Future is in God's hands

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Bishop Agathangelos, the Orthodox Church of Greece.

In spite of theological problems that have aroused throughout ages one can see a considerable progress in the Catholic-Orthodox relationships. The dialogue with the Patriarchate of Moscow is still difficult but much has been done to relate with particular Orthodox Churches of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. Especially the closer co-operation between the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church is very significant because of its role in the Orthodox world. After John Paul II's visit to Greece in 2001 numerous initiatives were taken, their aim being mutual relationships and formation of young generations. Staff exchange, scientific scholarships and collaboration in publishing turned out to be beneficial to development of dialogue and deepening of love between both Churches. On 24-29 February a group of 31 Orthodox priests and seminarians who studied at the university of Athens, visited Rome. The delegation was headed by Bishop Agathangelos, director general of the 'Apostoliki Diakonia'. Pope Benedict XVI received the delegation. And on the first days of June 2006 Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice visited Greece, with a group of 50 pilgrims. The aim of the pilgrimage was to return John Paul II's visit of 2001 and the meeting with Benedict XVI.

WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - Your Excellence, how should I introduce you to our readers?

BISHOP AGATHANGELOS: - As an Orthodox bishop it is hard to speak about myself. I can say what the Holy Council of my Church entrusted me with. The Archbishop of Athens and all Greece His Beatitude Christodoulos offered me the post of director general of the organization 'Apostoliki Diakonia' (www.apostoliki-diakonia.gr), which cares for missions, catechisation, education of seminarians and publications in the Church of Greece. 'Apostoliki Diakonia' originated 90 years ago but for 50 years it has dealt with missionary activities in countries in need. It helps other Churches, especially in Africa and Asia. It tries to cover the costs of seminarians' activities in poor countries, where it builds churches, hospitals and publishes books in local languages and dialects. Recently we have published books on health apart from books on theological and catechetical problems. This is very important in tropical countries. The physicians who work there have convinced us to publish materials about the prevention of tropical diseases. As one can see the Church does not only deal with problems of the soul but also of the body.

- What was the aim of the visit of the Orthodox Church of Greece in Rome, the delegation you headed at the end of February 2006?

- The members of our organisation wanted to get to know the tradition and culture of the Roman Catholic Church. First of all, we came here to discover everything what we experienced in the first millennium of Christianity when our Churches were not divided. That's why we visited the catacombs. It is very important that we get to know one another better, listen to one another and discuss without any fears and prejudices. It was made possible thanks to prayer and mutual love since love destroys barriers of fear. It concerns individual believers as well as whole churches.

- What is your opinion about the relationships between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Greece?

- The relationships have improved to a considerable extent. The visit of John Paul II to Greece in 2001 was crucial. He followed the footsteps of St Paul who had visited the Areopag in Athens where the Apostle had taught the people of Athens about the crucified and resurrected Christ. The Pope met Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and all Greece. Then the Archbishop received John Paul II in his bishops' palace. During the next years after the visit, i.e. when I directed 'Apostoliki Diakonia', we made contacts with the Catholic Church, especially with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The fruit of our collaboration was to publish a facsimile of the manuscript of the 'Menologue of Basil II', which has conserved in the Vatican Library. It is a richly decorated manuscript devoted to saints' lives. It has a special meaning since it was written just after the period of iconoclasm (iconoclasm was a religious movement against the cult of saints and religious statues, which developed in the 8th and 9th centuries, mainly in the eastern part of Byzantium, its origin being influenced by Jewish and Islamic traditions). This codex constituted a kind of turning point in the history of the Eastern Church that began to worship icons and rediscovered the meaning of beauty. When we published the facsimile of the 'Menologue' we invited Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, representative of the Vatican, librarian of the Holy Church, to pay a visit to Athens. He passed Benedict XVI's greetings. On this occasion he invited Archbishop Christodoulos to visit the Vatican.
Last year, through the Apostolic Nunciature, we offered the Catholic Church 30 grants for her members so that they were able to visit Greece in summer, learn our language, get to know our Orthodox culture and tradition. In one word, they could come closer to 'the other part' of the Church with which they were 'one' for a thousand years.

- Can the Orthodox Church of Greece become an example of ecumenical co-operation with the Catholic Church for other Orthodox Churches?

- I believe that every man of good will can discover the sense of this collaboration and learn to collaborate. The co-operation between the Churches cannot be compared with the relationships between countries. It has many aspects and one of them is the possibility of mutual visits that can overcome prejudices. This is very important since we are beginning a new stage of the dialogue between the Churches. It is significant that many Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates ( the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Churches of Cyprus and of Albania ( co-operate in the ecumenical sphere and appoint Greeks, who are professors at theological schools, as their representatives for ecumenical contacts.

- The Catholic Church is worried about some aspects of the EU politics, especially the promotion of visions of man and marriage that are contrary to Christian anthropology. What is the attitude of the Orthodox Church of Greece towards all that happens in the EU?

- Our Church feels anxious for these matters, too. We are sad to see that Europe, mainly Western Europe, departs from Christianity. Politicians do not want to acknowledge the identity of our continent, which comes from its history. This is a difficult matter and we can have many problems in the future. In order to face this situation the Churches must co-operate.
However, a question arises: how can we convince the EU politicians not to take decisions against family since some Protestant Churches acknowledge relationships of the same sex, the so-called homosexual marriages? That's why the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church is very important. We have much in common: tradition, theology, apostolic succession, we have also the same views concerning bioethical issues, human rights or peace in the world. For a thousand years we were one, and for another thousand years we were divided. There were many unpleasant situations in the history, we felt hurt many times but this does not mean that today, when we are entering the third millennium, we cannot live together as brothers.

- How can our Churches co-operate to oppose anti-Christian politics and stop the process of secularisation of Western civilizations?

- First of all, I would like to stress the fact that our theological dialogue gives testimony about Christ. Today people seek the truth and ask us why we are divided. How can you, in the Catholic Church, and we, in the Orthodox Church, convince our faithful of Christ's love?

- The delegation that you led met the Holy Father Benedict XVI...

- For each of us it was very important that we could meet Benedict XVI and personally hear his words about theology, words that flowed from his heart. After our meeting with the Pope we all are leaving with uplifted spirits to work for unity between our Churches. We will keep praying for this. These are our human plans and God will see them and bless us if we have good intentions and open hearts. The future of the world and of the Church is 'open' since it is in God's hands.

"Niedziela" 26/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl