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Theodore Riginiotis, Theologian
Ελληνικά: Για την επίσκεψη του Πάπα στη Λέσβο
Pope Francis is firstly a political persona – the head of the Vatican State, with immense influence internationally, as rumoured – and secondly a religious one. Therefore, his visit to Lesvos Island in view of the refugee problem should be seen as the visit of a political leader. The pope is a religious leader, only for the Roman-Catholic faithful. For us Orthodox, the pope is the head of a heresy – in fact, perhaps the most virulent kind: an omnipotent heresy, with immense wealth and political power, who holds captive entire nations in central and western Europe as well as in Latin America - and generally in various places all over the globe.
Roman Catholic faithful are undoubtedly our brethren and fellow-man, and somewhat similar to us in faith and ethos. We embrace them, and we should embrace them, 100%, with in-Christ love; however, they must realize that from a religious aspect, the Organization in which they belong (the "Roman Catholic Church") did NOT preserve, and has continued to NOT preserve authentic Christianity, for the past thousand years. It is by NO means the continuation of the ancient Church, but rather a deviation from it. The western European Saints of the first millennium A.D. belong to the same (Orthodox) spiritual tradition to this day, but not with the Christians of those same European lands, who inhabited them during the following millennium, when Catholicism had eventually prevailed.
The above are substantiated, by invoking the witness of many Roman Catholics (but also Protestants), who became Orthodox Christians after thorough, serious research into the sources of ancient Christianity – as, for example, the assassinated bishop of Nazianzo, Paul De Ballester, also Fathers Seraphim Bell, Gabriel Bunge, Placide Deseille and innumerable others (many interesting cases can be found in the website «Roman Catholics met Orthodoxy»).
As an Orthodox Christian, I love the pope also; which is why I pray (and propose, even though I am sure it is futile) that he return to the ancient tradition of Christianity – Orthodoxy – so that he himself may be saved, along with all the members of his religious organization which is referred to as “Catholic” or “Roman Catholic”.
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During the last decades many orthodox hierarchs – even patriarchs – have made several important good will steps by approaching the popes of the time as well as Roman Catholic hierarchs, priests and faithful in general. Those steps continue to this day, but I doubt that they are achieving the desired result, that is, to help our Roman Catholic brethren return to the ancient Church. This is the reason I am not pleased at the sight of the Archbishop of Athens and the Ecumenical Patriarch accompanying the pope or behaving as if he is an acceptable religious leader of an acceptable Christian community – that is, of a canonical, local Church. Say what we might, but things are not the way they should be. The utmost caution is necessary.
An abysmal chasm separates the Roman Catholicism from the Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic bishops have recently been projecting the assertion that “we are very close”. Quite the contrary. The God of the Roman Catholics is an austere judge, who judges man and either acquits him or condemns him –literally– to an eternal punishment. The God that the Orthodox believe in, does not, per se, judge man, but rather, invites him to become united with Him and attain deification (theosis), which is the state of holiness. The stubborn refusal of God’s love by an impenitent person transforms the presence of the divine Light in that person’s life into Hell, when God’s desire is that all people eventually be found in Paradise.
According to Roman Catholicism, Christ became man in order that He be punished instead of mankind, thus satisfying the Father’s sense of justice, which had been offended on account of man’s Original Sin. According to the Orthodox Church however (as well as the ancient Christians), Christ became man because the Triadic God so loved the world, that even from the beginning of Time (or, more correctly, pre-eternally), He had the desire to be united with mankind and to invite them to a union with Him. But according to the Roman Catholic view, the UNION of man with God is nonexistent; only judgment and condemnation or acquittal of man by God.
This notion – which is linked to many other theological and philosophical differences between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics – is the reason for Catholicism’s cruel stance towards people, as far back as the Medieval era. We are therefore in no way “close” to Roman Catholics.
If Pope Francis truly desires to help people, then he should utilize his political and financial powers, being the political persona that he is, in order to intervene in international politics, with a dual objective:
- to accommodate the refugees in a more suitable space (and not in a country that has collapsed financially and socially), and
- to demand the cessation of the wars in Asia and Africa, which were the cause of the refugee problem in the first place, and are also the cause of the massive emigrations of people during recent years. If he does this, he will not automatically cease to be the head of a devastating heresy, but will surely be recognized in human History and – who knows – perhaps even in the eyes of the loving God, whom he is supposedly honouring.
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