By George Gilson

Metropolitan Ignatios of Dimitriada (Volos) is widely considered one of the most moderate and open-minded bishops of the Orthodox Church of Greece.

The son of a priest who himself was for years a priest in the diocese of Piraeus, Ignatios became known widely from his weekly Sunday television show Arhontariki where he discussed spiritual and social issues with guests.

A proponent of COVID-19 vaccination from the start, Ignatios is getting tough with the priests of his diocese, demanding in a formal encyclical either vaccination or weekly rapid tests as a precondition for them to conduct religious services, otherwise they will be subjected to disciplinary action.

Illustrating the importance of vax protection with an example that is close to home, Ignatios cited the death of an unvaccinated priest who died at age 56.

“COVID-19, which has caused the death of over 13,000 Greeks has touched the family of our clergy, claiming the lives of two of our extraordinarily good priests,” the encyclical stated.

“For Father John, at the time of his death only protective measures were available [masks, social distancing, hygiene]. Now, however, we have the vaccine, which has proven in practice and empirically, that it protects one from severe illness and death. That is why we consider it a pity that another one of our priests, Father Demetrios, had not been vaccinated and his organism could not withstand the deadly virus.”

Speaking as a spiritual father: ‘Please be vaccinated’

In the encyclical, Ignatios told his priests that he is addressing them in his paternal, pastoral role.

“Above all, I am your spiritual father. I often tell you to take care of yourselves and that I feel responsible for your well-being…For this reason, I am issuing to you a paternal call and ask you to please be vaccinated, unless your doctor does not permit it. At first, we all may have had fears and reservations. Now, however, the data are indisputable and cannot be denied by any conspiracy theory. The prospect of side-effects cannot compare to the heightened possibility of illness and death [of the unvaccinated].”

Personal responsibility, abiding by the law

“Beyond my fervent and repeated paternal advice that you be vaccinated, I cannot force any of you to do it. Each of us is free to act as he sees fit. Thereafter, however, all of us are responsible for their free choices,” Ignatios stated.

He requested that in accordance with the law all clergy inform him of whether or not they have been vaccinated.

“Specifically, within two days after you receive this encyclical, you email the Metropolitanate providing either a certificate of vaccination or a certificate that you have already fallen ill with COVID-19, or a doctor’s certificate that it is not advisable [due to prior health conditions] for you to be vaccinated.

Mandatory rapid tests for unvaccinated

“For those who choose not to be vaccinated, it is strictly compulsory that they undergo a weekly rapid test and send the result by each Friday [before Sunday services] to the Metropolitanate’s email. There is no room for the slightest negligence in meeting this obligation. If there is a violation, disciplinary action will be taken,” the encyclical stated.

“Let us utilise what God offers us through science, so that we may continue to glorify and serve Him. I wish for all of you the Grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit,” Ignatios concluded.

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