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I began to write it all down when I was on Mount Athos, during a period of complete solitude, while staying at the kathisma or monastic dwelling of St John the Theologian, near the small harbour of Simonopetra Monastery. I completed it later when I was staying on the island of the same St John, on Patmos, in Kouvari. Both, places of quietude and spiritual seclusion. Places of prayer. In all I only needed a few days. My sole companion was the noble disciple of love, St John. The one who truly loved and was indeed loved by Christ. The text would only be the fruit of love and quietude; it is a fruit of the desert. I would say the fruit of prayer, but I fear that this might be considered an exaggeration.The questions – I chose one hundred to make a round number – and the dialogues are all authentic. The people are also real, although of course the names have been changed. On the other hand I have not recorded the whole discussion, but I have selected certain questions. All this is not so important. What really matters is for human nature and the person of the true God to be revealed clearly and truly through the whole discussion. Nothing else in this life matters more.
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Copyright © 2017 Holy Metropolis of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
Ἂν ὑπάρχει ζωὴ Θέλω νὰ ζήσω
Εκδοση Ιεράς ΜητροπόλεωςΜεσογαίαςκαι Λαυρεωτικής
By Nikolaos. Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
Edited by Dimitri Chadjinikolaou
Graphic design and layout by Valia Kiritsi
Translated into English by
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Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia & Lavreotiki
Metropolitan Nikolaos (Chatzinikolaou) holds a B.S. in Physics from the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece. He followed graduate studies in Astrophysics at Harvard University, in Mechanical Engineering at MIT and in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics (Harvard-MIT joint program). He worked as a researcher at various hospitals in the Boston area on the Hemodynamics of the heart and great vessels, and for three years as a consultant for renowned companies in Space Medical Technology.
He studied Theology at Holy Cross School of Theology, in Brookline, Mass, and received his Th.D. in Bioethics from the University of Thessaloniki, in Greece. In 2008, he was awarded the title of honorary doctor of Social Theology by the University of Athens.
He is the founder and director of the Hellenic Center for Biomedical Ethics in Athens and the chairman of the Bioethics Committee of the Church of Greece. In 2010, he founded the first Palliative Care Unit in Greece, under the name “GALILEE”.
He was tonsured a monk in Mount Athos and served as a hieromonk for 14 years at the Athonite dependency of Simonos Petra monastery in Athens. He was elected a bishop of Mesogaia & Lavreotiki in 2004.
A few words of Introduction
The First Meeting
God in my life? Why?
“People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish” (Ps 49:12)
He neither exists nor does not exist. He is!
Knowledge and Faith
At St Peter’s Chapel
Traces of another logic
At the Scete of the Grateful Thief
I want to live
Instead of an Epilogue
I grew up in a genuine Christian family, within a spirit of integrity and truth, in an atmosphere of great freedom and with the goals set high, but where faith was a given. I could well have inherited faith without understanding it. What I wanted instead was for faith to be born within me. And that is why from a very young age I allowed myself to take the risk of having doubts.
In the Church I met people of rare virtue and authenticity, who were cultivated spiritually, true Christians, noble souls, I dare to say saints. I must confess that I had not met other people like these Christians elsewhere. I had not witnessed signs or miracles, for I did not think they were necessary. For some reason I preferred my faith not to be imposed upon me but for it to emerge from within; I did not need logical arguments, or examples of virtue to influence me; nor proof or indirect pointers. I did not search for faith in clever or educated people, nor in successful or good people, or in strange events and imaginary impressions. I wished to find pure faith within myself, not anywhere else; sanctity or kindness only to give me an inkling or inspire me, not to oblige me to follow the way of faith and the Church. I would not want my faith in God to be founded on my trust in others. It had to be His own voice within me.
Faith in God would only be of any value if I met it in ultimate freedom. I did not allow anyone or anything to force me. This freedom was the greatest gift that I had, I realized. If there was a God, then he must have given this freedom to me, so as not to be tricked by enjoying my ephemeral nature, nor to become bedazzled by my abilities or successes, but to know the truth, and to meet him in truth.
It is true that I suffered greatly. I wept inwardly. I did not want to drift away. This effort of mine was secret; I could not tell others. My journey was solitary, despite the fact that I was only a young child. I had the feeling that if I shared my journey no one would understand me.
I found great consolation when I lost myself in contemplation of the universe. I had been fascinated by the universe since primary school. I wanted to study astronomy because I thought that I would find at least something there. It was my hope. I would lose myself in infinity, in the unknown, in the wondrous and perfect, and I would be born again. I would become very small, like a little star, and only in that way would I behold my value as a human being. I would find myself, the meaning of and reason for my existence. Perhaps I would even find God. This was my hope.
I could not share this painful search with the Christians I knew. For them doubt was a sin. They thought that they were certain of everything, that there are answers for everything. That’s how they’d been taught. They spoke of the mystery as if they knew its secrets and every detail. As if only they knew. But in this way they made the mystery very rational, very small, they stripped it of the beauty of its mysterious charm. They destroyed the hope embedded in the mystery. This approach did not inspire me. I envied them for the treasure of faith that I suspected they had, for their high standards of morality, but not for the kind of faith they displayed. It did not give rise to a life I was seeking, the inner strength and the freedom that I longed for.
Of the teachings of the Church what I found most moving was mercy, forgiveness, love as kindness, the affinity between love and humility. The Christians I knew were a little harsh. That’s how they seemed to me. They tried to be ‘correct’... And that spoilt everything. They taught the word of the Lord ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’ and interpreted these words correctly. However, their heart was fixed more on the correctness of the law and the Church canons than on the sweetness and gentleness of forgiveness; it was fixed more on the sweat of the sacrifice owed than the blood of a merciful heart. But I believed that truth did not need sweat as much as blood... And tears.
In the Church I found the strength hidden in the repentance of the sinner. I found there the mercy of God. I wanted to learn at the feet of the repentant Thief of the Gospel; the Harlot who shed the myrrh; the Publican; the Prodigal Son; Peter when he ‘wept bitterly’ rather than when he confessed Christ as the Messiah; Paul rent by repentance; Martha, who was ‘worried and upset about many things’, and Thomas who doubted and wanted to touch the side of Christ. They were all very human. They moved me more than the great Fathers of the Church; the tears of the repentant sinner moved me more than the thought of great theologians.
I do not know how it all happened, but after quite a long period of searching, when I became a priest, my life of service became focused on people who uncompromisingly thirsted for the truth, mostly people who were unbelievers, sinners, agnostics or who knew nothing of God, the Church and religion in general. These people crossed my path either because they had reached an impasse in their lives or for various other reasons.
I must straight from the outset confess that I never tried to convince anyone, nor was it my aim to increase the followers of the Orthodox faith. Nor did I feel the need to prove to myself that in some manner I was developing into a successful priest who could persuade unbelievers, nor could I ever detect personal self-interest within myself in my relationship with them.
I welcomed them with my whole heart, and my only concern was to embrace their whole being, to share the pain of their search for faith, to recognize the uniqueness of their inner world, to together lift the burden of our human nature. I never let them lay themselves open and strip back all the layers of themselves, whilst remaining clothed myself in the garments of pseudo-wisdom and self-security. I never let myself think that I had arrived and they were only just setting out. I always felt that I was with them, a fellow traveller on the wonderful path of the search for God. I glorify God for this blessed experience.
People began asking me to write down some of these discussions. The truth is that I struggled inside. On the one hand I realized that it was necessary, but on the other hand I was unsure, because I would be putting my own signature to a translation of the pain and mystery of our common search. Because nothing in our talks was exclusively my own.
What was most important of all was to maintain an inner disposition of respect in recording the discussions. I began to write it all down when I was on Mount Athos, during a period of complete solitude, while staying at the kathisma or monastic dwelling of St John the Theologian, near the small harbour of Simonopetra Monastery. I completed it later when I was staying on the island of the same St John, on Patmos, in Kouvari. Both places of quietude and spiritual seclusion. Places of prayer. In all I only needed a few days. My sole companion was the noble disciple of love, St John. The one who truly loved and was indeed loved by Christ. The text would only be the fruit of love and quietude; it is a fruit of the desert. I would say the fruit of prayer, but I fear that this might be considered an exaggeration.
The questions – I chose one hundred to make a round number – and the dialogue are all authentic. The people are also real, although of course the names have been changed. On the other hand I have not recorded the whole discussion, but I have selected certain questions. All this is not so important. What really matters is for human nature and the person of the true God to be revealed clearly and truly. Nothing else in this life matters more. ☩ August 2013
A meeting with five young people in my office. Bookshelves to the right and left, telephones, biscuits and cakes, and so on – the terrain of a general manager. It was the wrong place! Good and spontaneous discussions require a more neutral environment, more congenial and genuine, less formal surroundings. The surroundings must also speak. I realized this afterwards.
One of them, Thomas, was a law student. Casually dressed, he had curly hair and on his right arm he had a small tattoo. Most likely he had been brought along by the others, and his demeanour was a little cold and aggressive – he was not very comfortable at being there. He had never spoken with a priest before and he did not even know how to address me. At first hesitant, he gradually became more interested in the discussion. He was not very cultivated, although he was clearly a thinker and had a legalistic mind.
Then there was a young woman of about twenty five, who was called Maria. She was a graduate of the Polytechnic University.Her appearance was simple and unaffected. She was not wearing make-up and her nose was pierced. She seemed very kind and considerate. Her gaze was penetrating, if a little sad. She was clearly very keen to be there. She seemed to be a seeking soul and very sensitive. While she did not hold back in asking questions, she did not open up very much. She seemed to be a deep-thinking and free person.
The third, David, was in his twenties and had a cosmopolitan air – he had studied abroad. With his deep voice he was a powerful speaker. Quick-witted, he was fairly confident in and of himself. It soon became clear that he had grown up in a religious family, had reacted against a repressive atmosphere, and that he seemed to be unable to break free of his bitterness and bad past experiences. A little aggressive in his manner of speaking, he seemed more curious than thirsty for the truth. He bore a good deal of anger within himself, and at some points he expressed this.
It was a good group: people who were full of life, who were honest and genuine. They expressed themselves freely. They did not have a good relationship with the Church – in fact there was no relationship to speak of. They had reacted against the Church – they did not see the need for it or see it as a source of hope. They were clearly anti-Church and seemed sure in their indifference. I think that what they had rejected was something that I had also rejected, but with the difference that they called it the Church, while I did not. God did not interest them very much either. They declared themselves not so much atheists as unbelievers, or perhaps agnostics. I was sure that they were prejudiced negatively against the Church, and that they had formed the wrong image of it in their minds.
There were two others. The first, Nicholas, was clearly from a religious family and knew the church language. Reserved and collected, he was respectful but not fearful of his surroundings. He seemed to want to appear at ease in this context. But he knew when to speak and when to fall silent. He had been to the Polytechnic too. He was a technically- minded IT person, who was very intelligent, and disciplined in his thinking. He did not say much, but listened with a kind disposition. It seemed that he wanted to persuade the others about God.
The fifth member of the group, Helen, had studied drama and was a little older than the others. Formerly an atheist, she was now a proud and enthusiastic believer without, however, having been squashed by the road-roller of propriety and conservatism. Her movements, her words and expressions, and the overall impression, did not indicate that she was a person of the Church. She seemed to have worked out her approach to life with the freedom of an anarchist and the dynamism of a seeker. She had lots of unusual questions. She was not looking for faith – she already had faith; but it seemed that she wanted to experience it. She did not make any pretence. She had other pursuits also. Despite this she fitted in with the others and could communicate with them very well.
The first three approached me not out of a spirit of seeking but more out of curiosity. The other two had told them about my life journey and it had caught their interest. I had the impression that Thomas and David wanted to challenge me a little. I welcomed them gladly and maintained a respectful disposition: not in the spirit of wanting to convince, but of sharing with them all that I loved deeply, and receiving in turn something from the unknown treasure of their hearts. I would not have liked the discussion to have turned into an egotistical dispute. From the very outset I saw that they were all open to new ways of thinking – even the pious Nicholas. He supported the Church and had the vigour of someone who wanted to persuade others. His questions were asked more so that the others could hear the answers, not for him. He felt that he had solved his existential quest – because he was a person of the Church... Perhaps that is what he thought. Unless I am doing him an injustice.
After we had greeted each other and got over the initial awkwardness, Maria was the first to speak. I did not expect this. I had expected Nicholas to speak first. I had not met any of them before, but he seemed more at home in the Church context. He had also set up the meeting. Fortunately it was Maria who took up the courage and opened the discussion quite freely. This ensured that our whole meeting was marked by genuineness and openness.
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