BOSTON – Escorting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his recent visit to the United States was His Eminence Metropolitan Ioustinos of Nea Krene and Kalamaria from Thessaloniki, Greece, one of the youngest, most capable, and most scholarly hierarchs of the Church of Greece. He spoke to The National Herald about his experience and impressions during his visit to the Greek-American community.
He said, “first, I would like to express my sincere gratitude both to you, dear Mr. Kalmoukos, and to the publisher of The National Herald, Mr. Antonios Diamataris, for the opportunity you give me to address your respected readers… I have only positive impressions from the Patriarchal trip to the United States. When I visited the country for the first time in 2001, and now as well, I had a most pleasant experience. Twenty years after my first visit to America, I confirmed my first impressions. However, the main difference between the first and my second trip was that I now visited the United States as a member of the Patriarchal entourage. As you can understand, this second visit is far more important than the first. During the twelve days of the Patriarchal Visit, I was amazed by the warm respect shown to the person of our Patriarch, not just from our distinguished Greek-American brothers, but also from the political and state leadership of the USA. I am most certain that this honor was not the result of some secular courteous practice or diplomacy, but it was caused by the remarkable personality of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.”
When asked to make three key points that best describe the Greek-American community, he noted that “the first would be the ease with which the Greek Community joined the social fabric of the USA, making in fact a rather positive impact. I saw this not only on my first, but mainly on my second visit. The Greeks of America have contributed considerably towards achieving the American dream. It is no coincidence that the ‘Greek Lobby’ plays a leading role in the social, political, cultural, and economic structure and progress of the country. The second: Despite the change that is brought by time, place, the customs of this new place, and the distance or the time difference, the Greek-American community makes a strenuous effort to preserve their traditions, the values, the faith of their fathers, and to pass them on to the younger generation. Something indeed very difficult. In this effort the Orthodox Church plays the important role of the foundation, as well as the house and the roof. I was pleased to see the close connection of the Community with the Holy Archdiocese of America, and with the Holy Metropolises that comprises it, but also with our reverent Ecumenical Center, to which they belong ecclesiastically. I consider it a special blessing, for the Greek community of America, that they are under the paternal and ecclesiastical care of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the common Mother of us all.”
His final point, which he said he submits “with humility, without the slightest indication of criticism and purely out of love,” is that “I would have enjoyed if the Greek language was spoken more regularly in the gatherings of the Community. I think that language preserves a genetic and historical memory in a direct way. I am afraid that if the language is forgotten, the origin will soon be forgotten.”
Asked about how the local Church of Nea Krene and Kalamaria dealt with the coronavirus pandemic in recent months and how it is dealing with it today, he said, “the answer is clear and simple. We got through by applying all the health regulations for dealing with COVID-19. I admit that it was not an easy challenge. There were reactions from the so-called ‘deniers’. However, our steady approach in the implementation of the health regulations has borne fruit.”
Metropolitan Ioustinos then spoke about the gap between what the Church is and what it is not, saying, “I am afraid that we have little understanding of what the Church is, and even less experience, I may add of what the Church is. Most of us understand the Church as a social and charitable association, which is obliged to offer to those in need. An association which has a Board of Directors – the bishops – members, the people and the purpose – the social projects. Unfortunately, even though we are Orthodox, we often have a purely Protestant view of the Church. According to Orthodox teachings, the Church is the Body of Christ that saves the faithful. It is the place of meeting and union of man with God and of man with his fellow man. It is paradise on Earth. The main and exclusive purpose of the Church is the salvation of man. Its social mission is just a secondary purpose.”
When he was asked what people, especially young people, tell him about the Orthodox Faith and the Church, he replied that, “most of the people we talk to have respect for the Church and the Orthodox faith. What worries me, however, is that respect stems mainly from the acceptance of the Church as an important timeless religious institution, which was received by the ancestors and for which it should be honored. This may sound good, but it’s not good at all, because this understanding leads to the of the Church being seen as museum. The Church is anything but a museum. The Church is the source of Life, because it restores its members through Jesus Christ. It is a movement, a path from the ephemeral to the eternal. It is a true communion between God and men. We therefore suggest to all those asking about the Church to ‘pass over’ from the plain [automatic] acceptance of the Church to the conscious acceptance and participation in Its life. In simple words, we suggest the creation of interpersonal relationships within the Church. Relationships with the God of the Church and its members. Honestly, I tell you when a person enters the Church in this way, he then experiences an ‘Easter’ in him, a passage from the traditional religion to the experienced faith.”
Asked about the issues concerning him, he said, “it is the issues that concern every person on this planet. But what makes me especially sad is that young people feel frustrated with what they are experiencing. Naturally, they are not wrong. We adults ‘took care’ to give them a world full of pain and agony. However, other historical periods have had similar pain, or even more, and yet people have endured. And they endured, because they fought. And they fought, because they had principles and ideals that fueled their love for life and creation. There is no better example than the first generation of the Greek-American community.”