Why did Fr Andreas (Konanos) become “an ordinary citizen of this world”?

Archimandrite Andreas is resigning from the Holy Archdiocese of Athens. Photo: UOJ

The internationally known theologian announced that he was resigning from the priesthood. How to treat this and what is the possible reason for this decision?

On August 24, one of the most famous Orthodox preachers, missionaries, theologians and spiritual writers, the Greek Archimandrite Andreas (Konanos) announced his decision to step down from the priesthood. Fr Andreas did not explain the motives for his action, simply writing a message on Facebook that there are many reasons for his departure.

“My dear friends, I wish you all well! Today is a milestone in my life. Something very important is coming to an end. And something new is beginning,” he writes in his statement. “Today, 24.08.20, I submitted to the Holy Archdiocese of Athens my resignation from the priesthood, and I became again an ordinary citizen of this world. Now I am ‘plain’ Andreas Konanos.”

According to Fr Andreas, he is resigning from the priesthood, but he is not disappointed either in faith or in his path, and his essence will never change - only his "form and appearance will be different now".

Fr Andreas is too famous a man and a priest for his departure to go unnoticed. However, the reactions among the Orthodox to his stepping down from the priesthood are very emotional and often diametrically opposed. Some harshly condemn Father Andreas’s decision and say that now all his books should, if not burned, then never be opened again. Others wonder "how to keep living" even if such deep and spiritual people leave their cross? There are those who, on the contrary, admire the “courage” of his act and express words of support to Father Andreas. Someone calls to prayer for him, and someone gloats and writes that “I knew it” and that his books always “had a Protestant smell”.

There are countless versions of why Fr Andreas left the priesthood (and judging by his words that he will become "an ordinary citizen of this world" – and monasticism). Some netizens are sure that it was not without a woman, someone claims that after twenty years of service, Archimandrite Andreas suddenly realized that the priesthood “is not his cup of tea” and that he cannot be hypocritical any longer. There is also a version of certain disciplinary reasons. In particular, the words of the now former priest that he would continue to “write, speak and help with my poor strength whoever I can with authenticity and honesty, but with more openness, breadth and freedom” were interpreted as an indication of the limitation of this “breadth and freedom” from the ruling bishop of Athens (which, in fact, never happened).

So, how can we, Orthodox Christians, react to the resignment by people like Fr Andreas? Can we believe his books and words after he gave up the priesthood? And finally, what could be the real reason for such an action?

"Do you love Me more than these?"

Let us remember that the history of Christianity is not so much the history of the righteous who have never sinned but rather the history of sinners who have become saints. And there have been plenty of cases of betrayal in relation to Christ and to the Church in this story. For example, before the death throes of Christ, the Apostle Peter promised that he would never be “tempted” to distance himself from his Teacher and declared: “Even if I have to die with You, I shall never disown You.” Moreover, the Evangelist Matthew tells us that “all the other disciples said the same” (Matthew 26, 35). That is, they were confident that they would never leave the Saviour and would follow Him to the end ...

The Last Supper. Athos, Vatopedi Monastery

Но, как мы знаем, от Христа отвернулись все апостолы. Петр вообще трижды отрекся от Него, а Иуда – предал за 30 серебреников.

But, as we know, all the apostles turned away from Christ. Peter disowned Him three times, and Judas betrayed him for 30 silver coins. Judas's case is exceptional because he committed suicide and died without repentance. But what about the other apostles? Do we have the right to condemn them? Can we say that since they were all frightened, scattered, and then some of them renounced, all their previous deeds have no value? Certainly, not.

First, because a person is weak. Secondly, because he can always change through repentance. That, in fact, happened to the disciples of Christ.

Euthymios Zigabenos, interpreting the Gospel of St. Matthew, writes that with his words "I shall never be tempted and shall never disown You" the Apostle Peter showed his faith, "meanwhile, he should have added: if You help me". That is why, says Zigabenos, “we have strong evidence that a willingness on the part of a person will not do anything without God's permission, and God's permission is not beneficial without a willingness on the part of a person. Peter and Jude are examples of both. Therefore, we should not be careless, leaving everything to God, nor should we think that by our diligence we do everything. God Himself does not do everything so that we do not abide in laziness but does not provide us with everything so that we do not become proud".

In other words, as soon as a person becomes proud, he decides that he can achieve something with his own strength – a fall happens to him, as exemplified by the Apostle Peter. But this does not mean that the manifestation of weakness puts the man outside God's mercy – the same Peter repented of the sin of betrayal and through an affirmative answer to the question asked three times "Do you love me more than these?" confirmed his love for God.

Therefore, there should be no gloating or despair with harsh condemnation towards Fr Andreas. We do not know how his future life will turn out; we also do not know whether he will find strength in himself to return to God and service through repentance. And although we cannot accept and understand his deed, although we feel outraged by it, we still should remember that only the Lord will and must judge him.

What to do with the books by Archimandrite Andreas?

What to do with the books by Archimandrite Andreas?

Archimandrite Andreas at work

We definitely shouldn’t burn them. Neither should we indiscriminately condemn all the activities of Fr Andreas as a priest. Books, sermons, interviews, videos – all this, we hope, will be of benefit to those who wish to become churched and learn the basics of the Orthodox faith for a long time to come. Yes, his move hurt some and disappointed others, yes, it raises many questions but ...

According to the great St. John Chrysostom, even bad teachers are worth listening to, because they "offer not their own commandments but the God's, which God revealed in the law through Moses”.

The Lord Himself emphasizes that in cases like this one should listen to the words of the teachers but not act according to their deeds: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So, you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23: 1-3). John Chrysostom, explaining this passage from the Gospel, says that Christ “does not take away due respect from corrupted teachers, subjecting them to the greater condemnation through this, and from those listening to His teaching, taking away any pretext for disobedience; lest anyone say: I have become lazy because my teacher is bad, He takes away the very reason". According to the great saint, even bad teachers are worth listening to, because they "offer not their own commandments but the God's, which God revealed in the law through Moses”.

The same goes for the books by Fr Andreas – he, especially in the beginning, spoke not from himself but from the Gospel and the Holy Fathers (later his position changed somewhat), which means that in his writings you can find a lot of benefit for yourself.

Donkey and Christ

On the other hand, the case of Fr. Andreas clearly proves Prophet David’s words to be true: "every man a liar", as well as the justice of popular wisdom: "in order not to be disillusioned, one should not become illusioned".

From a Christian point of view, this means that one should not get too attached to a person or consider him/her an infallible authority on spiritual matters. A Christian can and should seek only Christ and strive only for Him. In turn, the priest is the guide of believers on the path to the Saviour, and not to themselves.

Some of the modern theologians said that during the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, the common people spread their clothes under the feet of a donkey out of respect for Christ. This picture has a symbolic meaning, in which the "destiny of the donkey" on which Christ sat is every priest who turns into a real donkey at the moment when he thinks that the cries "Hosanna is in the highest!" and the garments on earth are for him and not for Christ.

Now, Fr Andreas seems to have forgotten this truth. A real cult arose around his personality, whose adherents perceived the priest’s words as the words of an oracle and just stopped thinking critically, fascinated by his personality, and losing their desire to strive for Christ. At the same time, Fr Andreas himself devoted too much time to external activities, and not to what the priest should do in the first place.

The "destiny of the donkey" on which Christ sat is every priest who turns into a real donkey at the moment when he thinks that the cries "Hosanna is in the highest!" and the garments on earth are for him and not for Christ.

What should a priest do?

The Greek theologian and publisher Dimitris Sotiropoulos writes that within the Church, a certain group of priests is divided into three categories.

The first of these are starlets who compete to gain followers and achieve the glory of the "big names". "These are archimandrites, priests, and metropolitans who show remarkable activity on social networks, make loud speeches, sometimes shouting loudly, sometimes constantly videotape and issue press releases about their activities."

The second is "stars", that is, those who are renowned in the "ecclesiastical lifestyle" but strive to climb even higher. This category, according to Sotiropoulos, includes those suffering from "prophetic lust, conspiracy theories" and those who talk "unbridled bullshit". At the same time, the "stars" like to post a lot of photographs from their services, even if their churches are half-empty, it is enough "for the poses to come out good".

And, in fact, the third category is "superstars", to which Fr Andreas (Konanos) belongs. These are people who gather special audiences, who are engaged in publishing and have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. “Priests who tackle everything scientific, archimandrites who receive suspiciously flattering comments about their beauty from men and women, Mount Athos monks who are guest stars in gourmet restaurants, other Mount Athos people who do not gather in their Monasteries, speeches and public relations, Metropolitans who constantly appear on the canals eager for an archbishopric throne."

In this regard, Sotiropoulos urged priests to leave social media and focus on prayer and worship.

Of course, one cannot agree with all of his remarks, because missionary activity is simply necessary, especially in our time and in our country. Just as the presence of clergymen on social networks is necessary. Because if they are not there, then we will simply lose the youth and give the information field to sectarians and atheists.

But he is definitely right in one thing: this activity should not negate the main thing in the life of a priest - prayer and personal piety. Problems in spiritual life begin with abandoning the prayer rule. Neglect of one's direct responsibilities, the undevout performance of the Liturgy, improper preparation for it – all this leads not only to "burnout" but also to the loss of grace, which ultimately results in either cynicism and indifference, turning into various sins (drunkenness, fornication, desire for material enrichment), or in resigning from the priesthood.

The social and social activities of a clergyman should not negate the main thing in a priest's life - prayer and personal piety.

Therefore, no matter how active the external activity of a missionary priest is, without internal work, without repentance, cleansing from sins and prayer, this activity will at best be zero, and at worst, it will be possible to apply the words of Christ to it: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”(Matthew 18: 6). This is what all priests need to remember.

On "joyful Christianity" and the priestly cassock

To be fair, it must be said that lately there have been some disturbing details in Fr Andreas’s behaviour. He almost completely cut off his once luxurious beard, avoided appearing in a monk's hood and later in monastic garments altogether.

Furthermore, Fr. Andreas showed a certain bias towards the so-called "joyful Christianity". One of his books, published in Russia in 2018, is entitled “Hello, Lord! A book about joyful faith". The introduction to it says that this is a book "about liberation from feelings of guilt".

There is no arguing that Christianity is about joy. But at the same time, it is impossible to be a Christian without tears of repentance. Christ begins His sermon not with words of joy but with words of repentance. Moreover, for a Christian, true joy is always the result of repentance.

What happened?

Fr Andreas did not tell about the reasons that prompted him to make such a decision. But, I think, certain conclusions can still be drawn.

The fact is that in the latest books and speeches by Archimandrite Andreas there were too little of the holy Fathers and the Gospel, and too much of the secular and, so to speak, psychoanalytic. It seems to us that he began to look for answers to topical questions of everyday life not in the works of the Fathers of the Church or in the Holy Scriptures, but in the works by Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and other modern “motivators” and figures of self-made culture. And so, at some stage, they became more important to him than the Apostle Matthew, Abba Dorotheos and John Climacus. Ultimately, according to journalist Mikhail Tiurenkov, Fr Andreas (Konanos) "joined the ranks of the lively and deliberately youthful hipster-cut psycho-coaches, whose number, alas, is also growing at the expense of Russian monks".

***

Quite often, one can hear the words from the lips of some priests and monks that the Gospel is outdated and does not answer modern questions. Moreover, they believe that the Word of God directly contradicts our views and should be subjected to substantial editing and adaptation. And this is not only about the position of the Bible in relation to fornication or homosexuality, it is about many other things that the modern man does not want or cannot accept.

These things include that very repentance, which in modern psychoanalytic literature for some reason is called "guilt", from which one must certainly get rid of, and the uncompromising attitude of the Church to fasting, and the rejection of modern digital means of control over a person. The Сhurch is becoming more and more inconvenient, and if so, then unnecessary. The case of Archimandrite Andreas only confirms the fact that you and I are living in an age of universal apostasy, that is disaffiliation or renunciation. That is why we, more than ever, should remember the words of Euthymios Zigabenos: “Let us also always obey God and not resist, even if it seems that His words do not agree with our thoughts and views. His word must be more important than our notions and views."

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