Friday, March 19, 2021

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

K.H.: So we are to understand, Your Eminence, with what you are telling us that beyond the pandemic, the vaccine, the lockdown, all these situations we live in, there are a number of other issues that have to do with the relationship between theology and science and between the Church and the State.

M.H.: Do you want me to be more raw in how I say it? I don't know if it will provoke. When we say the word "superstition", what do we mean? If you open Babiniotis' dictionary you will see that superstition is the irrational belief in supernatural and mysterious forces that rule the world and affect our lives. This is superstition, where they do not believe in the real God, or that God rules the world, but it is directed by some invisible forces. And this is an expression of religion. Religion, said Father John Romanidis, has the element of mysticism, superstition and magic. Why? Because, when one believes that there are supernatural forces, mysterious, impersonal forces that rule the world and influence people, UFOs and whatever else, then immediately magic follows.

What is magic? To take various actions in order to atone for and appease these supernatural, invisible, mysterious forces. This thing is the combination of superstition and magic.

Who rejects superstition? Orthodox theology. What does it believe? It believes that God is the one who directs the world, the love of God created man and the world and He directs it. The uncreated energies of God are in all creation. There are no mysterious, supernatural, invisible and impersonal forces. The uncreated energy of God, the maker of life and wisdom, the providence of God directs the world.

And to put it even better. It is not the foods, the vitamins, the calories, the medicines and the vaccines that sustain us in life, but it is God with His uncreated energies that sustains us through food, through vitamins, through calories, through medicine and through the vaccines. This is the theological position. Why do I say that? When God decides to end life and the human soul leaves, then no matter how many vitamins and vaccines we take and how much food we eat, we will not live. Therefore, Orthodox theology expels every superstition, every magic, and this is why we say it does not have elements of religion, pagan religion.

And true science is that which expels superstition. It studies the human body, sees how information is transferred from DNA to mRNA, and how, after mRNA, transfers that information to the ribosomes in the cytoplasm, so that proteins can be produced. Who analyzed these? Science analyzed them very clearly, when the microscope was invented and even today, when the electronic microscope was invented.

And on this subject we have made great progress in science this year. Because first of all, when the virus, specifically the coronavirus, appeared, the scientists are the ones who isolated the virus, read its genetic sequence and thus the tests were created. Today we say we are going to do a test to see if we are negative or positive of the virus. Everyone does it and Christians do it. This is a result of science, because they read the genetic sequence of the specific virus. Then, with the help of electronic microscopes, the scientist himself sees clearly the three-dimensional structure of the protein, the spike glycoprotein, which he uses to enter the cell and use the cell like a pirate to reproduce it. This is how the vaccines came about. Therefore, I want to say that science, which has no superstition, sees with a microscope what is happening inside the body of every organism, every living thing and so on.

So we must have confidence in both Orthodox theology and true science that does not mix with philosophies and Eastern religions, etc. In any case each of them is within its limits and should not be confused.

K.H.: Just as, for example, we will not talk about noetic prayer with the family doctor, so also we should not ask a priest about vaccines.

M.H.: Correct. This is exactly how it is. When it comes to matters of activating noetic energy, which for many of us is inactive, this is something a good spiritual father can deal with. This is the work of a good spiritual father: to create repentance within us, or to put it simply, to repent in order to eliminate selfishness and to acquire love for God and for mankind. This is the work of the spiritual father. The work of a spiritual father is not to tell a spiritual child what clothes to wear, what car to buy, how to style one's hair, and whether they should go to a hairdresser or not. These things are unacceptable. This is not the work of a spiritual father. It is not the task of the spiritual father to analyze issues which belong to the sciences. Rather it is about trying to find the purpose for which a Christian lives and works, makes various choices, that is his task. Why does he do it? Does he do this for the glory of God, does he do it for his own sake, does he do it out of love for people?

I want to say that we must finally learn that a key element that has to do with our spiritual life is to gain a certain freedom. Dostoevsky has analyzed this in the The Brother's Karamazov, where he basically asks the question: "Happiness or freedom?" What is it? And he concludes that it is freedom. What freedom? Freedom has two meanings: it is freedom from something, such as from slavery, when we are slaves to ideologies, things, and there is freedom to something like love. Thus freedom has two meanings, to be freed from something that keeps me enslaved, to which I am a servant, and freedom is also to acquire the power to love. This is the work of the spiritual father. What we will eat, what is the health of the body, what medicines we will take, if we get sick what we should do, is the work of our personal doctor.

K.H.: Your Eminence, since God, therefore, has given us this gift of freedom - correct me where I am wrong - and every man is free to decide what he will do in his life, when we of our own choice choose to be enslaved and we want our spiritual father, for example, to give us permission if we can get the vaccine or not as opposed to a doctor who is in charge of it, does this at the same time mean that we have a problem, we abolish our freedom, we want someone to impose it on us, why does this take place, how do you explain it?

M.H.: You put it very well. This is explained by the maturity and immaturity of the spiritual child and the maturity and immaturity of the spiritual father. Let's put it more broadly. What does it mean to be a spiritual father? Does a spiritual father have his own spiritual children to do with them whatever he wants? No. They are children of God, God granted him the gift, the charism, to liberate them from slavery, to help them come out of being enslaved, to develope the natural will, to cease the operation of the gnomic will, so that the gnomic will with choices will become the natural will and be led towards God. In essence, they are not his spiritual children, but they are children of God.

This is why Saint Symeon the New Theologian, if you read his works, in his discourses addressed to monks he begins: "Fathers and brothers." He does not call them children, though sometimes he does call them children. Paternity in Christ does not abolish the brotherhood in Christ; we are brothers of one another. I am a Bishop and I have a charism, and some other Priest has another charism, but this does not abolish the brotherhood between us. We want to help people, but we are also brothers in Christ. God did not make lords and servants. A spiritual father does not have authority and a spiritual child is not a servant of a spiritual father. These are wrong situations and I would say they show the immaturity of both.

Let me give an example. It is like the plane that uses the wheels in order to develop a speed and to fly, and when it flies it picks up the wheels, it does not need them. When it lands again, it will need the wheels. Obedience to the spiritual father are those wheels where he will develop speed, so that he can fly, and when he will fly, he picks up the wheels. Moreover, will anyone throughout their life obey a spiritual father as a slave?

Ultimately God is our Father. The Bishops and Priests who work with the blessing of the Bishops are brothers and because they have more experience they help to develope within others the freedom to be freed from something slavish and then to develope this freedom as love. We cannot in our lives, whether we are Bishops, or we are Priests, hold on to our power throughout our lives, to have people as slaves, that is, to make followers, but to make them disciples, and many times disciples exceed us. And we must love it, we must want it, and we must ask our spiritual children about matters that we also need.

In addition, Saint Paisios, for example, made the distinction. I have experiences with Saint Paisios. I do not know what others say, I have lived very close to Saint Paisios and I slept one night where he kept me in his Hut. Well, he made a distinction, and when someone went to him - he was not considered a spiritual father himself - he said, "My child, these are your thoughts; remove these thoughts and you will be healed", and he was healed. Other times he sent them to the spiritual fathers. "Go to such and such spiritual father, this subject needs confession." Other times, since he collaborated with Professor Balogiannis, he would say, "This is a neurological issue, go to Balogiannis or some doctor." And other times he discerned that this was a demonic influence and said: "My child, this is demonic, go to Saint Gerasimos in Kefallonia or to Saint Nektarios to have a reading done for you, it is demonic." This is a true spiritual father.

K.H.: Your Eminence, allow me to end our conversation by borrowing from the conclusion to your letter that you sent to His Beatitude, since it has been published publicly. You conclude, therefore: "Human life is a blessing from God and is given to glorify God, to serve one another and for man himself to be saved for eternity."

M.H.: Yes, I think that's it. Our life is a gift from God, it is a gift from God for us to live. Why? To love God and people and finally enter the Heavenly Divine Liturgy. This is it, this is why I live. My life is not an end in itself. And when I use doctors, I take medicines and get the vaccine, I do not use them because I have overvalued life and I make life self-deified, life does not become self-deified by living for many years. How many years will we live? I consider that I did the vaccine because, perhaps God gave me the opportunity to live a little longer, to benefit some people and finally to repent and prepare properly for my encounter with Christ. I do not take drugs or vaccines to live 200 years, but to give me a time of repentance or I would say in preparation for the great encounter with Christ, where the judgment will be, the first judgment.

K.H.: Your Eminence, thank you very much for the time you spent and especially for everything you told us today.

M.H.: Be well. Thank you too.

K.H.: We wish you a Happy New Year, Your Eminence. Have a good day.

M.H.: Thank you, you also. Be well.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.