Thursday, June 03, 2010

For some, the past is never another Country

IF NOTHING else, the small, but very public dispute over the Pope’s visit to Cyprus has highlighted the deep divisions within the Church of Cyprus.

No sooner had the ink dried on a Holy Synod circular – bearing the signature of all the metropolitans – welcoming Benedict XVI to Cyprus, than a number of bishops aired their disapproval, citing concerns that the Pope’s visit was inappropriate and might ‘harm’ the Orthodox faith.

The police meanwhile have confirmed they are assessing information on possible disturbances breaking out during the Pontiff’s stay. Security around the Pope will be draconian, and authorities will be on the lookout for fanatics flying in from Greece.
There may be good reason for this. In October last year, around 100 Orthodox protesters, including monks, were arrested after demonstrating at an inter-faith conference hosted by Paphos Bishop Georgios.

Later on, they hounded a Catholic priest out of a church in Chlorakas while he attempted to marry a Catholic couple.
It’s not clear who the objectors are – religious fanatics or fundamentalists – but there is a common strand, namely, they oppose rapprochement and dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. ‘Roman’ being the operative word here.
“The Orthodox Church suffered a great deal under the Latins,” says Andreas Papavassiliou, a well-known theologian who often writes on the subject.

“There is a dark history where the Catholics are concerned. We can never forget, for instance, the Crusaders’ sacking of Constantinople in 1204, which precipitated the downfall of the Byzantine Empire.”
“Under the Latins [Lusignan rule],” he goes on, “the 14 bishoprics of Cyprus were cut to four, and the Orthodox bishops were reduced essentially to vicars.”

So is it all about old grudges? No, says Papavassiliou: more than that, there are deep, irreconciliable theological differences between the two religions.

And he has no qualms about labelling Catholics heretics. “A heretic is someone who believes wrongly. Catholics are Christians, but they are heretics. That is why our religion is called Orthodoxy [loosely translated as ‘true faith’].”
As hard-hitting as the above views may sound, they come from someone who for years participated in inter-religious dialogue and is well-versed in the subject.

Asked what he thinks of the ongoing dialogue, Papavassiliou sums it up thus: “It’s pointless. The differences are too vast. The Catholics aren’t about to admit being wrong about certain things, there’s too much at stake. So I don’t see any progress.”
The core theological dispute revolves around the question of the Filioque. Filioque, Latin for “and (from) the Son”, was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed. This creed, foundational to Christian belief since the 4th century, defines the three aspects of the Trinity: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. In its original Greek form, the creed says that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”. The Latin text speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding “from the Father and the Son”. The Orthodox church refused point-blank to accept the addition.

These theological reflections aside, there are more practical reasons why hard-core Orthodox are suspicious of Catholics. They point to such things as the highly centralised structure of the Roman Catholic Church, whereas Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are ‘autocephalous’, or a head unto itself. Papal infallibility is another point of contention for some Orthodox.
Closer to home still, it is the Pope’s activities while in Cyprus that are most vexing to local dissenters. The latter point an accusing finger at the Church of Cyprus, and Archbishop Chrysostomos II in particular, and wonder how it agreed to play along.
The Pontiff’s itinerary will begin with an official welcoming service at Paphos airport on June 4, followed by a pilgrimage and “ecumenical orison” (multi-church prayers) at the Column of Saint Paul at Saint Kyriaki Church.

On June 5, the Pope will have an audience with President Demetris Christofias at the Presidential Palace, before meeting members of the Latin and Maronite churches at the Elementary School of Saint Maronas in Anthoupolis. He will also meet Archbishop Chrysostomos II, and attend mass at the Holy Cross Latin Church.

On Sunday, he will hold a mass at Eleftheria sports stadium in Nicosia, and present to prelates and primates his Instrumentum Laboris: a text to prepare Bishops for a meeting to discuss the issue of Christians in the Middle East in Rome this October. Before departing, he will hold a prayer service at the Virgin Mary of Graces Maronite Cathedral, at Paphos Gate in Nicosia.

“They are letting the Pope use Cyprus to promote his own Catholic agenda,” protests Papavassiliou.

“He will prepare the ground for a Middle East council, and this in an Orthodox jurisdiction. Let’s hope the Archbishop will not hold a joint liturgy with the Pope, because that will be the last straw.”

Papavassiliou says that officially Pope is coming to the island first and foremost under his capacity as head of state (the Vatican), since the invitation was made by President Christofias.

“But why, then, is he being greeted by the Archbishop at the airport, and later at the Archbishopric? How come he is holding prayer services here? It all goes to show that he is also coming under his ecclesiastical capacity.”

To prove his point, Papavassiliou says that the original invitation to the Pope was made by Archbishop Chrysostomos during a visit to the Vatican. Shortly after his return to Cyprus, Chrysostomos wrote to the Pontiff urging him to visit the island.
“Now they’re telling us that he’s coming at the President’s invitation, and that the Church is ‘just consenting’ to the visit. They’re pulling wool over our eyes.”

So why is Chrysostomos keen on having the Pontiff in Cyprus?

“He’s an ambitious man. I think the previous Archbishop would never have agreed to this, he would have drawn the line,” says Papavassiliou, adding that he knew both men well.

Gregory Reichberg of the PRIO Cyprus Centre, who has conducted research on religion, Catholicism and inter-religious dialogue about war and peace, says he can understand why Archbishop Chrystostomos’ actions can be surprising to some.
“On the one hand, he comes across as a hardliner on the Cyprus issue, and on the other he is more open-minded, in favour of rapprochement with the Catholic Church.”

According to Reichberg, the opponents of rapprochement in Cyprus think it is tantamount to subservience to the Catholic creed.
Bishop Isaias of Tamassos, who is pro-rapprochement and has been involved in inter-religious dialogue with Protestants, agrees:
“I think these objections are down to insecurities of some of the Orthodox faithful. They are misplaced fears…Orthodoxy has nothing to fear,” Isaias told the Sunday Mail.

“We are not making any concessions, we shall not engage in debate over doctrine while the Pope is here, so there’s no reason for concern,” he added.

The bishop dismissed the argument that it is the very absence of a clear Orthodox stance on the Catholic faith which feeds such dissent among the ranks.

“The official position of Orthodoxy is that Catholics are a schismatic Church, they are not heretics. We recognise their baptism, and mixed marriages are allowed.

“As for the other objections, well, the Pope will be coming here to see his flock in Cyprus. There is nothing wrong with that. And as for the prayer services, may I remind some people that Orthodox priests also perform liturgies in Catholic countries, like Italy.”


The East-West Schism, also known as the ‘Great Schism’, divided medieval Christianity into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively. Relations between East and West had long been embittered by political and ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes. Prominent among these were the issues of “filioque” and the Pope’s claim to universal jurisdiction.

The Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographical lines, and the fundamental breach has never been healed. The Crusades, the Massacre of the Latins in 1182, the capture and sack of Constantinople in 1204, and the imposition of Latin Patriarchs made reconciliation more difficult. This included the taking of many precious religious artifacts and the destruction of the Library of Constantinople. On paper, the two churches were actually reunited in 1274 (by the Second Council of Lyon) and in 1439 (by the Council of Florence), but in each case the councils were repudiated by the Orthodox as a whole. In 1484, 31 years after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, a Synod of Constantinople repudiated the Union of Florence, making the breach between the Patriarchate of the West and the Patriarchate of Constantinople final.

Cyprus’ relationship with the Roman Catholic church has also been coloured by the harsh treatment its Greek Cypriot population received at the hands of its Roman Catholic rulers the Lusignans (1192-1489) and Venetians (1489-1571).

Most notorious is the torture and massacre of the ‘Kantara 13’ by the Roman Catholic rulers in May 1231, after 13 Orthodox monks from Mount Athos had settled at Kantara monastery and attempted to revive the ascetic way of life and Orthodox tradition on the island.
Hat Tip OBL

Note: Please refrain from posting overheated or polemical comments. We had some issues with this on another thread recently. Thanks... John

1 comment:

Jason S said...

Couple those last couple of paragraphs with the fact that the last Catholic (Croatia) vs Orthodox (Serbia) war was less than 20 years, I would say that the current 40 years of talks between the churches have been very fruitful. In fact I would say they have been miraculously fruitful. We have gone from a thousand year religious cold war (that some times got real hot) to a comparably beautiful spring time. So all the people that go on and on about the fact we have talked for 40 years and have had no resolution, have to realize that we just finished a really long war. We have a shared Christology, maybe we need a new east and west council to define our beliefs about the Holy Spirit and primacy in the Church. That would be a crazy idea, a council with the 3 chairs of Peter presiding in say Toledo, Spain. It would give the phrase Holy Toledo a whole new meaning. Best case the RC, EO and OO walk out as one church, worst case they walk out 3 churches but we have a definitive council to point back at and we can get on with being RC, EO or OO.