Perspectives from Greece
A Conversation with His Eminence
Metropolitan Ignatius IV of Arta
By Evagelos Sotiropoulos*
August 22, 2012
Welcome to Canada, Your Eminence. Before we begin this morning, I understand that you have been the ruling hierarch in Arta since 1988 – can you kindly familiarize us with your Metropolis?
Let me first say that it is great to be with you here in this beautiful country and this truly wonderful Metropolis.
Indeed, I became Metropolitan in 1988; I was ordained a deacon in 1971 and a priest in 1974. Before this, however, I was very involved in the Church in Arta as a layperson since I was born and raised in this northwest region of Greece.
The Metropolis has 96 parishes and three monasteries for women. In addition, the life of the Metropolis includes a number of philanthropic organizations which are especially relevant given the current economic crisis; catechist schools with over 300 students currently enrolled; and, spiritual centres both in the cities and in rural parts of Arta where homilies are delivered, Byzantine chanting is performed and traditional Greek music is taught, among other initiatives.
Continuing on with the situation in Greece for a moment, can you outline some of the changes that you have witnessed in the spiritual life of the Greek people since you became a deacon/priest and then a bishop?
The answer to this question naturally requires careful consideration and much analysis. Having said this, the responsibility for the current spiritual state of the nation rests with the Church, the family, the school system as well as with the state.
The disturbances and societal turmoil among young people, for example, has changed quite a bit over the last many number of years. There are so many pressures today that until recently were non-existent; the use of illegal narcotics, for instance, is a cause for concern. Furthermore, the extra schooling (frontistirio) that is generally sought after in Greece, along with other commitments such as athletics and music regrettably leaves little time for Church attendance.
Compounding this issue is the fact that many families do not cultivate the Church in the home. This does not mean, though, that the youth have left the Church because in reality they are always a part of it and in some ways things are actually better now than in the past.
Going forward, the Church has to do a better job trying to understand the present-day issues facing young people, as they relate to technology and communications, for example, and deal with them in an appropriate manner.
Since arriving in Canada on August 13th, what are your impressions of the Greek Church and the Orthodox faithful?
I began my journey by visiting Montreal and since then have also stayed in Ottawa and in Kingston.
With respect to Canada as a country, it is a rather marvelous place. There are large green areas with comfortable spaces; nice buildings and parks too. As an icon, Canada is very beautiful. Unlike both Greece and Europe who are experiencing an economic and social earthquake with respect to governance, I am very happy to see good governance and a calm economic life in such a multicultural place.
With regards to the Church, let me say that the way Metropolitan Sotirios – who comes from the same region in Greece as I and who has been a dear friend for many years – described the Metropolis, I can now say that I have witnessed and lived his description. Truth be told, His Eminence not only did not exaggerate the progress of the Church in Canada but he actually underplayed the great successes achieved to date.
The love of the people towards the Church is evident; the churches are simple but beautiful; and, despite challenges, the people hold onto the Greek language and traditions. From my short time here thus far, I can say with sincerity that there is a living piece of Greece in Canada, both ecclesiastically and in terms of a Greek way of life. At the Great Vespers in Montreal on August 14th, I felt as if I was in a very large paniyiri in Greece!
Keeping with this theme, why is it important for Greek expatriates and their children/grandchildren to maintain Greek traditions and the Orthodox faith?
There is a great need for this, especially today. The traditional concept of a nation state is no longer relevant since, with technologies like the Internet, people are living in rather large communities and families. This is why we need to hold onto and cultivate our roots, both religious and political. We have a history that has to be remembered and honoured.
We hold onto Orthodoxy with our hearts and are tied to it in a way of life that gives back to the people. As Christ said, we “are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). We are actually all apostles; Greek Orthodoxy is not just for Greeks, it is to be given to the entire world, which begins with us embracing and living it fully.
Finally, Your Eminence, if you had one message for the Greek Orthodox faithful in Canada – and especially for the youth – what would it be?
From my early days I have been concerned about and involved with youth. I strive to truly understand their reservations and problems; to live their pain (agonia) and together strive for solutions to the many difficulties they face because of their circumstances and age.
With all my heart I wish that the youth continue with patience and a polite disposition to build a better community and in the process correct the shortcomings of my generation; this can be done by being tied together with the Church and its traditions.