Interview with Metropolitan Nikolaos of Messogea and Lavreotiki "On Pascha."
Who is Metropolitan Nikolaos?
The Metropolitan of Messogea and Lavreotiki, Nikolaos, was born on April 13th 1954 in Thessaloniki, Greece.
He studied physics at the University of Thessaloniki. He continued his studies at Harvard and MIT (USA) where he obtained postgraduate degrees and doctorates. He worked as a researcher and research assistant in the laboratory of angiology of the New England Deaconess Hospital (U.S.). At the same time he was a scientific associate of the United States Company NASA and the company Arthur D. Little.
He taught courses at Harvard bonded M.I.T, the Medical School of University of Crete Medical School of Athens University. He studied theology at the Theological School of the Holy Cross in Boston in the United States and was named honorary student of the Theological School of the University. He was the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and the President of the Synodical Bioethics Committee of the Church of Greece.
He spent two years on Mount Athos, after which he became a monk on March 18, 1989 at the Holy Stomiou Konitsis Monastery, and the next day he was ordained deacon and then priest on September 10th of that year. Later he entered into the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra. Between 1990 and 2004 he served as a parish priest to the Athonite dependency (Metohion) of the Saviour's Ascension (Simonopetra Monastery) in Byrona, a suburb of Athens.
He was elected Metropolitan of Mesogaias and Lavreotikis on April 26th 2004. He was consecrated to the episcopacy on April 30th 2004 by the ever - memorable Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Christodoulos having as his co consecrators another fifteen Hierarchs, in the Cathedral of Athens. He is the second Metropolitan of Mesogaias and Lavreotikis, after the Most Revrened Metropolitan Agathonikos and the hundred and tenth after St. Paul till today.
Interview "On Pascha" by His Eminance Metropolitan Nikolaos of Messogea and Lavreotiki on Anna Panagotarea's program "Oudis Anamartitos" or "No One is Sinless" of ERT
Panagotarea: We’re used to looking at it like… five minutes after midnight eating magiritsa, and candles, and… I think Greek customs are good but, I think there must be some deeper meaning.
Met. Nikolaos: Of course the Resurrection has the deepest meaning, not just deeper or deep. And at the same time it is a wonderful feast, as far as her celebration goes, her customs, her outward considerations… So for example, the Epitaphios is something very beautiful. The custom with the eggs is something that is a piece of our heart. The candles… the way the light goes out on the night of the Resurrection. The repetitive Christ is Risen… we say “Christ is Risen!” and again “Christ is Risen!” and again “Christ is Risen!” And we can’t get enough of it.
Panagotarea: They never end…
Met. Nikolaos: All of this has importance, they have meaning which we could… lightly accept, we could stay at the outer and outward side of them, we could enjoy the whole festive atmosphere, the lamb…
Panagotarea: Isn’t it wonderful!
Met. Nikolaos: They are exquisite I think! Such a surprise!
I remember when I was in America, where one of my most important exams happened to be on Great Friday and… I couldn’t go! I went to my professor who was a Jew and I said to him, “look, it’s Great Friday, I can’t come!” He said, “but…. didn’t you all have Good Friday last week?” The Catholics had it… I’m talking to you about Greek Pascha! Do you know what Greek Pascha means? He said “what does it mean?”
It means Christmas, it means 4th of July, it means Thanksgiving, it means your namesday, it means your birthday… EVERYTHING together!
And everything lives this: nature, people, the educated, the simple, the faithful, the unfaithful… it’s a feast for everyone, hurt and joyful, and on this day I don’t think I can give an exam… I want something else, you’ll understand and you’ll let me write it on another day! And he understood and he let me write it on the second day of Pascha.
I know the good, the beautiful that exists even today in a society that seems to further itself from these warm customs, as well as from the warmth of the Faith, as its logic advances.
Panagotarea: I’d say by seeing that… what goes on Sunday and Feasts at Church seeing what goes on with the youth, I’d say that people our looking to find the Faith, and I’d say the meaning of the Resurrection is really powerful.
Met. Nikolaos: That’s how it is, but you said “looking to find the Faith…” In the olden days they didn’t look to find the Faith, they had it in them! Today we look for it, and good for us, this is something really beautiful. And also the Resurrection is something really powerful that is offered. The meaning of the Resurrection of course is beyond all this: It is this victory over death by Christ… I’ll say it a bit differently. That which impresses me is the far away idea of the Resurrection. I think the Divinity of Christ has two feet on which our Faith is based, the Faith of each rational person. The one foot is the Nativity of Christ from the Virgin, and the other foot is the Resurrection from the Dead.
There are other amazing people who appeared in the world, lets say the Prophets, the Saints… they came naturally, and with the known natural way they left the world.
Panagotarea: Except for Elijah…
Met. Nikolaos: Elijah though came naturally, it’s just that Enoch and Elijah ascended up… we don’t have an ascension here.
Panagotarea: We also have an Ascension.
Met. Nikolaos: Here… That’s something else, but the Ascension is minor in the face of the image which impresses us. The important thing to which someone is called to believe in, and if he accepts it (it doesn’t fit into his logic) he accepts the Divinity of Christ, it couldn’t happen differently… its the Nativity from the Virgin, and the Resurrection from the Dead. That He dies the way we heard on Great Friday, during these days, for us, (inexplicable for the human way of thinking) and then He comes out of the tomb and...
He gives this l i f e to t h i s world, to the soul of each of us, and to all of us!
So we say therefore that… here we have a specific person, and you’ll give me some time to describe this.
The Church doesn’t hesitate to say that which blows our logic to bits and pieces, and she says “He is God!” Because He came into the World in a manner… full of mystery and humility, but at the same time full of majesty. He’s born of the Virgin… we’ll leave that to the side for now. Specifically in the case of these days, He is Crucified, He dies, His death is confirmed, and He is Resurrected. He appears for forty days “in another form” (Translators Note: To clarify, His Eminence is referring that the Lord’s Body was the same body which He had when He was Crucified etc, but it was in its glorified, spiritual form, as mankind was created prior to the Fall.) as the Evangelist Mark says – something different – He comes through the closed doors. They say... whats this thing!? They live this outer battle, they doubt Him, Thomas… what a beautiful thing!
Panagotarea: Can I say something…
Met. Nikolaos: I just want to continue on a bit… So imagine, and then Christ draws away and leaves… so… what remains? I like this a lot, and I want to say it! A teaching remains that is confirmed in the continuation. He leaves them His last commandments, He tells them: “If you want to be first, you got to be last.” Which one of us would choose this… no one. If you want to be first, to be Lord, you have to be last, to be the servant. He tells them, simple fisherman, poor disciples, unimportant, irrelevant, they couldn’t understand Him… and He tells them: “After I leave, they’ll lead you to the Synagogues, to the court houses, don’t pre meditate what you’ll say. Don’t think if they ask me this question, I’ll answer this etc. “It will be given to you in that day, what to say and what to answer.” Fap! The wisdom from above will come, and it will tell you what to answer.
If you want to create a bran new religion, I think simple logic would follow that I would get my own people, I’d train them, I’d make them go through an intense program, I’d tell them how to mimic by some way…
Panagotarea: That’s what usually happens…
Met. Nikolaos: Ma, it didn’t happen like this here! And imagine what happened! Christ leaves; the Apostle Paul has the vision of Damascus, he takes into him the Faith of the Resurrection. In thirty years, out of the way goes both Peter and Paul, with the first persecution of Nero. So thirty years… we’re talking 1980 till 2010. And then they start to persecute…
Panagotarea: And they persecute, and then horrible heresies come up, in the tens and hundreds…
Met. Nikolaos: After the heresies start, the deceptions. The Christians begin to quarrel amongst themselves, and this thing goes on for 2000 years till today. And it reaches… and we hit it, and we ourselves, us Christians betray it. Me specifically, with my life, with my presence, with an argument…
after we’re done this show, we could go behind the set and we could argue about unbelievable details, if we eat fish the one day, and I don’t know what we do the next.
That’s who we are. In this entire thing, there’s the power of God, proved and confirmed.
God could never have come without dying and rising. It would be impossible if He who came was not born of the Virgin. My logic embraces these two facts, in such a way that they are mandatory in accepting the Divinity of Christ!
Panagotarea: That’s true what you say, but I want to ask you: when His disciple, Thomas, doubts Him himself, he doubts that he has Christ in front of him, and he checks Him, His hands, His side… what should people today think?
Met. Nikolaos: They should also doubt Him! Is there something more beautiful? I was at another show… I don’t remember it could have been here, and I had said, what a beautiful thing it is, the doubting of God! Ma… the Church says, “O the good doubts of Thomas!”
Panagotarea: But it could lead to plani* (Translators Note: There’s no such word in English for the Greek word plani, prelest in Slavonic. The closest thing is deception. But it means a spiritual deception of a deeper field, probably the soul has gone astray and is in danger of being lost, ie: hell).
Met. Nikolaos: Pardon?
Panagotarea: It could lead to plani…
Met. Nikolaos: So, let it be led there, it could also be lead after to return. But it won’t be lead to unwavering and fervent faith if doubt does not take place!
I find no fault with doubt… because the other person with childlike simplicity could admit…
Doubt sometimes falls upon me… I’d like to so much… but I like Thomas! And was it just Thomas? As if the others didn’t doubt? The Gospel says there, “Christ allowed them to not believe those who had seen Him Risen from the dead.” It wasn’t just Thomas, it was the others too! When the woman disciples went they said “Oh come on now…” They couldn’t accept it, they weren’t ready. And the evangelists said it about themselves, those who gave their very own lives.
Panagotarea: But last year when you had said on our show that we can doubt God, we had received endless phone calls from people who were saying that they didn’t understand this.
Met. Nikolaos: What does it means to doubt God?
Panagotarea: No… yes, they don’t understand how we can teach to doubt God.
Met. Nikolaos: No, we don’t teach people to doubt God. I said something before… If someone has a childlike simplicity and it comes out from inside of him, it’s not bad for him to doubt. If though inside of him questions begin to be born. And I have questions; I have questions about death, I have questions about social injustice, how does all this whole…. THING tie in with God. If you were God, would you have… would you accept such a world as this one that exists? Would you accept that God is betrayed daily by the faithful and by the Church?
Panagotarea: But He hasn’t left our will free?
Met. Nikolaos: He’s left our will free, but from above how would you see it? I would have made a proper world, with the minds of the 21st century, the morphological minds. I wouldn’t make a world like this… That’s what I think… That’s what I say inside of me. This is the beautiful doubting of God.
Panagotarea: If it’s like this then…
Met. Nikolaos: The Church says in the beautiful troparia that we’ll hear the day after tomorrow, the Sunday of Thomas: “O the g o o d doubt of Thomas!” This means that it isn’t… I’d say… the meaning of the word doubt is more soft… doubt is, I don’t dismiss it, but I don’t know it yet. I want my heart to open… I don’t go along with the lies of a dead faith, because I’m scared, because I feel insecure. But I say “My God, I don’t understand you, I’m d r o w n I n g, I want to breath!”
say it… I was at the hard moments of a girl some days ago, that was… leaving this world. And I asked her, “why don’t you tell me” I dared because I have that… presence with her, she herself gave me that strength. She says to me “Fr. Nicholas,” that’s what she calls me, “give me your blessing. I’m s l i p p i n g into the next life!” I said to her “How do you feel the next life?” She says “as r e a l life!” “So…” I said, “what do you do?” She said “I go in, and I get the fragrance of eternity, and then I become well, and I come back.” I said to her, “do you doubt God at all?” “No,” she said “I long after Him.”
This thing was something very sacred to me. I wrote down all the dialogue after because faith was being born in me!
The meaning of doubting therefore, is not the meaning of outright dismissal. But it’s, my God, what I conceive… it’s so s m a l l to except in me, you m u s t be something else. Your not that which I understand. And I’m going to experiment to see, how will my life change so I can see you more clearly, so I can distinguish you more precisely!?
Panagiotarea: Geronda, all those customs which you referred to before, do they help us go to this destination, or do they help us go further away from this destination?
Met. Nikolaos: I’ll tell you! There are… they could drug, they could put our soul to sleep, and they could transfigure the feast into a festivity, to outer things. The celebration, to a mere celebratory event. They could create emotional things only… memories… how nice it was…
Panagiotarea: The good old days…
Met. Nikolaos: How nice it was, that the Epitaphoi (Translators Note: His Eminence is referring to the processions that take place towards the end of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday which takes places on Great Friday night. In Greece, due to there being multiple Churches within a close radius of each other, these processions usually meet somewhere and continue on together, this is turned into a huge deal, competitions on who has the nicest Epitaphio etc.) would come from here and from there. They told me, we should arrange this year that all the Epitaphoi meet up. And I said, I don’t like this thing. The priests with their cell phones… one Epitaphio is delaying, the other is stuck somewhere, but… you know in the end, a feast is taking place so… eah but God from above who’s watching us must be saying, “well ok, are they playing, what the heck are they doing?”
So under this understanding, when this whole thing is taken away from the rest, I don’t think it helps. It just relaxes people psychologically… it brings some variety into our life.
Imagine though throughout all this, for someone to feel his candle melting. The “Come receive the light..” It touches me every time… everyone getting the Paschal light from one candle.
Panagiotarea: Your helping me now… last year, you went and got the Light (Translators Note: the Holy Light that comes down miraculously on Holy Saturday morning in the Church of the Holy Resurrection, Jerusalem) and it was a big feast, and we saw you coming down from the airplane and all that, but do you know how many said “you know, they go in there with matches in the Temple to get the Light, what do they want this whole ceremony around it?”
Met. Nikolaos: Do they know they go into the Temple with matches?
Panagiotarea: Eah, they imagine they do.
Met. Nikolaos: That’s right, they imagine. I’ll tell you what happened, what happened to me. The Synod sent me, and I went with a hope to see what this thing is.
Panagiotarea: You’ve heard this though…
Met. Nikolaos: I’ll tell you, and you’ll understand what I heard. So I went, and there were many people… police, we’d say Special Forces, it was horrifying. To go a small distance, let’s say 300 meters, it took us 1 hour and a half! In any case, the Patriarch went in, and someone told me…
Panagiotarea: So in the Holy Tomb….
Met. Nikolaos: In the Holy Tomb, there was the usual silence, and this anticipation for the Holy Light. And beside me there was a tall clergyman beside me who said to me, “come on now, Holy Light, what Holy Light, the theological light is what’s important!” This… bothered me! The people were… there were Russians, Romanians, the Patriarch came out… we got the light immediately. Before this he said to me “they must be lighting the oil lamp!” I didn’t say anything, but it bothered me. Going out, separately two couples came to me, one who was from Anthousa , and one who was from Rafina, and they asked me if I watched how the big oil lamp which was above us was lit by the Holy Light. I naturally didn’t notice, but I said to myself, “go figure, the simple people l i v e d this, but a bishop had the doubts of his rational mind!” I don’t have a specific reason to say that the Holy Light doesn’t light by itself, here the other thing happened (the Resurrection) so is this not possible? From the other hand... if it can’t happen? But they told me what happened from above me, and I said may it be blessed!
It’s so beautiful how it comes out, and this hope of everyone is to get it… and how in 2-3 minutes everyone's candles are lit! When we say “Come Receive the Light…” on the Sunday of Pascha it takes us… 10 minutes to light our candles, 600 people. There, under 2 minutes, 5000 people had their candles lit! The fervor of it all... But the thought… then there were airplanes from Romania, from Russia, to take the Holy Light, that Light that came out of the All Holy Tomb!
We reached Athens, 17 flights went on from there! On Mount Athos, military boats were waiting to take the Light to the Monasteries from Ouranoupolis. What a beautiful thing, for us all to take from the same light. And this is the inextinguishable light of the Resurrection! This Light which doesn’t end. Our candles will go out, our eggs will break, our lambs will get eaten… that which remains… and even the feast will end! The joy of the Resurrection… “and your joy, no man shall take away from you!” Such words are so beautiful…
Panagiotarea: You're so right. You’ll allow me to take a break, and we’ll be back in half a minute.
Met. Nikolaos: Of course.