Will the Orthodox Ever Learn to Love the Pope?
By Rod Dreher, a Columnist at the New York Post.
Source: The Wall Street Journal - Date: May 8, 2001
Over the course of his pilgrim papacy, John Paul II has endured
hectoring in Sandinista Nicaragua, stared down Soviet-sponsored tyrants in Poland,
suffered attempts by dictators to hijack his good will for their own malign agendas
-- as Syria's Assad did on Saturday-- and braved all manner of threat to his dignity
and safety in pursuit of his evangelical mission. You'd expect that he'd get that from
communists and Levantine strongmen, and indeed from non-Christian fanatics -- like the
radical Hindus who vowed violence during his visit to India. You do not expect it from
Christians, especially Christian clergy. But in the days preceding the pontiff's arrival
in Greece, the rank-and-file Orthodox clerical union denounced him as an "arch-heretic"
and the "two-horned grotesque monster of Rome." Mercy! Some of these arch-knotheads,
particularly monks from Mt. Athos, even petitioned the Almighty to curse the bishop of
Rome. Greece, presumably, is a modern European democracy. Yet its government had to
deploy a large police presence to prevent Orthodox zealots from harming a stooped and
trembling octogenarian Catholic priest.
It must be said that not all Orthodox feel as the Greeks do. The
ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul welcomed the papal visit; and the Syrian Orthodox,
who share a relatively close relationship with Syrian Catholics, were much more
hospitable. Still, as a Roman Catholic admirer of Orthodoxy, I was saddened by the
Greek hostility. To my great relief, a (non-Greek) Orthodox priest friend shared my
indignation. "John Paul II is the single person most responsible for the defeat of
atheistic communism, and history will be very kind to him," he said. "Calling for him
to be cursed is just embarrassing." My friend went on to explain, though, that
Americans cannot grasp the way the Crusader sack of Constantinople in 1204 shaped the
Greek Orthodox soul. True, the Crusaders behaved like barbarians; and no Roman Catholic
today would defend them. But eight centuries is a long time to hold a grudge. And it's
not like the Orthodox have clean hands. The sack was preceded in 1182 by a massacre of
Western Christians in that city. A cardinal was beheaded, and 4,000 Western Christians
were sold into slavery.
Does the pope ask the latter-day Orthodox to apologize? Of course
not. Nor does he ask the Russian Orthodox hierarchy to apologize for collaborating with
the Soviets to steal Ukrainian Catholic churches six decades ago. Unlike his Orthodox
counterparts, this pontiff lives in the real world. He understands that if Christianity
is to survive, much less thrive, in the third millennium, believers cannot afford
quarrels over past grievances. There are deep theological divisions between East and
West, and any ecumenism that etends otherwise is false. But isn't working more closely
to combat the functional nihilism that accompanies the spread of consumerist values a
more pressing concern than fussing over the fate of the Filioque clause? The pope knows
that the key question in the era of post modernism and globalization is not what brand
of Christianity the world will follow; it is whether the world will follow Christianity
It is said that the Greek Orthodox regard John Paul as a symbol of
the Westernization they despise. Who are they kidding? The pontiff who was the scourge
of the militant atheist ideology that made martyrs of millions of Orthodox believers is
the same man who is the fiercest enemy of the secular Western juggernaut. Have the
Orthodox been paying attention for the past two decades? Do they read his stuff? Maybe
not. The late Alexander Schmemann, the eminent Russian Orthodox theologian, lamented his
faith's "complete indifference to the world," claiming that official Orthodoxy lived in
a "heavy, static, petrified" world of "illusion." Orthodox consciousness "did not notice
the fall of Byzantium, Peter the Great's reforms, the Revolution; it did not notice the
revolution of the mind, of science, of lifestyles, forms of life," Schmemann wrote in
his private journal. "In brief, it did not notice history." John Paul does.
Seizing the moment, he has not only asked forgiveness for the
historical sins of atholicism, but has also gone to astonishing lengths to accommodate
the obstreperous Orthodox -- even putting the nature of the papacy on the table for
discussion. He has suffered repeated insult from Eastern churchmen -- including a
scandalous 1991 rebuke at a ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica -- yet returned hatred
with affection. To little avail, alas. If the fathomless humility and charitable
witness of this great and good pontiff (great because he is good) bear fruit in the
East, it will almost certainly not be in his lifetime. Word has not yet reached Mt.
Athos that the new Babylon is not Rome but Hollywood and the shopping mall. (How's
that for a two-horned monster?) But it will.
By the time the Orthodox awaken from their self-satisfaction and
grasp the true nature of the spiritual and moral crisis engulfing their respective
cultures, what will they do to fight it? Perhaps they will consult "Veritatis Splendor"
and "Evangelium Vitae," as well as other prophetic writings of John Paul II, an
authentic Christian humanist who truly grasped the promise and the peril of the
postmodern world. Too late, it may dawn on the Orthodox religious authorities what kind
of wise and holy man they, in their narrow-mindedness and pride, rejected out of hand.
Tragic? Yes. But in the Gospels, you'll find precedent for this sort of thing
For Educational and Discussion Purposes Only; Not for Commerical
Letters to the Editor - Orthodox Wariness of the Pope
Ignat Solzhenitsyn - Philadelphia
In his May 8 editorial page piece "When Will the Orthodox Learn to
Love the Pope?" Rod Dreher misses the point on Orthodox attitudes toward Pope John II.
First,the outrageous comments of certain members of the Greek
Orthodox Church, if accurate conveyed by Mr. Dreher, are scarcely representative of the
wide respect this pope has garnered throughout the Orthodox world, and particularly in
ex-Communist countries, for his goodness and his selfless service. Second, the major
stumbling block in relations between the Western and Eastern Churches has been, for
centuries now, not the relatively obscure Filioque clause that Mr. Dreher cites, but
intractable differences over the notion of papal primacy.
The Eastern Church had always acknowledged the bishop of Rome as
Primus inter pares (according to early-church tradition), but has never accepted the
later construct of the pope as distinctly above other prelates. Mr. Dreher's claim
that, John Paul has put "the nature of the papacy on the table for discussion" is
imprecise. That John Paul is prepared to negotiate on many of the post-schism dogmas
that have arisen in the Catholic Church as a direct result of its papal framework is,
unfortunately, quite irrelevant, because it is on the specific central issue of
absolute primacy that neither side will budge. No matter how worthy and honorable an
individual John Paul II may be -and certainly it is this fundamental disagreement
about the role of the papacy that brings into question the Vatican's judgment in light
of the pope venturing into historically Orthodox "territory" -not only Greece but also,
e.g., Armenia, Georgia, Romania and potentially Russia.
If, in the words of Mr. Dreher, "the key question ... is not what
brand of Christianity the world will follow, whether the world will follow
Christianity at all," then one can understand the wariness on the part of many Orthodox
clergymen and laymen that, in visiting countries that overwhelmingly adhere to another
"brand" of Christianity, the pope is ultimately striving to bring Orthodoxy into the
papal fold. Mr. Dresser, who begins by rightly condemning individual zealots in Greece
while indicating his admiration for Orthodoxy, ends, Somewhat puzzling, by carelessly
censuring the Orthodox Church in Toto--an approach, it seems, to me, hardly emblematic
of the mutual respect and constructive dialogue that he surely seeks to foster.
By Bishop Christodoulos - Auxiliary to the Metropolitan Pavlos
Hellenic Orthodox Traditionalist Church of America Astoria, N.Y.
It should be remembered that the issues that separate the
Franco-Latin Papacy from the Greek Orthodox Church cannot be reduced to the level of
historic injustices. Nor can these issues accurately be articulated in simplistic
theological catch phrases. The tone of Mr. Dreher's article and the name-calling reveal
a great misunderstanding of Christianity as well as bias against Orthodoxy.
The writer's highly insensitive remarks in reference to the
venerable monks of the Holy Mountain (Athos) accusing them of having petitioned God to
"curse the bishop of Rome" is ridiculous. The church does not curse people. The writer
asks if there are not more pressing concerns for the Orthodox Church than "fussing over
the Filioque Clause." This is a question that rightly could be asked of the papacy as
well. Of course, the reasons for the estrangement of the papacy from the Orthodox
Church are far more theologically, and ecclesiologically, deep-rooted than just the
Filioque Clause [which contends that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the
Son, which contributed to the schism between Western and Eastern Christians in the 11th
century], as egregious as that clause is. For the most part, Orthodox Christians do not
overly concern themselves with the Latin papacy. There is little personal ill will
toward John Paul 11. The trepidation that we Greek Orthodox have as regards the Latin
papacy stems from that institution's serious deviations from the Apostolic Faith and
its historic role in attempting to force these deviations onto the Orthodox Christian
world, i.e. Croatian Cardinal Stepinac and his Nazi Ustasha forcibly converting
thousands of Orthodox Serbians to Catholicism and massacring the thousands who refused.
Cardinal Stepinac has recently been beatified by John Paul II.