A conversation with Metropolitan Nicholas (Hatzinikolaou) of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki on the relationship between Church and State, science and religion, the main values of man’s life, and a proper attitude.
This article was translated from the Russian translation from the Greek by Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, professor and teacher at the Kiev Theological Academy, and Vice Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
—Your Eminence, does the Greek Church work together with the Greek government?
—The current relationship between the Church and government in Greece is unique. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world.
For example, the Greek Constitution begins with a prayer to the Holy Trinity. And this is because the first liberators of our country from the Turks did their work, the holy work of liberation, in the name of God, the Holy Trinity. In time, after enduring many changes, a model was created of close relations between the Church and State.
The Church submits to the State and is a part of the government apparatus subject to societal, public law.
In my view, this does not encourage a positive course of development for the Church, but it does have a beneficial effect on the nation.
The government gains no advantage or benefit from the Church’s submission to it, and this subordination is only of a formal nature.
But essentially, both the Church and the State play their own role.
This is why the slogan, “We need to separate the Church from the State” evokes a big question: “What will we separate?” The State is occupied with its own business, and the Church with its own business.
Of course, one also has to take into consideration the Marxist-atheistic prejudices of the “leftist” government, which proclaims that the Church is not needed at all.
—Are they the majority in the government?
—Only 19% of the Greek population voted for them; all the rest of the population did not vote at all. Thus, we are being governed by an active minority. I think that the Greek Church should not be afraid of the government’s innovations, and must confidently defend its position.
—Your Eminence, you were an astrophysicist in your past, and worked for NASA. There is a prejudice that science contradicts religion. What is your opinion?
—Yes, I was an astrophysicist, but my main sphere of research was medicine.
For some time I worked in bioethics, the use of medical methodology for technical aims. NASA also used astrophysical medicine. I united all the technologies. They did not contradict the faith.
Science is the knowledge of God’s creation. In studying how the world was created you bow down before the Creator. Then science is God’s blessing. And if a person imagines that he is god, then problems arise in science, and in life.
Communion with the Lord does not in and of itself negate the question of His existence.
Communion with God is an inalienable condition of the Orthodox way of life.
—Today among Christians a liberal attitude has arisen with regard to abortions. Are they permissible from the point of view of bioethics?
—Nowadays people strive to create life and cut it off themselves. This is an enormous error! After all, life is God’s gift. And it is our duty to be grateful for this gift!
Is euthanasia wise? I think that families need to work harder to create conditions for the suffering family member so that he would not desire death and could consciously pass over from temporal life into eternal life.
In our Metropolitanate we have a functioning spiritual center where people go who have lost all hope—those suffering from incurable diseases, who want to commit suicide or have recourse to euthanasia. We give them spiritual instruction, and help them want to live.
For example, not long ago a woman came to us, the mother of a young man who died, and said to me, “You helped us to conduct our son properly into eternal life; we are joyful about him and his departure.”
A fifty-five-year-old man who was doomed to die soon, thanked us: “Thank you Your Eminence, for helping me not to lose the value of life.”
We also dedicate a lot of time to disabled children.
The Church fights for these children’s lives! Love and faith are our best medicines. We are against forced death, be it euthanasia or abortion.
Mainly, these trials give birth to great love and faith in peoples’ hearts.
—The theme of your meeting with Kievans is death, pain, and suffering. How can we learn to love suffering?
—The apostle James says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (Jas. 1:2).
Why should we be joyful in temptations? Because God sends trial and gives help, medicine. As Abba Isaac the Ascetic says, “Glory be to God that with the aid of bitter medicines He saves and enlightens us.”
We do not ask for trials. Remember the “Lord’s Prayer”: “And lead us not into temptation.” The ruler of the world is the devil, but the ruler of all is God. It is God Who in a marvelous manner transforms all evil into good.