By Petros Tatsopoulos

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” or “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”?

Depending on whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty, we can quote Neil Armstrong or Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin).

However we may view the glass, we must concede that the encyclical of the Standing Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece, comprised of the Archbishop and 12 Metropolitan bishops, that was read by priests in all churches nationwide, one week after Pentecost Sunday, will be long-remembered, both for the better and the worse.

It was a bold step, a timid step, but in any case a step. Something was thrown in stagnant waters, and time will tell whether it was a pebble or a rock.

“In our age, there are ever more pseudo-prophets in the Church, who have beguiled a number of faithful and are at risk of ending up in a schism or heresy. Some are self-appointed teachers who purport to predict the future and upset the faithful with danger-mongering of various sorts. Others misconstrue the words of contemporary or older saints and tailor them to their way of thinking. Others speak of anonymous, living old monks or nuns who prophesy impending disasters or wars and often offer dates, and when the catastrophes do not occur they provide new dates. Others present sacred objects that produce tears or blood and they present other wondrous, extraordinary, and awe-inspiring phenomena.”

The above excerpt is not from an Association of Atheists, nor is it the brainchild of some abominable scepticist such as this writer.

One will find it in full in the aforementioned encyclical of the Church Of Greece, and if you isolate it from the rest of the paragraphs, you will be led to the hasty and largely erroneous conclusion that this is the first time in its 2,000-year history that our Church has made such a bold admission of “sins committed”, the first time that it has engaged in such open and painful self-criticism.

That is not the case. The Church is not aiming so high. It does not offer a wholesale dispute of the existence of miracles, which would mean even belatedly joining the ranks of rationalism and science.

Effectively, it is distinguishing between “true” and “bogus” miracles, between “authentic” miracle workers and charlatans, and between “approved” prophets and “pseudo-prophets”

What the Church is essentially telling us with grandiose rhetoric and the magniloquence of an expert is when we should and should not believe in the overturning of the laws of nature, essentially when we should put our mind to work and when we should let it sleep. It is telling us, beware of the Uniates (Eastern rite Catholics who perform rituals in the Orthodox manner but are under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church), and beware of imitations.

That is all well and good. One did not expect something more.

If our Church – as all Churches in the world regardless of their dogma – did something more, it would be entrapped in an existential tailspin from which it could be liberated only through its own dissolution.

It suffices for now that the Church recognises that in its ranks diachronically both “wolves” and “sheep” have lurked.

Even if you ask the neighbourhood coffee cup reader (who predicts events), or even more so a self-improvement expert, they will tell you that the necessary condition for the awakening of the sheep is self-knowledge.

You must be cognisant of the fact that you are being treated like a sheep and act accordingly for them to treat you differently.

Hence, we hope that with this encyclical, the age-old canard will not simply be patched, but will be abolished.