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Interview: "The priesthood is a calling to a life of service"

Interview with Archbishop Leo published in the daily newspaper Aamulehti in May 2009

The controversy surrounding the prospect of Fr. Mitro Repo standing as an independent candidate on the Social Democrat list in the coming European Parliament elections appears to be mounting day by day. There is talk in public of his being defrocked and possibly excommunicated from the Orthodox Church. Is this really the case?

“Defrocking is an extreme measure which can be resorted to if all other solutions fail. The usual outcome in cases like this is suspension for a specific period, after which the person is given the chance to return to his priestly duties.”

What is the principle behind defrocking?

“In the Orthodox understanding the priesthood is not a subjective right for the person concerned but a calling to a life of service, and the church which ordains that person must be satisfied at all times that he is acting within the bounds of that calling".

"The Orthodox Church does not require all its people to be priests, but it does expect the chosen few who are ordained to live irreproachable lives in accordance with the traditions of the undivided church. Every priest commits himself to these principles at his ordination.”

You have stated earlier that the ancient canons of the Orthodox Church maintain that a priest should not be involved in political activity. Do these regulations always apply in the Orthodox Church of Finland? How often do they have to be enforced?

“All the Orthodox churches in the world observe these canons, and for the Church of Finland they constitute a vital link with other Orthodox churches. The canons are always interpreted in the light of both the spirit of the age when they were laid down and their timeless nature.”

When we speak of serving two masters, is involvement in politics a different matter from membership of the board of directors of a company, for instance? What are the decisive arguments?

“As far as politics is concerned the spirit of the canons of the church is quite clear. When it comes to associations and foundations the situation is different. A priest or bishop may have precisely the kind of expertise that is needed by an association or foundation devoted to charitable work, overseas development or cultural exchanges.

It is known that Metropolitan Ambrosius has been closely involved in decision-making processes in the business world. Has he been acting entirely within the principles that you are referring to?

“Metropolitan Ambrosius should consider very carefully in future what positions of trust he is prepared to take on within society at large.”

What is the worst thing about Fr. Mitro Repo’s standing for the European Parliament? Is it solely a matter of taking part in political activity, albeit as an independent candidate, or is it partly a question of his previous actions and attitudes towards the church’s work and decisions?

“In the traditions of the Orthodox Church the relationship between a priest and his bishop can be likened to that between a student who is anxious to learn and an experienced teacher or mentor. The bishop is in a position of authority over the priest and is responsible for ensuring that he behaves in an obedient and irreproachable manner.”

“In the Orthodox understanding the bishop is also expected to supervise the way in which a priest exercises his rights. For this reason a priest will always ask for the bishop’s blessing before embarking on something that might be dubious with respect to the church’s canonical traditions. Mitro Repo has also committed himself to observing these traditions in the course of his studies and at his ordination.”

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