Many Christian denominations have been very outspoken in recent years on a variety of social and moral issues that modern society is confronted with almost on a daily basis. Indeed, the media scramble has seen many churches try to convey through extravagant media productions on television, radio and even CD's their intended message. The views of various Christian denominations about controversial issues such as abortion, premarital sex and contraception are always making headlines. The Greek Orthodox Church and other Eastern Orthodoxy faiths however, have largely steered away from the media circus and hype, preferring not to affiliate themselves with public relation campaigns aimed at preaching about political or social statements to the masses. So what is the official doctrine of the Greek Orthodox Church on such issues? What are the do's and dont's of the Church in relation to contraception in the age of AIDS and other social and moral issues? In an exclusive interview with 'Neos Kosmos', the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, His Eminence Arch bishop Stylianos explains the Church's public silence on these and other issues as well as how the Church, which claims to be the original successor to Christ's Apostolic church, deals with modem realities. To the outsider the tradition of the Greek Orthodox faith remains a mystical world of shimmering golden domed churches and eastern Byzantine rituals, of black clad, bearded priests and enchanting medieval hymns. Through these images of incensed church halls and ancient traditions, how has the world's oldest Christian denomination confronted some of the pressing moral and ethical dilemmas which face humankind as the final decade of the second millennium after Christ's birth draws to a dose? Many western Christian faiths have promoted themselves as modem messengers of Christ, and enlist various media outlets to spread their message, using colourful advertisements and even rock music to attract .more so called "lost souls" to their congregations. The Orthodox faith however has preferred not to participate in public exhibitions and prefers not to make public statements on various modem social dilemmas. However as the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, Archbishop Stylianos explains this does not mean that the Church has remained in the dark, ages.
"We are not ignorant of contemporary realities. Nor are we unaware of the social and moral questions which face humankind in a modem world. "However our Church does not aspire to formulate announcements and decrees. "Moral, ethical, sociopolitical questions, conditioned by new situations cannot be answered with one simple 'yes' or 'no'."
"The Orthodox Church does not have a codex of answers or formulas which are applied to such dilemmas. "It does not deal with cases..... it looks out for the individual."
According to Archbishop Stylianos, the nature of the Orthodox Church is such, that it does not seek to make public statements and doctrines about various social and ethical dilemmas. As he explains the reason for this is because, each individual case is different and each problem or dilemma must be treated as unique. He adds that messages for the masses are vague and unclear, and that they do not accurately serve nor guide the individual.
"Out of respect for the sacredness of the individual and the sacredness of the human person, being created in the image and likeness of God, our Church does not have ready-made answers. "Our Church respects the human conscience and does not deem it necessary to make statements that appear to be politically correct in the. public's eyes at the expense of an individual's humanity. "How can we make public statements about sacred and delicate questions? We must respect the intimacy of the human being. "We do not generalise. If we did this, we would be reducing people to numbers. "If a person has a problem or a moral dilemma, they can receive guidance by a father, who will guide the believer as well as the non-believer in the appropriate direction, according to God's will. "Medicine as a scholarship never faces people as cases alone, with ready made remedies and cures. Each individual is different and requires special treatment. "It is not as simple as baking a cake. There is no recipe for humanity's needs."
With the break up of the former Yugoslavia, Soviet Union and her eastern states, there has been revival of the Orthodox faith in these states. According to the Archbishop, the Greek Orthodox Church has been conferring with other Orthodox Churches about various issues which challenge the contemporary societies and that it has addressed them via pre-synodic meetings. These conferences which bring together all the Orthodox Churches at the Patriarchal Centre in Geneva, have been instrumental in planning for the future of the Church as the third millennium after the birth of Christ approaches.
"The Church has been very active in addressing modern realities For this reason we have bilateral and multi-lateral dialogues as part of the ecumenical nature of the church. "We have dialogues with other Christian and religious denominations, including western churches as well as Islamic religious groups.
"The ecumenicity of Orthodoxy, obliges us also to be ecumenical in action. "We have to be open minded under the blessing of our sanctified tradition and at the same time retain the truth of our Gospel"
Asked why Orthodox Churches were segmented according to ethnic groups, (eg Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox etc), His Eminence replied sternly that this was not a division, but, rather an acknowledgment of the cultural ties between Church and the people.
"This is not a division based on race. It is a dedication to the physiognomy of the individual, and a respect for his culture and language. "This ensures that there is no division between people and the Church. For the people are the Church. "We are not a separate entity or a state within the state for the elite alone. It is an enrichment and a variety, indicative of the universal nature of our Church". Concurrently however 'nationalism' too has become a force that has led to brutal conflict and devastation in much of Eastern Europe. How has the church assisted in quelling these forces? "The Church has served as a stabilising factor in these regions and there is growing resistance to extremist nationalist forces. "What is the role of the Orthodox faith on a global scale, and what are the challenges that it faces? "In the last "Great Synod" held in Constantinople in 1870, the Orthodox Churches condemned nationalism and racism as a crime, and we continue to uphold this today"
According to his Eminence, the sporadic pre-synodic meetings that have occurred over the last century, have addressed many issues which will culminate in the next "Great Synod" between all the Orthodox Churches.
An author of many books and articles which confront some pressing moral and ethical dilemmas the Archbishop is quite outspoken and willingly discusses controversial issues such as contraception, pre-marital sex.
Although as previously mentioned the Church does not adhere to an official line on such issues, Archbishop Stylianos, broke his public silence with some surprising revelations.
"God has given human beings the means to face and overcome difficulties. This comes in the form of the conscience. "If one faces some dilemma and need some birth-control, God has allowed for possibilities to face this." "This does not mean, one is obliged to follow blindly. The Church, through its servants can guide believers as well as non-believers. "Some people may have a reason to use contraception, and after discussing it with a father, it may be acceptable for it to be used. "
"The Church is aware that many young people, because of peer group and social pressure engage in pre-marital sex. "We do not propagate nor condone such acts, but I am, as a servant for God, obliged to take it seriously and look at every concrete case. "Sex is the deepest and most sacred relationship between human beings. It is the most intimate unity between two people and must be respected as such. "One who treats it as an act to satisfy the flesh is mutilating and ridiculing the beauty of the act "It is not just abstinence either. A relationship between another human being should be developed properly and with maturity. "It is for the same reason as mentioned before that we are against such relationships. "Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It is a holy mystery which is sealed by God and should not be ridiculed."
"The Church does not accept this act, because it is a deviation from God's will and nature. St. Paul condemns homosexuality in the New Testament. However, this does not mean that they will be rejected from the Church. They are treated as ill persons who have experimented with a void, and the Church can administer its support on such issues."
from Neos Kosmos,
quoted in the Archdiocese publication The Orthodox Messenger, Jan/Feb 1995