Future is in God's hands
Future is in God's hands
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Bishop Agathangelos, the Orthodox Church of
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
WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - Your Excellence, how should I introduce you to our
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.