Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Catholic priest reflects on the recent brawl in the Church of the Nativity

The video below is sad and disturbing. More on that in a minute

One of the more surprising, and personally saddest things I have encountered in my trips to the Holy Land, is the encounter with Orthodox clergy. While I had been trained to expect tensions between Jews and Arabs, my experience involving the Orthodox clergy was actually the most tense and shocking. It also surprised me since, speaking for myself, I have always had great admiration for the beautiful liturgies of the Orthodox. And, while I know little of the internal realities of those Churches, I have always hoped for reunion. My experiences in the Holy Land showed me very clearly how difficult and unlikely such a reunion may be. A few personal stories.

1. Mass at the Calvary – On my last trip, two years ago I was given the magnificent privilege of celebrating Holy Mass with my parishioners right up on the Calvary, at the Latin Altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (See photo at upper right). It remains one of the highlights of my entire life. There I was celebrating Mass just feet away from where the cross had once stood, and over the sight of the nailing.

I had reported to the Latin sacristy at 5:30 AM and vested for the 6:00 AM Mass. One of the Franciscan Friars spoke to me in a kind but firm way about the rules that must be observed. He warned me that under no circumstances was I to set foot outside of the sacristy once I had vested. To do so, he warned me, would likely provoke a violent response from the Orthodox clergy, standing twenty feet away near the entrance to the supulchre. When I smiled in stunned wonderment, he reiterated, “Father I am very serious, if you do so you will provoke an international incident.”

The only way we could get to the Calvary Altar at the other end of the Church was to be led there by an approved escort. Any singing was also forbidden during the Mass, a restriction that made sense given the need not to disturb other liturgies underway.

We were also warned severely not to stray from the Latin Chapel with while wearing our Roman vestments. During the Mass, which was a beautiful experience otherwise, the deacon with me strayed just a little too far to my left and the Orthodox priest standing guard at the Greek altar, wildly gestured that he must step back. Following the Mass, we clergy had, once again, to be carefully escorted back to the sacristy.

Read the rest here.

12 comments:

Visibilium said...

Don't they fight every year?

Judge373 said...

This priest seems to conflate the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox together as one.

NearlyPravoslav said...

"I have always had great admiration for the beautiful liturgies of the Orthodox."

Which says a lot about the condescending view of many Catholics towards Orthodoxy: for them, Orthodoxy is merely all about beautiful rites, nothing more.

Besides, it's not as if only Orthodox show nastiness towards Catholics.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing condescending about his view considering how little Orthodox share the rest of their traditions with other Christians, let alone non-Christians without stating first how wrong everyone else is and how true and right they are.

NearlyPravoslav said...

You can also look at the Greek-Armenian brawl this way:

1) These are people who take the lack of communion and all its implications very seriously: very similarly, in fact, to Catholics and how they once treated non-Catholics in the time before Vatican II.

2) Easterners have not been known for their softness for dealing with the heterodox ever since Nicolas of Myra punched Arius. You can choose the East with its frankness and sternness or the modern West with its relentless indifferentism and sentimentalism disguised as charity.

To the last Anonymous:

Anyone listening to what Orthodox Patriarchs have been saying in the last 80 years will know that you are completely wrong.

Proskomen said...

For the information of the Catholic priest, he should become aware of the fact that Armenians are not the same as Orthodox.

Consider how precarious everyone's share of the church must be for people to be so touchy about who steps where.

Somehow I doubt this is just about undue outrage over "That Roman guy stepped in the wrong place" than a fear - either misplaced or well-placed - about the possibility that if they let him step here by accident and don't defend their territory, they will eventually lose it to encroachment. So to keep other people back and afraid, they have these outwardly crazy, disproportionate reactions.

sjgmore said...

I don't really understand this particular situation, but I can't help but think that it is much more an example of cultural problems than religious problems (as the French would say, it's "culturel" not "cultuel"). To me, suggesting that this attitude has something to do with Orthodoxy misses the point.

For example, in the 1950's, I'm sure if a black minister had sought permission to bring his congregants into some kind of Southern Baptist church for a service and received it, there still would have been some churchgoers lurking around to ensure the black visitors "stayed in their place". One could blame this on Protestantism generally, but it really would have been much more reflective of Southern culture than Protestant religion. I suspect something similar is happening in the Holy Land.

It's sad, yes, but to read too much into the ecumenical implications goes overboard, I think. At the very least, the ecumenical implications shouldn't be divorced from the social and environmental aspects of the problem as well.

Herman said...

Granted, I suspect this note has much to do with Western ignorance and condescension toward Orthodoxy. Be that as it may, what claim can we Orthodox have to holiness and truth if love your neighbor gives way to a petty and jealous idolatry of place? Is any place so holy that Christ Himself would say 'defend this line with violence'? Did he approve of even defending Himself in the garden? Did He cheer in approval as the servant's ear was severed? 'Don't cross this line' belongs more in a shared bedroom between children than in a house of God. Better it is decommissioned and sold to make room for a new apartment building than to be a stumbling block for any.

Anonymous said...

To the last Anonymous:

Anyone listening to what Orthodox Patriarchs have been saying in the last 80 years will know that you are completely wrong.

Oh bullocks. What the ordinary Orthodox says to the ordinary Catholic has far more weight.

I can't help but think of the Theotokos looking down at squabbling children and wishing they would just grow up.

It's supposed to be a "sacred" place, a place set aside for the Holy.
Instead it's a mosh pit.

NearlyPravoslav said...

"To the last Anonymous:

Anyone listening to what Orthodox Patriarchs have been saying in the last 80 years will know that you are completely wrong.

Oh bullocks. What the ordinary Orthodox says to the ordinary Catholic has far more weight."

The ordinary Catholic thinks that contraception is okay and that all religions are more or less the same. If an Orthodox were to point to an "ordinary Catholic" as the representative of Catholicism the Catholic blogosphere and apologists would all be in an uproar and insist on something from the Pope and the bishops instead. Why can't you extend the same courtesy to the Orthodox?

Anonymous said...

The ordinary Orthodox also thinks that contraception is okay and that all religions are more or less the same,( if they even have any knowledge of them). This is true at the very least in North America.

The blogosphere has about as much connection to reality as Hollywood films have with real life.

Here's something for you to ponder since you style yourself "nearly pravoslav";

http://www.sras.org/russian_and_jewish_identity_in_2006

Jon Marc said...

"This priest seems to conflate the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox together as one."

Something we should defend against as strongly as possible because we'd hate for the Armenians in the Holy Land to get as a bad a rap as the Greeks :-), who on the whole seem to deserve it much more. (If the news stories are anything to go by anyways - more often than not it's "the Greeks and [fill in name of hated religious organization of the day here].")