Melbourne has been gripped by Makarios-mania with the visit of the new archbishop to the city.
Churches are jam-packed as though it were Easter, and social media is abuzz with the new Archbishop’s smiling face featured in selfies and candid shots. Were it not fasting period, Stalactites may have even created a souvlaki for the occasion just as it had for Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Only this time, it’s not about sportsmanship, but about salvation and the purity of our souls.
And who more pure then the little children? And they are the Archbishop’s main target group in this fascinating road show that has seen him meet with as many parishioners, Greek schools and other community groups as possible.
Meetings are multifarious, but the main message is this: youth and unity.
“When I came and asked what I should do, everyone said that we have lost an entire generation (of faithful) and they advised me to see what I should do with young people,” Archbishop Makarios told Neos Kosmos. “Though on this visit I have seen that youth have a thirst (for faith), and many have sent emails and messages to my Instagram account.”
He said that his goal has been to “see young people, and speak with them” to hear their messages first-hand.
“If I don’t listen, I can’t find a cure,” he said, adding that there will be a youth conference in February where he will get kids together on retreats in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. He stresses that this will be a conference about youth – not Orthodoxy – sponsored by the Archdiocese. These events will be preludes to a national conference in 2021.
Despite being told that the younger generation has turned its back on the church, Archbishop Makarios has seen the opposite.
“I’m not sure if it is just the momentum of my visit, but they are enthused. They like change. They are beside me, support me,” he told Neos Kosmos, adding that he wants to delve deeper into how young people really feel and address their needs.
He scoffs at the suggestion that youth could possibly consider the church community to be judgemental. From humble, a tinge of condescension enters his tone.
“That is immaterial,” he told Neos Kosmos. “Nobody cares about dress. Obsolete! They know it isn’t right (that they don’t go to church) and use ‘hypocrisy’ as an excuse. I’ll never tell anyone to go away because they have an earring or are wearing slacks nor will a priest ever say that. Clergy members are very polite. They’d never say that.”
Beside him Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis lets out a little cough.
“On this visit, I didn’t see that there aren’t young people at church. There are many, but I am being cautious in my estimations. Are they really going to church or just coming to see the archbishop and take a photo?”
The students of St John’s College, Preston, were particularly excited when he visited their school on Thursday. He got a rock star welcome in a procession lead by a marching bad, with rose petals thrown in his path – despite these being hard to come by in the middle of winter – as flags joyously waved and tender voices yelled ‘Axios’ as he passed their way.
“I’m so excited to see the archbishop up close. He’s more than just a man. He’s the archbishop of Australia and he’s very special!” Adina Demiras from Year 3K of St John’s College told Neos Kosmos on Thursday.
Asked about how he can make church more appealing to young people, school captain Evangelia Iliadis told Neos Kosmos that his “presence” is what would make the difference.
“He needs to speak to us himself, and that might make a difference,” she said. “Social media would help too.”
Addressing the crowd, Archbishop Makarios said that he felt as though he were in heaven.
“At this moment I feel that I am not on earth but I am in heaven,” he said, adding that heaven is a place with children’s bright faces, shiny hair, lovely uniforms. “I felt that from the first moment that I entered this school. This is a message that came to my heart from God.”
He added: “This school will not close. This school has a great future.” A God-sanctioned prophecy? Perhaps. And more are to come, he promised, telling Neos Kosmos that important announcements regarding the church will be made on his Name Day 19 January.
Until then, in the Antipodes, where the lines between customs, culture and creed are blurry, the crowd has lapped up his every word. “Axios!” “Axios!” (He is worthy)