity in the common faith in Christ. The common path of the Roman Catholic with the Orthodox Church during the first millennium of Christianity has a lot to teach us. Moreover, the commitment of us Orthodox, during the Holy and Great Synod of Crete in 2016 under the guidance of the Mother Church of Constantinople, to the continuation of the theological dialogue is a constitutive element of our mission. We must continue this dialogue in truth and love, with no compromise and intolerance “lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ” (Cor. I.9,12), in the safe certainty that we are not allowed to leave the seamless robe of the Lord divided, since, as Apostle Paul states, Christ is not divided (Cor. I,1.13).
Concluding these humble thoughts of ours on the occasion of your visit to us, may we wholeheartedly wish that the All-Good and Gift-giving God may grant you unshakeable health, shed His light upon you in the great task you have assumed for the ministry to people and the unity of Christians, and strengthen you on your path towards achieving all the above.
Welcome, Your Holiness!
1 Brian Bethune, “From the archives: Man of the people. Will the Pope with the wry sense of humor and common touch actually reinvigorate the Church and the papacy?”, Maclean’s, 26.3.