The Pope’s visit (to Cyprus) becomes a scandal for the faithful

Metropolitan Athanasios: I have refused to attend the celebrations marking his visit

An interview with Antigoni Solomonidou-Drousiotou

The Metropolitan of Lemesos, Athanasios, distances himself from the Church of Cyprus’ official position on the forthcoming visit to the island of Pope Benedict. He plainly declares that he opposes the visit, explaining that Catholicism is a heresy and the visit of the Head of the Catholic Church to Cyprus will scandalize the minds of innocent, faithfully people. At the same time, he stresses that neither adverse reactions nor rude or bad manners must be shown.

Why does the visit of Pope Benedict the 16th to Cyprus scandalizes the Church and its flock?  read more…

I believe that his visit will create a number of problems in the conscience of many faithful Christians. It would have been better if he didn’t come, because I believe his visit will not be of any benefit, since I have never seen any positive intervention of the Vatican regarding our national issues. His visit has already caused a lot of unease, which is something we really do not need at this time.

Are we in danger of something?

I am not saying that we are in any danger with his visit, or that we are going to denounce our faith or that the Orthodox Church will fall. But it gave the opportunity to some cycles of Old Calendarists to accuse us that we have receded from Orthodox principles and that this caused anxiety among the people. The Pope has of course been invited by the Cypriot President and the Archbishop has given his approval.

Did you discuss this at the meeting of the Holy Synod?

During the last meeting the issue of whether we should attend the celebrations was raised. I have refused to attend and said that I have not been informed. We had only learnt about the visit from the newspapers.

Do you often learn the news from the newspapers?

The Archbishop of Cyprus has increased duties and we certainly do not want him to descend to our own level. But we preserve our personal right to say that we didn’t know that the Pope was coming and that if he had asked us, I would have personally stated my objection, because it would create a scandal in the minds of innocent, pious orthodox Christians, as we see that it is already happening.

Should there not be any communication between the Churches? We live in the 21st Century after all; we belong to the European Community.

We can hold a dialogue with anyone, even more so with heterox people and people with different faiths. It is one thing to embrace a dialogue and another to receive the Pope as a proper Bishop, who for the Orthodox people is a heretic, estranged from the Church, and therefore, not even a Bishop.

Is this because of the Schism (of 1054)?

He has been estranged from the Church for centuries; he is not a proper Bishop and has no relation with the reality of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. It is one thing to receive him as a proper Bishop and another thing to talk with him as a heterodox in order to reveal to him the truth of the Orthodox Faith and tradition.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has met the Pope and so the dialogue between the Churches began.

As I have stated, the dialogue itself is not a bad thing when it takes place under the proper conditions; but it is wrong to tell these people that we recognize them as a Church, that we recognize the Pope as a Bishop, as a brother in Christ, in clergy and in Faith. I cannot accept this because it is a lie; all the fathers of the Church teach exactly the opposite. Papacy is a heresy and the source of many other heresies which afflict the world today. A new Saint, Saint Justine Popovitch has said that there were three tragic falls during the history of humankind: That of the first created Adam, that of Judas, the disciple of Christ and the fall of the Pope, who as a first Bishop of the Church, defaulted from the faith of the Apostles, detached himself from the Church and dragged masses of people with him since then.

What does the Pope say about the Orthodoxy?

The Pope said that we are an inadequate Church.

The Lord is One?

Yes, the Lord is One and His Church is One. That’s why we say in the Symbol of Faith “to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. This One Church is the Orthodox Church; there are not many Churches.

Isn’t it selfish to assume that we are it?

It is not selfish. When you say that the Italians are not Greeks, which is the truth, you are not offending them. If I say to the other person: ‘It doesn’t matter that you are Catholic and that we all belong to the same Church’, I ridicule him, since all the fathers of the Church teach us that there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.

Why this is the Orthodox Church and not the Catholic?

Because the Orthodox Church preserves the Apostolic Faith and the prophets’ knowledge unaltered to this day. The papists, unfortunately, after they have been severed from the Church, have included many heretic dogmas in their faith; they changed the Symbol of Faith and most of all, they elevated the Pope to the position of the One and Only representative of God on earth. They say the Pope does not make mistakes and that whoever does not keep communion with the Pope, does not communicate with God. They have officially declared these dogmas in their synods. When you have added many things in the Symbol of Faith, which have not been written there by the fathers and many other bad beliefs, this constitutes heresy.

How does the Orthodox Church deal with heretics?

With a lot of love. We love the Pope, we love the papists as we love every human being; we do not despise them, we do not reject them as people but we do not accept their heresy, we do not accept bad beliefs or errors. Just because we love them, we must tell them the truth.

Everyone has his own truth.

That’s why we have a dialogue so that it is proven, through historic evidence, which Church has preserved the faith and the knowledge of the Apostles.

Do you believe that this dialogue will bear fruit?

It could, if it took place under the proper preconditions. But, unfortunately, as it evolves today, it does not bear fruit. That’s the reason why it is being going on for so many years and nothing has been achieved.

Does each one of them speak only for himself?

They must talk, equipped with the Holy Scriptures, with the spirit of modesty and love, aiming to prove Christ’s truth. Then everything can become easy.

Doesn’t this dialogue take place in the spirit of modesty and love?

I do not know. I do not participate in these discussions, but I have not seen any tangible results deriving from their conclusions. Just because I disagree, it does not mean that I am out of order and cut off from the Church.

There is a movement, which writes books against the Pope and is preparing protests.

I do not agree with all these. No nastiness must take place, no rudeness, no misconduct. But it is one thing to voice our opinion and another to misbehave. I clearly and publicly state my opposition to the Pope’s visit and declare with my whole soul that the Pope is a heretic, he is not a Bishop, he is not an Orthodox Christian; these are declared by the Fathers. If am wrong, I am ready for censure. But this must be done in the spirit of the Fathers not on the basis of globalization. It does not mean that because I disagree, I am out of order and not part of the Church.

Don’t you think that your statements will ignite more scandal to the minds of those already scandalized?

We say what we have to say in all honesty and responsibility, we do not ignite any fires; I do not want to be presented as agreeing and that I consciously accept the Pope’s presence in Cyprus. During the meeting of the Holy Synod the Archbishop himself has dealt with our objections in a very democratic way.

Did you agree to the Archbishop’s visit to the Vatican?

We have not been asked and he was not obliged to ask us. We found out from reports in the newspapers.

What was the result of his visit to the Vatican?

I do not know.

Didn’t he brief you?

He did, but personally I didn’t show much interest. The Pope always utters formalities, as it is going to happen now when he comes to Cyprus, but nothing substantial will come out of it, because he is the Head of the Church and not a political person. He cannot enter into dispute with the political status quo. When has the Pope defended the Orthodox Church? We had been under occupation so many times, when did he defend us? Not to mention that we fared very badly during the Frankish rule, because of the various Popes and their decrees, with which they wanted to make us vanish. Tonight we commemorated the 13 martyrs of Kantara, who had been murdered under the orders of the Pope. We lived through 400 years of tough Frankish rule. It had been worse than Turkish rule. But I do not want to go back to these; I am voicing objections today for purely theological reasons. When we have been ordained Bishops, we have given an oath to preserve the Orthodox Faith.

Will the priests who will welcome the Pope not preserve the Orthodox Faith?

Saint Paul said that he who does not consume sacrificial meat must not criticize those who do. I do not condemn those who will be present, but I also do not want to be condemned for not participating. The Vatican does nothing in vain.

A circular was read in Church last Sunday in which the Bishops, who will participate, were named one by one, something which surprised the congregation.

We had all decided to issue a circular to the congregation so that the people stay united and not be swayed by the Old Calendarists, who want to separate them from the regular Church. What has not been made clear, however, was that not all of us had been briefed regarding the invitation to the Pope and had agreed with it.

Why do you think the Pope is visiting Cyprus?

As you are aware the Papists are going through a serious crisis with all the scandals which have broken out against the Catholic Church.

The scandal regarding child abuse?

I do not want to go through this, but the press is publishing woes every day. I am not condemning, but the Pope regards himself as the first and only Vicar of Christ on earth and that’s the reason he goes on these trips.

He mentioned that he wanted to follow on the steps of Saint Paul.

Except that Saint Paul, was not travelling in a bulletproof car, worth 500 thousand Euros. Cyprus’s government will purchase this car, as we have read, just for his two day visit. I have been scandalized by this information and I said that a bullet proof car does not suit a Christ’s Vicar, and that the public should bear the burden of such cost in the present economic crisis.

The Pope’s representatives have announced that he is coming to Cyprus to promote the humanitarian and Christian principles and values and that he wants to follow Saint Paul’s footsteps as well as meet with the representatives of the Orthodox Church in the spirit of brotherhood and with good intentions.

We do not dispute his good intention. I wish it is like this and that he resembles Saint Paul and gets acquainted with the treasures of the Orthodox Church. We wish he returns to the Orthodox Church and become an Orthodox Bishop again as he was before the Schism. This is the only proper reunion.

What do you think is hiding behind this visit?

The Vatican does not act in vain or undertake unintentional moves. All of his trips aim to present him as a Christian world leader. At the moment he is neither a proper Bishop, nor Orthodox, and therefore he is in no position to want to present himself as the First Bishop.

Do you think there might be political intentions behind this:

I do not know, but I believe that we are not going to derive a political advantage out of this visit; only incredible costs and great discord among the faithful.

The Archbishop has said that those who oppose the visit will take themselves out of the Church.

Wait! The Church, as the Archbishop himself stresses, is a democratic institution. It is one thing to voice our objections in mannerly way and another thing to misbehave. The Archbishop knows his limits very well.

Does the Holy Synod accept the different view?

The Archbishop is a democratic man and respects our views. He deals with us with a lot of love.

How could he be a democrat, when he has been elected as Archbishop in the way we all know? Formally he has been properly elected by the majority vote. In practive though, the way he was elected was not at all democratic.

I am not going to go into this. My position is very sensitive. I can say however, that inside the meetings of the Synod, the Archbishop behaves in a democratic way. I do not feel that he does not respect out views. He listens to us.

And he does what he wants in the end?

No. He upholds the decision of the Synod, even though he himself may hold a different view.

Was the new constitution of the Church written in a democratic way?

It was not written by the Archbishop but by a committee of the Synod and was presented for discussion during numerous conferences. The decisions are taken by majority.

People get the impression that the constitution was written in order to prevent you from ascending to the Archbishopric throne?

I wish that God will grant many years to the Archbishop and that we do not need new elections.

He himself had said that he was going to keep the throne only for five years. That is until the end of 2011.

The Holy Scriptures say that a thousand years are like one day! He must be the one to answer as to what he intends to do. I wish that we do not have to undergo the process of elections any time soon. Every Archbishop is elected through the will of God and not through any human intentions. If God wishes either A or B become Archbishop he will, even if we try to prevent him. The purpose of our lives is not to become Archbishop.

What is the purpose of your lives?

To be saved, to be with God, to love God and our brothers.

Do you think the Archbishop is trying to give the Church a ‘leader of the nation’ role?

I do not think he has these tendencies. He has abolished the title of “the Ethnarch” for himself. He knows his limits very well, but he loves and cares for his country.

He has recently stated that there is an organized effort to smear the Church’s prestige and integrity, by reviving the old and tried motto of its unpaid bills to the state. He attributed political incentives behind this campaign.

If he has spoken this way, this is a very serious allegation which everyone needs to consider very carefully.

Do you agree or disagree that the Church must repay its old unpaid bills to the state to the amount of 163 million?

I was not participating in the committee which had considered the issue. If, according to the law, the Church owes the state, then it must pay up. But if the law does not state this, then the Church must deal with the issue in a discrete manner and in accordance with the peoples’ needs in this present economic crisis. The Church must be very careful in its statements and deeds which may infringe on common sentiment. On the other hand, the state must be clear in its assertions and not mislead people by stating that the Church does not pay its taxes.

Mislead people?

It is wrong to say that the Church does not pay taxes, because it does.

Does the Limassol Metropolis agree to the imposition of capital gains tax?

I am not acquainted with these financial terms. When we sell some property we pay up our duties. We are not in possession of companies which make profit, we do not own hotels and factories, we have no investments and that’s why our financial state is terrible.

Where does your income come from?

We own one property with some rental income; we also get donations from people who love the Church and from the sale of pieces of land.

Source: Newspaper «Fileleftheros».

Translated from Greek by: Olga Kokkinos, journalist