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Excerpts from Follow Me

Concerning Church Scandals

by Metropolitan Augustinos of Florina (State Church of Greece)

One reason young people are not attracted to missionary work is the sad state of the Church today. One has to be blind not to see it. Must we bring to mind all that the Christianitke Spitha and other Church publications and religious periodicals have written in the past decade? How can our young people be attracted to serve the Church when they see—unfortunately, holy fathers, they have eyes and do see—clever, vile persons who offer no essential service to the Church or community, by the most evil means succeed in jumping into the flock and climb to the highest places, pushing aside the faithful and talented? Or when they see that such people, taking the tiller of Church government in their hands in our democratic homeland, exercise almost absolute authority and treat Christians as irrational beasts? Or when they see that faithful men and women are held in ill favor, but flattery and worldly minded relatives surround the bishop and comprise the select staff of his Metropolis? Or when they see that a metropolitan's tour reaps a golden harvest? Or when they see that the ranks of the Church, coming from the poorest of families, are carried around in gleaming limousines, which even statesmen and generals envy? Or when they see that luxury reigns in certain metropolitan palaces in which magnates are welcomed and are amazed at the life of ecclesiastic rulers? Or when they see in the middle of Athens apartments and palaces that are the personal property of bishops and their relatives? Or when they hear that sisters and nieces are given generous dowries taken from despotic treasuries or that elite grooms are bought for them with sacred monies? Or when they hear that metropolitans do not happily stay in small or poor metropoles but, after tasting the demon of greed and vanity, leave no stone unturned in their efforts to be transferred to palaces and richer sees, neither fearing God nor shamed by man? Or when they see that preachers of the Gospel, faithful people, are persecuted to extinction for condemning illegal and uncanonical practices by the leaders of the Church? Or when they see that no war or battle is waged against the powerful of the day, who by anti-Christian word and deed offend the laity? Or when they hear that scandals of a moral nature break out in the halls of archbishops and are circulated throughout the entire region without the official Church becoming alarmed or disturbed? Or when they hear that dying bishops leave enormous amounts in their wills to their blood relatives and other dear persons, and the heirs, like blackbirds, gather round these wretched wills, coming to blows and going to civil court to settle their differences? My dear Church, how can I express all the sufferings that the Mystical Body of Christ has endured at the hands of the evil shepherds, who have not entered into your holy flock by the gate, but another way?

So, when our youth are witnesses by eye and ear of the reigning disorder and wretchedness within the Church, how do you expect them to be attracted by missionary ideals and make the decision to serve the Church in extreme selflessness? There are no educated young people with high interests in life today because there are no models, no heroic examples among our priests. Youth is attracted by heroes; it worships its heroes from whatever walk of life they come. Through his example, a heroic general inspires the officers and soldiers under him and leads them to victory, glory, and honor. On the other hand, a cowardly general can disappoint even the bravest men, and create a spirit of defeatism, leading to shameful defeat. A lion can lead deer to victory, but a deer commanding lions leads to defeat. So when Christian orders are devoid of leaders who are equal to the task of holy mission, nothing grand or high can be accomplished. The mission will vegetate.

As Church history bears witness, holy bishops and priests have a following of young people with holy desires who are eager to strive for missionary work, but bad bishops do not attract such youth. Wretched people gather around the axle of episcopal authority of bad shepherds, ready to take over wealthy parishes. Their goals are the episcopal thrones, which they strive to attain through vanity and greed, faithful copies of the bishops over them. As they destroy honorable Gospel workers, they load down their favorites with crosses and monastic garb and call them missionaries, into whose hands they place preaching and catechesis. Wolves shepherding the laity! No wonder there has been a breakdown of preaching, religious instruction, and confession in Greece. "This is the charge against the leaders of the Jews," said St. Chrysostom, "that shepherds were truly shown to be wolves. Not only did they not direct the masses, but ruined their ability to do so" (Homily 32 on Matthew's Gospel, Migne 57:379). Therefore, the catharsis of metropolitan halls of their vile elements—of God-peddlers and Christ-sellers in the garb of apostolic shepherds—is and must be the most serious duty of every honorable Church worker, every believer who, according to Gregory of Nazianzus, is a follower and imitator of Christ, guiding by all his generation, from manger to Golgotha. He is also called to take the three-pronged lash and chase the money-changers from the Temple. Let everyone understand this. Without cleansing the Church, without the clean, surging wind of the Holy Spirit, there can be no serious reason for mission, here or abroad. It is a joke to think that by technical means, by decrees and regulations, we can create a spiritual life and change every bishopric into an upper room at Jerusalem, from which issue fiery men for the spiritual edification of the world....

One final reason why the ranks in all but the fewest missionary centers are not sustained by an influx of new stock is the same one that St. Chrysostom observed in his own time (of all the Church Fathers, he had the most active passion for missions). The reason is this: There are faithful young men and women who could offer much to a missionary movement; however, these people (who are so scant yet so precious) do not stay in the world and struggle under the Cross to help their spiritual fathers and teachers whom they see groaning through lack of help—they leave. Where do they go? They go to the desert or to the mountains and lead a monastic life. The brilliance of Tabor's light draws them. Let's let St. Chrysostom (who himself groaned under his same abandonment) speak to these faithful beings, who could stay and help in missionary work and save souls, yet leave their spiritual fathers and teachers to carry out the difficult struggle in this generation alone.

Paul the Apostle, for one, went from Jerusalem to Illyricum, another Apostle to the land of India, another to the land of the blacks, and others to various parts of the world; yet we do not dare venture out from the borders of our own homeland, but look for luxury, nice homes, and every other abundance. Who of us ever hungered for the word of God? Who has ever undertaken a tiring journey for the Gospel? Who is in the wilderness? Who has gone to a far-off country? Which of our teachers ever worked to help others who were hungry or suffering? Who has died a daily death?... And if one were to be found having traces of that apostolic life and behavior, he leaves the cities, markets, the company of the world and his duty to work the salvation of others, to order their lives through teaching the Gospel, and goes off to the mountains. And if one were to ask him the reason for his departure, he will start giving excuses. But his excuses contain no pardon. For what does he say? "That I, too, not be destroyed, that I not be drawn into the wave of evil, that my spirituality and virtue not be diminished, I therefore abandon the world and flee to the mountains." However, would it not be better to lose something of your spirituality that others may gain some, instead of fleeing and seeing your brothers being lost from afar? So, when some are indifferent to virtue and others who are zealous and concerned for virtue flee far from the crowd, far from the holy war being waged in the world, I ask you how will we conquer the enemies of faith and virtue?

Truly these are golden words that have great significance, for they proceed from an Ecumenical Father of the Church who like few others loved the monastic life!* O chosen young people, the genuine preaching of the Gospel pulled you from the depths of sin into spiritual life, and loving fathers and teachers for years prepared you for missionary work. They had many golden hopes in you, but now you are leaving for the mountains. You leave with empty excuses. You leave in hard days, when the Anti-Christ is raging in the world; souls are lost every day, and your fathers and teachers struggle hard for the sacred and holy. You leave them alone. Go then to Mt. Tabor and there rejoice in your spirits. But we ask you, "Is your conscience at rest?" Before you answer, meditate a second and third time on the golden words of St. Chrysostom. They were written for you!**


* In his Sixth Homily on Ephesians, St. Chrysostom stresses that one cause for falling away from Church life is that pious people, endowed with their gift of working in the world as missionaries, flee to the mountains and stay there forever and thus leave the ecclesiastical stage free to be taken by lazy and insufficient elements. This is what he says in a related passage: "They, who were living virtuously, and who under any circumstance might have confidence, have taken possession of the tops of the mountains, and have escaped out of the world, separating themselves as from an enemy and an alien and not from a body to which they belonged. Plagues too, teeming with untold mischiefs, have lighted upon the Churches" (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 13, Philip Schaff, ed., Eerdmans Publications, Grand Rapids, p. 78. See also, K. Kontogones, "Ekklesiastike Historia," Athens: 1876, vol. 1, p. 480).

** What we wrote here we do not wish to be misinterpreted. We are not against monastic life, an ancient order of the Church that has offered resplendent fruit of the Holy Spirit. We have also written in periodicals concerning the monastic order and published two books, the Pearl Without Price and Holy Summons. But we believe that we are not sinning in stressing that monastic life, as it presents itself today, is going through a crisis and is in need of renewal to reattain its ancient grandeur (see our book, National Anniversary, Athens, 1970, pp. 37—63). Monastic life, renewed according to the ancient prototypes, can offer so much to Church life and community. It is impossible not to well forth from its bowels again missionary men who will continue the work of Cyril and Methodios, Cosmas the Aitolean, and so many other monks known and unknown, who for the sake of saving souls looked beyond their own spiritual interests and threw themselves into the furnace of the world and underwent hardships. And by flaming love for humble humanity everywhere they took up what Paul said, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3), as elsewhere he says, "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being (I Cor. 10:24), a saying which signficantly had an influence on the soul of St. Cosmas the Aitolean, who left the monastery to do missionary work, that from the hesychasm which he had practiced for sixty years he went out to missionary activity and the famous monk Christophoros Papoulakos during a dramatic interview with the champion of the Orthodox Faith, Phlamiatos (see K. Bastia, "Ho Papoulakos," Athens, 1963, ed. 4, pp. 112-20).

St. Chrysostom sighs in lack of missionary zeal for saving souls and cries, "Woe is me, that I have not known how much it takes to gain souls" (see Homily 18 on the Acts of the Apostles, Migne 60, 149).

From Follow Me, by Augustinos N. Kantiotes, Bishop of Florina, Greece. Trans. and Foreward by Asterios Gerostergios (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1989), pp. 370-378.