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Τετάρτη, 17 Ιουλίου, 2024

The Metropolitan of Piraeus and the Aversion to Dialogue

Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

Executive Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Holy Cross School of Theology

For Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus (in the Church of Greece), unfortunately, the list of alleged insults and provocations is quite extensive and diverse, ranging from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, as well as from racism to homophobia, and many others. He is wont to speak of these matters with reproaches which, if they were merely unfortunate or tragic, might be glossed over and scoffed at. Unfortunately, however, they are deeply harmful, if not extremely dangerous. The metropolitan is primarily known for his censorial and defamatory speech against individuals, confessions, and religions, which he regularly releases through pronouncements and anathemas with the omniscience of an “infallible representative of God” on earth.

The occasion for his latest libel, published as an “Announcement” on the website of the Metropolis of Piraeus, was a short text with spiritual reflections by the Roman Catholic Archbishop Ioannis Spiteris shared with his flock some months ago (February 17, 2024) in a small magazine entitled Catholic Diocese of Syros—thoughts expressed on a book published over two decades ago in German and translated fourteen years ago into Greek, but long out of print. The article by Spiteris is a review of The Inquisition, a socio-historical study by Gerd Schwerhoff, professor of modern history at the Technical University of Dresden, on a subject that frequently, albeit justifiably, evokes strong emotional reactions. Endowed with a solid academic background, the Roman Catholic archbishop directly cites—appropriately using quotation marks—a number of passages from Schwerhoff’s book and frames these quotes within his own commentary. The Metropolitan of Piraeus, who apparently has not even taken the time to read the book, nonetheless does not refrain from passing scornful judgment on the archbishop’s critical review and thoughts. Armed with a sense of infallibility, but in reality blinded by a personal prejudice on anything related to papal heresies, Spanish inquisitions, and medieval crusades, he is apparently incapable of distinguishing between the commentary of Spiteris and the arguments of Schwerhoff, targeting all of his wrathful arguments at the former.

As a result, regardless of the historical contents of the book and the spiritual comments of the archbishop, Metropolitan Seraphim once again seizes the opportunity to berate Roman Catholicism in general as “a monstrous political-social construct with a religious guise” and to condemn “the contemporary evils of the world (spiritual, political, social, moral, commercial, and so on),” naturally excluding and excusing himself from all the iniquities of modernity.

Personally, I am always surprised by the selective methodology of the good metropolitan, such as, for instance, the way in which he often highlights his election by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, yet frequently keeps silent about his proposal, promotion, and ordination to the episcopate by the late Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, whom under other circumstances he would surely disapprove of as championing the so-called “panheresy of ecumenism.” But, of course, as a “dogmatic” hierarch, he seems comfortable with the doctrine that the end justifies the means!

But what could possibly have provoked such commotion for the metropolitan that out of nowhere he would compose a ranting condemnation of the pastoral thoughts of another bishop (belonging to another church) on a book in a foreign language (long been out of print)? The sole reason is that the pastoral thoughts are articulated by a Roman Catholic archbishop (which modern Greek orthodoxy is scarcely comfortable even labeling an archbishop) of the Roman Catholic church (which modern Greek orthodoxy is scarcely comfortable even labeling a church). The metropolitan overcomes his existential problem by adding quotation marks around the terms “archbishop” and “church.” And so, with the simple click of a key on his laptop, his dilemma is resolved.

The principal argument of Metropolitan Seraphim is as follows: “It is not an exaggeration to claim that 80% of the abhorrent crimes in history were committed and unfortunately are still committed (though covered up) by the Papacy!” And he continues: “The religious facade of the Papacy has offered and continues to offer absolutely no positive cultural service to humanity.” He denounces “the Papacy as an anti-Christian, anti-ecclesiastical, anti-social and misanthropic” construct that “for a thousand years has sought to render what is black as white by distorting the truth [elsewhere he writes of ‘obscuration’ and ‘deception’].”

Of course, he is correct when he states that “a ‘church’ that persecutes, tortures and kills people cannot be a Church!” In addition, he rightly observes that anyone who “imposes punishments on ‘heretics’ considered ‘dangerous to the security of Christianity and the State’ is an unworthy and immoral leader, especially if such a leader provides ‘theological foundation’ or ‘religious justification’ for such criminal actions.” The metropolitan even highlights how wrong it is to teach that “whoever tortures a heretic … will receive forgiveness directly from God and the Church.” Moreover, he expresses disgust that the pope once “declared it the duty of every Catholic to persecute heretics.” And he concludes—calculatedly and conveniently—with the argument that “for none of these horrible crimes and all the other historical crimes of the Papacy are we as Orthodox Christians responsible at all inasmuch as they do not involve us in any way. They merely prove, he adds, that “the ‘church’ committing these crimes is not a Church!” And so, once more, with the hypocritical and insidious use of simple quotation marks, the metropolitan completely exonerates himself and our church! For the latter, we remain forever grateful to him.

A Roman Catholic friend (or should I say “friend” in quotation marks because of his church denomination) graciously reflected that, “based on these remarks [by Metropolitan Seraphim], I would say that the Catholic–Orthodox dialogue still has a long way to go!!” Nevertheless, this is more than just about some aversion or phobia toward ecumenical dialogue. I honestly wonder how the metropolitan assesses the actions in Ukraine, over many years now, of Patriarch Kirill, his orthodox colleague in the Church of Russia, whose criminal actions cannot possibly be unbeknown to him. Does he not see the irony and perversion of his claims about the papacy?

As far as I know, despite never meeting him, it is not in character for Archbishop Spiteris to respond to the above libelous article of the metropolitan’s pontifical “announcement.” But the truth, both sad and simultaneously tragic, is that no orthodox hierarch, in Greece or even elsewhere, will dare confront him. While they have eyes to see, most will prefer to ignore him or perhaps, “upon seeing him, will pass by on the other side” (Luke 10.31–2). Coincidentally, the article by the Metropolitan of Piraeus was published the day after the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church.

This article was originally published in Greek on Fos Fanariou (June 29, 2024).

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