Friday, December 11, 2009

The Orthodox Through Catholic Eyes

Part V from the book I’m reading, The Keys of This Blood by Malachi Martin (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1990, p 288).

This is remarkable, although, I've been finding out, typical. We are viewed in such thoroughly secular terms that Catholics think if we don't have their idea of enough political clout, then our "ancient tradition ... today avails them not."  

For John Paul, the pathos of their [Orthodox] position is accentuated by the fact that these groups are heirs to an ancient tradition that today avails them not. Within that tradition, they have an instinct for the georeligious and, therefore, for the geopolitical. But the passage of time and the development of circumstances exclude them from that georeligious and geopolitical stance they feel in their bones as part of their heritage, part of their mandate and part of their reason for existence as religious groups.

Because they climbed into their positions by breaking with the Roman papacy and so abandoned their only realistic hope of georeligious status, John Paul looks upon them with a special solicitude. But he knows that as they now stand, their future lies down one of two pathways. Either they will remain lodged in relative isolation in their historical crevasses, holding on to their traditions. Or, as some of them have already shown an inclination to do, they will decide to accept some forms of merger with the various tides advancing on their positions. Beyond that, any final and satisfactory relief of their pathos must await near-future historical events of a worldwide magnitude.

In the meantime, because of their past they exercise a certain political influence of a localized nature, with which John Paul must reckon. The Russian Orthodox Church centered in the Patriarchate of Moscow not only wields considerable influence over some 100 million members, it also becomes the consenting, if unwilling, handmaiden of the Soviet Party-State. Its major officials accepted positions in the KGB. Its authorities acquiesced in the massacre of thousands of Roman Catholic clergy and accepted —as spoils of war — many Roman Catholic churches and institutions. Indeed, today, at least one solid faction in the Patriarchal Church is virulently antipapal. Throughout the remaining branches of Eastern Orthodoxy there persists a deeply buried antipapal and anti-Roman prejudice; it is felt that any aggrandizement of the papacy can only come at the cost of Orthodox dignity and privilege.

Dear Catholics:

We do not see any pathos at all in our situation.  In fact, we rejoice to be in much better circumstances, currently, than we usually have been throughout our history.   (This was less so when the book was published, 1990.) 

Granted, there are few Greeks who wouldn't like to see a new Byzantium of some sort.  But this is definitely not any part of the Orthodox Faith, much less any part of our reason for existing.   There is no such thing as any "mandate" in our religion either, to acquire political power.  In fact, quite the opposite; our mandate is to divest ourselves of eveything worldly.  We pray for any bishop who develops a lust for political power or any other fleshly ambition; and we seek to correct him, whether by admonition or (in extreme cases) by demonstration. He ceases to carry much weight with us. He may even find himself the object of ridicule.

No, really, for the Orthodox, it is not about "dignity and privilege" and never has been.   Please, God, let it never be.

No, it is not prejudice that causes us to reject papal supremacy.  (Why would you promote such a slur?)  The issue is primarily theological.

But yes, there are also some bad feelings, reinforced by very sad experience.   Forget dignity and privilege; historically, it's our homes and/or our lives have been at stake.  (Pun intended.)  And we're not speaking only of ancient experience, either, so please skip the uncharitable part about us nursing ancient grudges.  No, we're talking also about what is happening up to and including the present day. For only one example, didn't I just post a description of how Pope John Paul II planned to subvert the Orthodox Church and culture and use her people as political pawns?  All in the name of fostering closer ties with us.  If that's what "closer ties" means, how can you expect us not to shy away?

Finally, here's a puzzle for you: we find our ancient tradition avails us everything; yes, everything.  If this surprises you, please go and try to find out what it means.


Andrea said...

May I please ask a favor? Please do not lump all Catholics together when making these sweaping statements. I (a convert to Catholism as an adult) would never think to consider your faith as an "ancient avails them not." Clearly, given your blog posts...your faith is the center of your being.

I understand completely that you have theological issues with the papacy. There are things Orthodox churches do that I have theological differences of opinion with and if someone tried to tell me I was merely being predjudiced I'd be upset as well.

But I am upset...lately anytime you bring up paint us all with one large angry brush. And while perhaps you have reason to feel that about some of the heirarchy...the Catholic neighbor down the street, probably feels as I do. Please realize that people of faith follow many different paths. I sometimes wonder upon reading your comments about Catholics if you feel I am not as Christian as you. This makes me rather sad, as I think of you as a dear sister in Christ.

Lastly, perhaps there is a reason Mr. Martin is a former Jesuit? Perhaps his views are not in line with the Jesuits? Or with the Roman Church at large? As I understand it...this is a fiction book. If there is one thing I've learned about the world wide Church as a convert to Catholocism, it's that due to the size, scope and influence of the Church as an international makes us a good target for every conspiracy group to come along.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Andrea,

You do make a good point. NOT all Catholics think the way this Pope did (John Paul II). I have long-standing and close (family)connections with a lot of Catholics and most of them don't seem to think this way. Perhaps I should have titled this post, "The Orthodox Though One Pope's Eyes".

But I'm sorry to tell you that this is an attitude I've encountered not only in this book, but also among quite a lot of Catholics, both in person, in ecumenical dialog groups, and in Internet discoussion groups. More often it comes from priests than from laypeople, but not exclusively. And the Orthodox have encountered it far too often, in concrete historical forms, for centuries. It keeps rearing its head; it doesn't seem to go away. It glares through the Catechism of the Catholic Church; see the section on Religious Liberty.

And isn't a pope, after all, a pretty good representative of Roman Catholicism? Or supposed to be?

I'm grateful to find, so far, none of that attitude in the current pope and also none of it in you.

As for my other posts, I was discussiong specifically Vatican foreign policy, which I think pretty clearly does not involve all Catholics, at least not directly.

This book isn't fiction, although the same author has written 2 that are, The Final Conclave and Windswept House. (The latter he says he had to present as fiction, but it is largely historical.)

The author is a loyal and devout Catholic, and very much on the pope's side. He's disappointed that John Paul II conscientiously decided NOT to reform his own house, not to try to reverse the decay and not even to try to stop it's progression. But the papal politics he is very proud of and pleased with. In fact, as I mentioned, he considers the pope to have played a much greater role on the word stage than most people think. He is eager to document it all in enormous, admiring detail.

And the "coruption" he is so disappointed this pope didn't clean up isn't what you may think, either. The "corruption" consists of Catholics who want the papacy shorn of this sort of secular-style power. That is the only "conspiracy" he talks about.

The author considers the Jesuits to have betrayed the pope and the faith, I believe, from the non-fiction work he has also written on that subject. That book sits on my nightstand, next in line for me to read.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to figure out what the Roman Catholic Church thinks would be so appealing to the Orthodox for them to seek unity. What does the Roman Catholic Church think they can brin to the table? What is it that they think the Orthodox feel that they lack?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Perhaps this passage answers that question, Tad. They seem to think we crave earthly power and glory, feel it in our bones.

They can supply some measure of it.

Not, ISTM, as much as they think.

Anonymous said...

I reread your quote, and I can only think that Martin must be an isolated voice in the RCC in order to make the odd logical leap from "georeligious" to "geopolitical". Does it not even occur to him that what most Orthodox want from other Christians is Orthodoxy -- correct theology embodied in correct worship?

Yes, there may be those Orthodox leaders who clamor for a spot on the world stage as a matter of survival, as does the EP seeking for a toehold against the Turkish government. But for the most part, ISTM that their messages are still primarily theological, which is an aspect that Martin does not even mention. How odd.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well, his book is on the subject of politics, so perhaps that's why.

However, as I told Andrea, I've encountered this attitude regularly among Catholics. And yes, it is quite remarkable.

You know what? I'm going to a gathering on Thursday evening of Catholics and Orthodox, and I'm going to pose your question to them. I'm going to ask, "What do you think you need from us, and what do you think we need from you?" I'll let you know the results.

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear the answer! It seems to me that this is the crux of the discussion on reunification. If people can't answer the question, "What's in it for me?", then the conversation will never get past pleasantries and polemics.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Tad, I asked your question, and it turned out to be THE topic of the whole evening! Answer in a nutshell: the pope. And the increased numbers of faithful.

I'll elaborate on that a bit in another post, but right now I'm off to catch a plane. Going to a chrismation out of town.

Anonymous said...


I am really looking forward to your next post - this question has puzzled me for a while now. Have a safe flight. SEAL!