My Conversation with Metropolitan Nathanael

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis received a new leader this spring, His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael. He succeeds a long-serving bishop, Iakovos, who died last year. I interviewed His Eminence for Chicago Magazine, which gave me the chance to talk about some of my pet topics:

Me: So along those lines that orthodoxy has a very rich and profound theological and liturgical tradition and heritage. It can also be rather intimidating or opaque to outsiders, even other Christians. What does it mean to the people around Orthodox churches to have this center of liturgical and sacramental life happening there?

His Eminence: Sometimes if a person walks into our services off the street and doesn’t know what we are, chances are they’ll enter a service where they may not understand what’s happening. It’s a long service, usually two to three hours.

But they are available to all people. The benefit of having the Orthodox Church within society is that it is the meeting between heaven and earth. It’s not a telling of a story. It’s not a re-enactment. It’s actually the meeting of heaven and earth. It’s where we come to receive the Eucharist. That sanctifies the people who are in the church, then calls them to go out into the world and help sanctify the rest of the world.

It’s important not to expect the wrong things from a Q and A between some guy and the shiny new bishop, so if some questions or demurrals go unanswered, I hope you’ll be indulgent. But we were able to have a friendly and serious conversation about topics facing his community and the church writ large: bioethics, racism, the place of churches in society.

Something that I learned, and that surprised me, is that the Metropolis is so geographically vast (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri) while having fewer than 60 parishes. This seems like a serious challenge for a jurisdiction, and we only had the chance to touch on that briefly. Suffice it to say, though, that it made me curious to visit the Greek Orthodox parish in Sioux City, Iowa.

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