Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Orthodox Church and Science Today: An Interview With Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos (1 of 2)


This was a recorded interview by the journalist Katerina Houzouri with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos on the issue of Orthodoxy and Science regarding contemporary issues, conducted for the Radio Station of the Church of Greece on 4 January 2021.
Katerina Houzouri: We have the special pleasure and honor to host His Eminence the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou Mr. Hierotheos. Your Eminence, we wish you a Happy New Year.

Metropolitan Hierotheos: Good morning to you and the listeners. May you be well, have strength, health and most importantly have inspiration. This is very important because all our saints talk about inspiration. That is, the Christian, as both Saint Porphyrios and Saint Sophronios said, resembles the poet. Just as the poet and the artist is inspired, when he starts in the morning, he is inspired and he begins to create his work, so we must be inspired for God, for life, for love and for God, and so on. It is something I would like to emphasize today at the beginning to the listeners and offer my wish: Let us have spiritual inspiration.

K.H.: It is, indeed, a very nice wish, Your Eminence. Let's get to the issues of today. Thank you again for your time and I want to ask you at the beginning of our conversation: How did you decide to get vaccinated? Do you want to make a small reference to this and then we have a lot of important things to discuss on the occasion of the vaccine?

M.H.: In a text that I wrote, "Why I Was Vaccinated", I analyze this issue thoroughly, how this issue arose. You have known for a long time, because we have known each other for 30 years, you know that I have dealt with the subject of bioethics and biology. I taught at the University of Lebanon, at the Balamand School of Theology, I was invited to various medical schools to speak on bioethical issues such as genetics, cloning and so on, and I have also written a relevant book Bioethics and Biotheology, and it is precisely for this reason that the Medical School of Ioannina, even though I am not a doctor, awarded me not just imply with an honor, but because they read my book, they understood my concern and gave me an Honorary Doctorate from the Medical School of Ioannina.

Thus, I'm dealing with this issue. I know what DNA means, what RNA means, what Messenger RNA means, I know how information is transcribed from DNA and then translated into proteins. So I know these issues and I study all these relevant texts.

A journalist, about a month ago, asked me: "Let me ask you directly, will you get the vaccine?" And I said to her: "I will get the vaccine, when it is approved by the World Organizations (it had not been approved then); let us see what the Holy Synod will say." Eventually the decision would be that it is an issue each person can freely choose, but from the discussions that took place in the Synod at the time before they made a decision, I of course said that "I will also ask my treating doctors." I did all of this. So I was ready.

And at some point in the discussion that took place between the Minister of Health, Mr. Kikilias, and the Archbishop, it emerged that someone should go in place of the Archbishop, because he himself could not take the vaccine because he previously had the virus and tested for antibodies, so they said I should do it. Of course I did not do it because the Minister of Health told me, but because the Archbishop told me, and I did it because I believed in it.

And from a medical point of view, I believed and still believe that we are in a war and in this war we must not remain apathetic, when so many people are dying. The Church is always against every war, because it destroys the peace that must exist in societies, but when there is a war, it goes to the front line and blesses the weapons "for altars and hearths". And this is precisely what the issue is, it is a war "for altars and hearths", that is, for the churches, temples and houses. When the shops and the houses and financial institutions are shut down, and the temples are closed, in any case there is a war.

In this war we must go forward and the Church must help and I would say from her own interest, that there should be freedom of worship so that this etiology of the masses does not exist and the temples should be closed. Under these conditions I received the vaccine. Of course, I also asked professors here in Greece and I have four well-known professors in America, who told me: "Proceed without fear and get the vaccine."

K.H.: I noted what you said and emphasized: "I asked my doctor", because vaccination is a matter for the doctor and because the parents, when the child is very young, consult with the pediatrician to give the child the vaccinations that need to be done where there are many, if we all remember from our childhood. It's a matter, then, clearly for the doctor whether or not I should take the vaccine.

M.H.: This is correct. Because, indeed, as I have noted in the text which I wrote, that today, when a child is born, by the age of 10 they receive about 16 vaccinations. The 13 are obligatory, the three are optional and repeated many times and the life expectancy and age of each person increases. Well, this is a matter for the doctor, it is a matter for science, it is not a matter for the spiritual father.

I read various texts, and I read a text which seemed to be a serious text and it said that today there are no saints to ask them if we should get the vaccine, while in the past there were saints, today we have to ask our spiritual father, but if our spiritual father does not know the subject, we must see what science says. It is not a matter of spirituality. We have to make the distinction, one thing is the work of the spiritual father, the other is the work of the doctor.

What is the work of the spiritual father? I say this because you pointed it out well, that there is a confusion on this issue and it needs to be clarified. What is the work of the spiritual father? According to the whole Orthodox tradition, the spiritual father helps man in his inner life. That is, our soul has the noetic energy which is dead, and only the rational energy works. Well, the work of the Church for the spiritual father is to activate this noetic energy, so that prayer can be activated, so that love for God and humanity can be activated, as Saint Maximus the Confessor says, in order that we may go from purification, to illumination, to deification. This is the work of the spiritual father. The task of the doctor, and of science in general, is to help in the health of the body.

We must not confuse matters. A doctor must not interfere in spiritual life of man, and a spiritual father must not interfere in the work of science. Father John Romanides told us when a theologian must enter into science, and that is only if he is at the same time a scientist and knows science, nor should the scientist enter into theology unless he is at the same time a theologian. The boundaries are very clear. There is one purpose for science, there is another purpose for theology. The purpose of the doctor is one thing, the purpose of the spiritual father is another. There should be no confusion. As the purpose of the State is different, the purpose of the Church is also different. There can be no confusion and no identification of the boundaries, and no substitution, that is, for State to do the work of the Church and the Church to act and do the work of the State. This cannot be done.

We live in an age in which confusion really prevails and we must find the limits and these limits were implemented by the Fathers of our Church. Basil the Great, for example, came to Athens, to an idolatrous Athens, and went to the Schools of Philosophy, to the Universities where 9 to 10 sciences were taught at the time. The mother of science was rhetoric, then philology, philosophy, history, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, medicine. He learned these from idolaters, over the course of 4 to 5 years, and it appears in his interpretive work the Hexaemeron, the way he interpreted the creation of the world in six days. He uses a lot of material from his studies to interpret the creation of the world. Anyway, this is one thing and the way God created the world is another. Who made the world? God. How does the world operate? This is a matter for science. What happens to cells, what happens to DNA, what happens to RNA? This is not the work of theology.