Orthodox Priests Fighting In Church of the Nativity – A Personal Reflection

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.

2. I do not claim to understand the hostility directed toward Roman clergy by the Orthodox priests of different nationalities. I am sure it is ancient and we are not likely innocent. But I also learned how hostile they are to one another.

Behind the Sepulchre is the Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox) chapel. In it, according to tradition, one can enter a cave said to be the burial chamber of Nicodemus (though it is empty). But the Chapel is scorched black, and in a ruinous state by a fire that happened back in the 1800s. It was explained to me by one of the docents that the chapel has never been repaired because no agreement could be reached among the Orthodox clergy on how to get supplies in to repair the chapel. “Amazing!” I said. “Its pretty normal for here,” said the docent.

3. These sorts of tensions also lead to the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre having a cluttered, dingy, and unrepaired quality to them. Even pushing a broom requires delicate negotiations.

4. Cronyism – Over at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem similar tensions exist, as you can see in the video below. When I was last there, the line to go down into the grotto of the nativity below the high altar,  came to a halt and did not move for almost an hour. Our tour guide discovered that the reason for this was that a Russian Orthodox priest was conducting a private tour for a group that had paid him to do so. That group had walked past the rest of us in line and the priest took them down and conducted a service and raised funds. The other tour guides finally had to summon the Palestinian police to force an end to the unscheduled and unpermitted  “fundraiser.”

Our tour guide told us she always felt the most tense going to the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, since the hostility and unpredictability of the the Orthodox clergy often led to complications. I can attest to that!

The rest of the sites in the Holy land, both in Jerusalem and up in Galilee, were largely overseen by the Franciscans of the Holy Land, and they are most agreeable and kind to people of every faith. They were true gentlemen everywhere we went and they do a splendid job maintaining the shrines too. God bless the Franciscans of the Holy Land and I would encourage you to be generous to them. They do good work in a difficult land.

All this leads to the video below: A sad and disturbing sight of dozens of orthodox and Armenian priests bashing each other with broom handles.

It reminds me of the great sadness I felt in Jerusalem as I was led by a guard to go and say Mass at the seat of mercy. What an odd juxtaposition, and yet what a strong reminder of how much we need the power of the Cross. As the guard led me out and up the steep steps to the Calvary Chapel, I thought of Christ being led up the same hillside, not for his protection, but for my salvation.

And even to this day, at the two holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it seems Satan still lurks and sulks. The video below shows that he is still able to lash out from time to time and, sadly, we connive in his plots.

Lord have mercy on us and grant us peace on earth.

69 Replies to “Orthodox Priests Fighting In Church of the Nativity – A Personal Reflection”

  1. After reading this very sad article about the Orthodox Christians fighting among themselves, I often come back to John 17 and the prayer of Jesus that all who follow him will be made one. These tensions make me consider that it is a miracle that the good news of the Gospel of Jesus still does go out and it all comes down to remembering what took place in both Bethlehem and in Jerusalem, where Jesus was born and where he died on the Cross for you and me and not to give into the temptations of Satan to be fighting against each other.

  2. This is sad indeed. I got just a taste of your experience at the local Greek Orthodox Church, Father. Each year they have a big festival and if you like home cooked Greek food, which I do, the ladies put on quite a spread as a fund raiser.

    Their Church was open for tours and my Evangelical wife and I went in to see what was what. The tour guide was a former Methodist, now Orthodox, convert. Somebody asked him about his conversion and he said something about Orthodoxy being the original and oldest Christian religion. My wife objected (privately to me as Evangelicals generally hold the first Christians were Evangelicals). I suggested that to the extent they were a valid part of the Catholic Church the guide’s statement was true. The Orthodox priest overheard me and was quite rude about how we Catholics were the purveyors of all things evil (I exaggerate). I thought, so much for JPIIs “two lungs” concept, at least as far as this group is concerned.

    1. Yes, I have not quite understood the whole of it, but one explanation given me in the Holy Land to explain the special hostility of the Orthodox priests is that they tend to consider Latin Rite priests either heretical or usurpers. Not sure this is true everywhere, but I surely discovered there that that validity and even esteem we accord Orthodox liturgies and sacraments and traditions is not returned by some.

  3. I have heard, Monsignor, stories like this. They are sad and consolidate my will never to go there.

  4. Sad indeed, but reunion will come about (even if we don’t live to see it). After all, Christ himself prayed for it and, for my money, what Jesus prays for, will happen… eventually.

  5. Happy, the parishioners of St. Michael’s (Orthodox) in Beaumont, Texas do not act like that. They’ve always made folks of all faiths welcome at funerals, weddings, and the annual Mediterranean Festival.

  6. I live in Cyprus, and in the run-up to Pope Benedict’s vist in June 2010, I was stunned at first to read and hear so many hostile remarks from the Greek Orthodox. They have a litany of grievances, going back hundreds of years, mostly revolving around the way the “Latins” (the Lusignans and others) treated the Greek Orthodox when they ruled the island, and the sacking of Contantinople in 1204. Pope John Paul II apologised for the latter and his apology was accepted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2004, but it doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the ordinary Greek in the street yet.

      1. The Church did not sanction the attack on Constantinople (the Fourth Crusade was actually supposed to go to Egypt). The city was sacked because the pretender placed on the Byzantine throne by the psuedo-crusaders (they had already been excommunicated for attacking the city of Zara) decided he wasn’t going to pay the reward he had promised. That set off a chain of events that led to the sack. Hardly a great moment in East/West relations, but certainly not the unprovoked agression by the Church always claimed by the Eastern Orthodox.

        P.S. Based on the duplicity of the Byzantines during and after the First Crusade, the Eastern Orthodox should have also done some apologizing.

        1. Brian,
          I agree. And if the Greek Orthodox have a selective memory about this, the version taught to most high-schoolers in the West, even I suspect to college-level students, is partly to blame. (Maybe it is the original urban legend). Many Westerners have been taught, believe, and spread all sorts of lies about the Crusades.

      2. I have a hard time understanding why we feel victimized on behalf of long dead people. Its one thing to recognize a historical even as unjust, evil etc. but to take personal offense at it and assign guilt to the descendants of the perpetrators is silly.

        Playing “who was the bigger jerk a thousand years ago” game isn’t much of a witness to the world even if you are right.

        1. You are so correct, Jay! Why is simple logic so elusive among us today?!
          Also, are we such hypocrites that we do not see that Christians, Jews and whatever,
          other Orthodox and “christian” persuasions are far from the kingdom of God and Christ
          when they approve of wars and even allow their children to enlist in them to kill other
          innocent people under the pretext that they are “enemies”?!! No wonder they fight
          among each other!

  7. Orthodox is NOT a synonym for “non-papal Eastern Churches.”

    Properly “Orthodox” refers to the CHALCEDONIAN Eastern Churches.

    Armenian, Syro-Jacobite, Coptic, and the Ethiopian and Eritrean Tawedo Churches are called “non-Chalcedonian.”

      1. Msgr. Pope, in response to Jack’s post, please see here: http://sor.cua.edu/Ecumenism/RC.html.

        The Catholic Church uses the term “Orthodox” to describe the Syrian Orthodox Church. “Syro-Jacobite” is a misnomer.

        Regarding the Chalcedonian v. non-Chalcedonian issue, this link may be of interest.


        See below for an excerpt.

        “The Church of Antioch was thriving under the Byzantine Empire until the fifth century when Christological controversies split the Church. After the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, two camps of the one Church emerged: The Greek Church of Byzantium and the Latin Church of Rome accepted Chalcedon, but the Syriac and Coptic (later Armenian as well) Churches rejected the council. The former group professed that Christ is in two natures, human and divine, whilst the latter adopted the doctrine that Christ has one incarnate nature from two natures. It is worth noting that the drafts of the Council were according to the position of the Syriac and Coptic Churches. The final resolution, however, was according to the doctrine of the Western Churches and was rejected by the Syriac Church. This schism had sad consequences on the Syriac Church during the next few centuries.”

        In 1984 the Roman Catholic Church and Syrian Orthodox church jointly declared:

        “The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools, to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.” http://sor.cua.edu/Intro/index.html

        I believe there is also another, more recent Joint Declaration between the two churches, but I did not see it on the website.

        For more information, Professor Sebastian Brock has written extensively about these issues and others in his book: The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Aramaic Heritage. (Rome: Trans World Film Italia, 2001).

        1. Is it not possible to use vernacular? I am writing to average people to whom these distinctions mean little. My eyes glaze over as I read all this ancient Byzantine complexity. You are free to add it as you have but honestly no harm is intended by speaking generically. Something in me suspects Jesus just shaking His head over this big mess and all these super fine distinctions. Ill say this, every orthodox priest, Chalcedon or no, in the holy sepulchre, seem to agree on one point when I was there: latin rite priests are beneath contempt. I had no idea of this walking in and discovered it much to my surprise, I who, in admiration have memorized the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Strange world

          1. I’m certainly no expert on the distinctions between all the Christian denominations. I read a few books on them when I was a kid, and that was all I needed. I think if we all took a little time to learn about each other to see how ridiculous the distinctions are between us (like the example about Chalcedon that I provided, which shows that the distinctions are oftentimes due to two sides misunderstanding each other, whether due to language barriers or otherwise), then Jesus would not have to shake his head, if that’s even what he is doing, which I do not suppose because I am not Him.

            That being said, priests and other holy men (such as yourself) tend to know that the super fine distinctions don’t really mean anything to the Holy Spirit. “The devil’s in the details” is one way to look at it.

            It’s the “average” people that you described, who I think tend to put up more walls because they don’t know any better. My fiancee was recently on a business trip to Baton Rogue and on the plane, the gentleman next to him asked, “Are you saved?” My fiancee, replied, yes, “I’m Catholic,” and the gentleman’s response was “Well, you’re almost there.”

            A lot of Catholic people (not clergy) do the same thing to other Christians. They view non-Catholics as belonging to a completely different foreign “bad” religion. I think this is due to being ignorant of all our similarities and the ridiculousness of the supposed distinctions. Priests know all this, but lay people often do not.

            Back to the specific topic of your post, the fight between the priests, I think it was due to pure male ego and ethnic chauvanism. I don’t think it has anything to do with the “super fine distinctions.”

            Chances are, if you are a Greek Orthodox priest, you are Greek. If you are Russian Orthodox, Russian, if Armenian Orthodox, then Armenian. Greeks, Russians and Armenians are extremely proud and nationalist peoples, to a fault.

            Roman Catholics are not “Roman”. The Roman Empire doesn’t exist anymore. Roman Catholic priests come from all difference backgrounds, German, Indian, Chinese, Irish, etc. Ethnic pride can’t get in the way when your church is as ethnically diverse as the Roman Catholic church.

            It certainly helps to be “beneath comtempt” when nationalism isn’t in the way. This is why the Roman Catholic Church is the mother church. It’s for everyone and was able to evangelize the world because of it.

            The other Churches have their place and purpose as well, and their traditions should be preserved and respected of course.

          2. Yes, I think you are on to something important, namely that Nationalism has a lot to do with these conflicts. I realize that it is not the only aspect of them, but it does not help in ameliorating them to be sure.

    1. Yes, the title of this article is misleading, because it makes it sound like Orthodox priests are fighting with each other, which is not the case. Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox are not in communion with each other, and have not been in communion since the Council of Chalcedon.

        1. Msgr,

          With all due respect, you’re not just talking to average people who don’t use “these minute distinctions,” but even if you were, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the proper terminology. This is a very well known blog for an important archdiocese of the United States. That means you will often have many non-Catholics reading your posts, including members of the Orthodox and Oriental churches. The distinction is not minute; it is basic. It would be like conflating Catholics and Lutherans or Anglicans and Presbyterians. It demonstrates a lack of regard for facts that anyone even slightly familiar with the situation should be conscious of.

          More importantly, it is important for us to recognize those distinctions, as we are all called to repair these divisions in the Body of Christ. The first step is to understand where they are.

          1. I am a trained priest ordained 25 yrs. But, I do not know all these fine distinctions, which you call basic. I am average. You apparently are not, at least in this matter. You may say it demonstrates a “lack of regard” It does not. I have regard. But am not a technocrat in these matters. Sorry, it is what it is and I am what I am.

            You have a lot of educating to do it would seem, because I am not stupid or uneducated, but I do not know all these fine distinctions even if you want to call them basic. To me and just about every Roman Catholic I know, including clergy, the word “Orthodox” refers in a general way, (in the the vernacular) to the separated brethren of the ancient and apostolic Churches of the East, (i.e. not in union with Rome). That’s just how the word is used among us “uninitiated” in the hoi palloi.

            Whatever internal distinctions to which you refer, they are not in my quiver and I was not taught them or did not retain them. I do recall that the word “Byzantine” is a euphemism in English for endless complications, and that might explain why the likes of me cannot retain and articulate the finer distinctions you insist on. Your scolding me does not change that what ever “all due respect” you deign to grant me.

            And, whatever importance this blog has attained, it has never pretended to be a theological journal or to treat every topic with encyclopedic precision. This blog focuses on homiletic and pastoral reflections as well as on commentary on where and how faith intersects with culture and the news. Comments are a good place to add precision if you want to, and the policy here is pretty wide open, barring personal attack or profanity.

            So you are most welcome to add a whole list of distinctions, I would just appreciate the information without all the scolding of either me or my readers for what we “should know” because, I am telling you, most Roman Catholics do not know all the finer points of Orthodox Christianity. I don’t know that all the shoulds and scolding in the world are going to change that.

            Finally I will say, that I don’t know if all the information in the world is going to change the fact that it is disgraceful for priests of any stripe (Orthodox, Armenian, Roman or whatever) to be going at each other with broom handles. If they had been Roman I can assure I’d still be commenting and begging prayers for these poor misguided priests.

          2. Funny, I thought the first step in repairing these kind of divisions would be to refrain from beating someone with a broomstick in Church? Beating someone with a broom in Church based on their religious affiliation demonstrates a lack of regard for the facts that anyone even slightly familiar with the act of sweeping should be conscious of. It is important to recognize this distinction by anyone called to sweep a Church or repair these divisions in the Body of Christ.

            I suppose I’m confused as to how recognizing distinctions justifies violence when sweeping a Church? Maybe I’m crazy, but the act of sweeping a Church just shouldn’t involve violence regardless of divisions or distinctions.

            The incident of violence in the video can’t be justified by distinctions. Trying to excuse or justify this violence using arguments of ‘distinctions’ or appealing to proper terminology just makes it worse.

          3. Dismas-

            I would completely agree with your last paragraph. That’s why I didn’t attempt to justify this terrible scandal that continues to plague the Holy Land at all. I’m glad that no one has attempted to do so and that you have rightly pointed out that to attempt to do so would be wrong. I’m also glad that we’ve both had a laugh now.


            You understand the distinction just fine; you refer to it when you start introducing the video. You point out that the video shows Orthodox and Armenian priests fighting. That’s why I’m confused that you’ve dismissed folks stating that the term “Orthodox” in the title for the post does not include the Armenians. If, in anyone’s vernacular vocabulary, it does refer to them, then this is as good a time as any to point out that that’s an incorrect use of the term and that they need to knock it off. If a group of Europeans used the word “Texan” in their vernacular to refer to everyone from Venezuela, it would be an act of charity to point out that they are using the phrase imprecisely. The entire instance becomes a moment in which they may grow in knowledge.

            The distinction is basic for those to whom the distinction applies; out of respect for them and for ourselves, our words should accurately reflect the situation. To say that isn’t an argument for why someone should already be aware of the distinction; it’s an argument for why it matters enough to bring it up.

            I can’t do anything more about the sad tensions in the Holy Land than I already have, which is pray. I can, however, make a point or two in regards to a side issue that was brought up by the post. We do what we can.

          4. Going round in circles. Quod scripsi, scripsi. If you’re trying to be an advocate for orthodoxy, you’re scolding, tisk, tisk is not helpful and rather tends to illustrate the attitude problem. Since we seem merely to be going around in circles here I’ll just make one last reiteration: the average person, who knows little about Orthodoxy, and most people in America don’t, speak in a general sort of way and use the word “Orthodox” as a general term. I am sorry you don’t like it. But rather than saying tisk tisk and scolding people as you do, perhaps you could have said something more engaging like “This is really a sad occurrence. Though, I’d like to point out that not all Orthodox and Eastern Christians behave in this way. I think this is a particular problem in the Holy Land under very specific conditions.” That would have been fine and helpful, but instead what you do is adopt an attitude that is rather condescending wherein you scold the rest of us for not understanding the intricacies of the world as you see it. Your approach is neither helpful nor informative. Neither do you grant one ounce of appreciation for the way people speak. Hence we just keep going round in circles. If it helps you, I get it…you don’t like the way the average person uses the word “Orthodox” I get it. But…. Sumus quod sumus.

          5. It would be nice to see average Roman Catholics treat the so-called traditionalists within their own liturgical family with the same respect. I admit that I have not seen broom beating, but I have seen written attacks against SSPXers and Sedevacantists that make me wonder if my Roman Catholic co-religionists are really Christian. Be that as it may, the ignorance of Western Christians in connection with the Christian East are something I have had to deal with as a Melkite Catholic for many years. I will never forget when the Eastern Catholic hierarchs who attended Pope John Paul II’s funeral celebrated a panikhida in his honor and a person watching the program with me in the dorm at Franciscan University said “Why are they letting schismatic heretics pray over the pope’s body?” Or when the College of Cardinals were meeting in conclave in order to elect the new pope and a several students at FUS expressed their concerned over the fact that a schismatic was participating in the events. The schismatic in question was Major Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, who was at the time the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Alas, Roman Catholics often know very little about the diversity within their own communion of Churches.

          6. Pardon my typos in the previous post, I just got back from the eye doctor. =o)

            The third sentence should read as follows: “Be that as it may, the ignorance of Western Christians in connection with the Christian East is something I have had to deal with as a Melkite Catholic for many years.”

            While the fifth sentence should read as follows: “Or when the College of Cardinals was meeting in conclave in order to elect the new pope and several students at FUS expressed their concerned over the fact that a schismatic was participating in the events.”

            Thank you, and may God grant all who have participated in this thread many joyful years.

          7. EJF, Well I at least am glad you pointed this out–and I’m Protestant. I agree that the distinction is not minute and it is very much like confusing Catholic and Lutheran.

        2. I posted here only because you left the false impression that the two groups are both Orthodox and in communion with one another when they are not. If there happened to be a brawl between Roman Catholics and a group of Sedevacantists I would be sure to differentiate between the two sides.

  8. The harm that some Christians do to the many…on other sites I have seen our athiest and anti-religion friends use this video to bash Christianity and organized religion in general. We give them so much fodder.

  9. Msgr. Pope,

    Thank you for your always thought-provoking blog posts. My wife and I teach Adult Catechism at our local parish. If you’ll permit a plug, Dr. Marcellino D’ Ambrosio (Dr. Italy”) has a sensitive and readily understandable treatment of the East-West Schism in a 40 minute CD lecture available at his website: http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/talk_info/47.html

    It has opened our eyes and hearts to our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Our prayers continue for healing, reconciliation and unity.

  10. Don’t they realize they are sinning by being hateful toward their brother? Where is their Christianity???

  11. It’s moments like this, i.e., the scandal of so-called men of God behaving so very badly, which make the job of evangelization difficult.

  12. From lots to broomsticks? I’m not sure this is a fair comparison, but I can’t help but recall the soldiers casting lots after Jesus’ Crucifixion over the seamless garment.

    [17] For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me. They have dug my hands and feet. [18] They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me. [19] They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots. [Psalms 21:17-19]

    [24] They said then one to another: Let us not cut it, but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be; that the scripture might be fulfilled, saying: They have parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they have cast lots. And the soldiers indeed did these things. [John 19:24]

  13. Msgr Pope is exactly right. Satan still lurks around and sulks in the area of the Nativity of Our Lord. How sad that people who refer to themselves as Christians, are still blinded by his wiles and manipulations. Prayer and fasting would resolve much of this mistrust and spiritual arrogance. Let us pray for all involved.

  14. Christ is Truth who is Peace and Unity and Gentleness and Kindness…All others are far from Christ.

  15. The monks fighting each other are surely showing no charity… but this thread is also full of the passive-aggressive self-righteous rhetoric that Catholics like to deploy against Orthodox, as if only the Orthodox ever show nastiness towards Catholics and no Catholic ever says or shows anything hateful against the Orthodox.

    1. Did you read my article? I think I indicated clearly enough: I do not claim to understand the hostility directed toward Roman clergy by the Orthodox priests of different nationalities. I am sure it is ancient and we are not likely innocent.

      Most Catholics I know, highly esteem the Orthodox Churches, liturgy and traditions.

      In terms of my own experience in the Holy Land, I entered the scene quite “innocently” and ignorantly since I bore no ill will toward the Orthodox priests and considered them brother priests. I was surprised to experience their ill-will toward me (i.e. Latin priests) and did not, and still do not, understand the roots of it. I do NOT indicate that they have no basis for this ill will, only that I do not know what it is all about, historically or presently. I am even more ignorant of their ill will toward one another. I do not know all the historical roots of this and even when I have tried to learn about it find that the explanations are as the old saying goes: “byzantine in their complexity.”

      I do not think that there is anything passive about my post as you say, nor do I think there is anything aggressive, nor even passive aggressive. I have used the indicative mood throughout and have shared my experience and reaction to that experience. I am also responding to an issue that is in the news and am not, therefore, simply bringing up things of the past for no good reason.

      The bottom line is that I remain puzzled as to the debates and the negative animus that is displayed in the video, and that I experienced in the Holy Land. I also remain sad at the way that debates, hurts, and slights that often extend back hundreds even close to a thousand years ago remain so fresh and am personally glad that I don’t know or remember all the details. I find a poor memory in such ancient matters is a gift to be sought. And, as for my personal experience in the Holy Land I choose to leave it there and see it as unique to that place. Here in America I experience little of this and continue to see the Orthodox priests as my brothers and have high esteem for the Orthodox liturgies, theology and traditions.

    2. “…rhetoric that Catholics like to deploy against the Orthodox.”
      No, that’s the point: Catholics don’t do it as a rule and we are puzzling over their animosity towards us and others. Why does the Latin Catholic Church in Cyprus allow Greek Orthodox to recieve Holy Communion with them, but the Orthodox do not reciprocate and instead call us heretics?

      1. Why don’t the Orthodox reciprocate and allow Catholics to receive Holy Communion in Orthodox churches?

        For the same reason that just because Protestants and Anglicans allow Catholics to receive at their “Eucharists” and “Communion services” doesn’t mean that Protestants and Anglicans can also receive communion in Catholic churches.

        The fact of the matter is that the Orthodox have retained a stricter intepretation of what it means to be in communion than post-Vatican II Catholics have.

  16. 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.

    1. 1)I don’t think Catholics engaged in brawls with non-Catholics in the Church of the Nativity, or within another church, before Vatican-II. In that sense, no, it’s not similar to the treatment of non-Catholics by Catholics before Vatican II.

      2)If you could point to examples of “indefferentism and sentimentalism disguised as charity” we could discuss those, otherwise it seems like bad faith. One could just as easily say that “frankness and sternness” are disguises for something else.

      If the brawl is an example of “frankness and sternness” of the East then it does the East no favors. What’s worse, it does the rest of Christianity no favors, either.

      1. Nope, Western Catholics have not brawled recently in any Churches, but they did conquer the Christian city of Constantinople in A.D. 1204. History is replete with violence by Christians (Eastern and Western) against each other.

          1. That’s okay. You never know what will be read years after it is posted. =0)

  17. The shameful and sinful fighting between the Armenians and Greeks in the Church of the Nativity relates to the fact that they are not in communion with each other; this is an ecclesiological issue regarding reception or non reception of the Council of Chalcedon. While both are called “Orthodox” the Greeks are “Chalcedonian Orthodox” and the Armenians (along with the Copts, Ethiopians and most of the Syriac Churches) are called “Pre or Non Chalcedonian Orthodox” The derogatory term “Monophysite” to refer to the Armenians, Coptic, Ethiopian and the Syriac Orthodox is not used by Rome any longer. Beginning in 1984 Pope John Paul II and Non Chalcedonian Orthodox hierarchs signed Agreed Statements regarding Christological issues. These Statements cleared up misunderstanding on both sides regarding the humanity and divinity of the Lord.
    Many of the Chalcedonian Orthodox still considers Pre Chalcedonian Orthodox heretics of the highest order and deserving of abuse. These feeling are reciprocated by many Pre Chalcedionians.
    As a bi ritual Catholic priest I am well aware of the strong feelings many Orthodox clergy and lay folk have towards Latins and especially Eastern Catholics. Latins are remembered for

    1) exaggerated claims regarding the ministry of the papacy

    2) Cardinal Humbert’s “excommunication” of Patriarch Michael during a Divine Liturgy in 1054
    (with the ignorant statement that the Greeks “omitted” the Filioque from the original text of the

    3) the Sack of Constantinople (which was sanctioned by Innocent III after the fact), complete with the
    desecration of the Holy Eucharist and the churches of the City, as well as rape of women
    including nuns

    4) the imposition of the Latin Liturgy, hierarchs and uses on the people after the Sack

    5) the use of empty political and military promises to gain submission of the Orthodox at the Council of

    6) the use of force or fear for conversions in Poland, Lithuania and other Eastern countries from
    Orthodoxy to Catholicism from the 15th through early 20th centuries (usually by civil rulers of aided
    and encouraged by Latin clergy)

    7) Uniatism

    Old World Orthodox people tend to have long, long memories. The above mentioned issues still need to be addressed in more that papal speeches or documents; “words are cheap.” Solid actions, real interactions and regular personal encounters among hierarchs, other clergy and laity from all the Churches can help toward reunion.

    Eastern Catholics are seen by many Orthodox as traitors to the faith since most Eastern Catholic Churches were originally Orthodox. Many Eastern Catholic Churches entered into communion with Rome for social and political reasons (Unions of Brest, Uzhorod and Romanians)

    Orthodox Christians watch how Rome and Roman Catholics treat the Eastern Catholic Churches. Rome tends to say that the Eastern Catholics should “return to their roots” but then does not allow this for certain issues (clerical marriage, election of hierarchs, and jurisdiction of Patriarchs outside of their “territories.”) If the Orthodox see that Eastern Catholics are not allowed to remain faithful to their heritage but are forced to by “hybrids” then the Orthodox would naturally flee from reunion.

    Here in the West many Catholics have good relations with Eastern Orthodox clergy and laity. I enjoy friendships with many priests and people.

    1. Thank you Father for a helpful and informative comment. Your points shed some real light on the reasons and the nature of the tensions which, as I have pointed out in other comments are largely unknown to the average Western Rite Catholic, including me. I personally have always had great regard for the Orthodox, I love especially the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I love Icons and the magnificence of Orthodox church structures. I am also interested in how they understand and express important theological truths and find their approach often compliments and completes how we understand and speak of such things in the West. But, as you point out, there seems to be a long memory of things among them that are largely obscure to me. Your list helps set forth some of that. I also agree that, generally here in America I find good relations with the Orthodox clergy and Latin Rite Clergy are the norm and am glad that you are able to enjoy that as well.

  18. This happens every Christmas and Easter. The Orthodox clergy are very passionate and yes, they will beat the snot out of anyone who gives heretical or blasphemous offense. They’re fascinating but when they say Orthodoxy or death they really mean it.

    1. being martyred is completely different (opposite) from doing violence to others.

      This is humiliating to all Christians. It is a scandal.

  19. This will be my last post on the matter.

    Do Catholics like it when non-Catholics pile on the Catholic Church because of its numerous sex abuse scandals by the clergy? Of course not, and I agree that it isn’t helpful when non-Catholics try to make cheap shots against the Catholic Church by appealing to those scandals.

    Why, then, should Catholics feel that they have the right to demean and put down the Orthodox Churches for the supposedly wrong behavior of some of its clergy? Isn’t this double standard? Argue on doctrine, not on personal behavior, because you know as well as I do that Catholic priests aren’t exactly pure and clean of any stain throughout history, including our time.

    1. NearlyPravoslav, it is not a matter about what Catholics like or don’t like. The fact is, in the case you have cited, that clergy did wrong, but the problem was more than what the clergy did, It was the coverup, and the lack of resolve in dealing with the matter more forcefully. There were in fact institutional weaknesses that we are having to work hard to correct. Hence your example is more contrary to your view than in support of it. I wish the world could merely revolve around what Catholics like or don’t like. But the world doesn’t work that way for us, and neither does it for you.

      So, message to Pravoslav: life is not just about what you like. In addition, you seem to be very thin-skinned and take offense where none is intended. I get the fact that you don’t like that people in this discussion don’t make all the distinctions you would like. You have been free to add the distinctions and help the discussion take on a more precise nature if you wish. But instead you enter the scene with a scolding attitude and a chip on your shoulder. Too bad for you but the world doesn’t just revolve around what Pravoslav likes.

      Unfortunately you, of all people, are no help at all in indicating that the dustup in Bethlehem was just a few isolated clergy. For, if you are an example of an Orthodox Christian, (and thank God I don’t think you are), then you are no help at all in dispelling the stereotypes you think are articulated here. I think your accusations that people are “demeaning Orthodoxy” in this thread are unfounded, and even if you can can find a couple of remarks that go there, they are far from indicative of the whole. Hence I think your accusation is far more indicative of your “issue” rather than ours. Frankly, You come across as far too “precious” IOW, far too sensitive and thin skinned.

      Your contribution to this discussion has been far from helpful.

  20. Dear Msgr Pope,
    You probably won’t be reading my input anymore because I’m late. This has been a most interesting discussion.
    My dishes are still waiting to be done because of this. You are so good at defending.
    I myself was in the Holy Land two years ago as well, also at Christmas. Our guiding priest had told us
    about the problems, he knows them well because he travels there twice a year. There was no brawl at the time we were there, but one could most definitely feel the tension. The looks we got were not exactly friendly and we made sure we did not look at them. And isn’t it a pity how things are falling apart because they cannot agree who should repair them. A great picture of you at the elevation and I do so remember seeing the same Jesus you saw in front of you.
    Best wishes for a blessed New Year.

  21. You know, I’ve been trying not to read Catholic blogs lately because they highlight our divisions so clearly, and has even made me question my faith. But in a strange way, reading all this bickering today has helped to strengthen my faith:

    It’s shown me that it’s not just traditional vs progressive squabbling, or Roman Catholics vs Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian or otherwise), or inter-religious fighting, or even religious vs. non-religious animosity. It’s just human nature it seems.

    So thanks everyone for that, but at the same time KNOCK IT OFF! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    With love,

    Jonathan 🙂

  22. Beat people to death over theology what are we living in the age of Justinian when that did happen from time to time.

  23. It is a pity that in this age of ecumenical dialogue a cleric can throw the whole thing into a tail spin, because he didn’t take the time and effort to investigate what actually happened. When I read of this event I, too, was shocked and embarrassed. I didn’t, however, leave it at that. I investigated. It turns out that the Romans have been in the vanguard of such altercations MANY times, as well. Nevertheless, these situations evolve for political reasons. Don’t forget, The church of The Holy Resurrection was divided up by the Moslems in to five sections representing a protocol that each group must honor. sometimes by mistake and often intentionally one Group will try to usurp the other’s protocol by design, inorder to set a precedent, and thus upset the balance of authority. Unless this is corrected immediately the problems will be even worse. Feel free to contact me for further comment. Saint John 7:24.

  24. My family and me visited Holy Land a few months ago, we are catholics and also we lived a very sad experience at the Holy Sepulcher, we arrived at 7:00 in the morning, Catholic mass was taking place and we stand on the line to enter to the Holy Sepulcher. There isn’t a schedule to enter to the Holy places the tourist guides affirm “This places are open at the whim of the orthodox priests”. We thought that when the mass finished we could enter, so the mass finished and suddenly an orthodox priest in a very rude way started to put iron fences to close the entry, slamming them against the floor so noisily, the people in front of the line asked him something and he answered very upset and shouting: “No entry until 5:00”. I can forget the face of and old ethiopian lady, she was in front of the line, she was scared and she didn’t understand what the orthodox priest said, he almost hurt her foot with the fence, she had difficulty to walk, she gave the step behind so slowly, some french catholic priests were beside us and when they approached to the entry, I thought “They won’t deny the entry to the catholic priests”, but they also denied it to them, I was very sad, I didn’t imagine this humiliation to the catholic priests. We made this long trip dreaming to be in Holy Land! To be in the place where our Lord defeated the death! In those moments I couldn’t believe it was happening there! 🙁

  25. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Greetings,

    What would the great Apostle Paul write into this blog, if he could be permitted to do so from the sanctity of Heaven? This is a good question, since, if we are to see that Blessed moment of the harmonizing of discordant theologies into a resonant Divine Harmonic Chord, then we all are required to follow the Lord Jesus and to grow more like Him every single day and moment in ever growing levels of Christian maturity. It all begins with the Catholicity of the Teachings of Christ Jesus which have never been divided and never will be divided. In other words, we should cling to what has been believed everywhere by all peoples, since the very beginning. Do we have more than one Baptism? Do we have more than One form of the Good News (Evangelion), which is not the Good News at all? Are we not called to worship in unity and concord? Yes, we are…and the sooner we learn that, the better things will be, as we resolve the dissonances of heresy by utilization of the Graces of the Holy Mysterions of the Holy Spirit of God. Such of all these Holy Mysterions are available to all those of us who would draw near to our Lord in contrition, repentance, and sorrow for the multitude of our collective sins against Christ and His Ecclesia (the Universal, Collective, Body of Christ).

    The sources of all the theological dissonances come not from God, but from the various wolves (false teachers) who have taken aim at the two natures of Christ: God and Man, and the Unity of the Holy Trinity with a view of distorting such concepts; even to the point of establishing “doctrines” foreign to the Gospel of Christ. Historians have documented these heresies and so have eminent theologians (Doctors) of the Ecclesia of Christ. All Godly Christians have always defended the pure faith as deposited by our Lord Jesus Christ. Pitiable is the situation that comes about by the power thirsty empires of this world when they influence main-line Christian communities through superstitions and decoy leaderships. It is time that all of us recognize that there can only be One Head of the Catholic Ecclesia. When we realize that the Son and Word of God is the Head of His Ecclesia, then we go a long way down the path of achieving unity. Then, when we seek Blessed Obedience and Blessed Humility, we arrive at the solution to the evils of denominationalism. Indeed, when we mount the Ladder of Divine Ascent and arrive at the destination with God’s required continual assistance, then all dissonance leaves us in favor of the sounding of that most Resonant Divine Chord of Passionless Life in Christ Jesus.

    May the Peace of the Lord Bless and change us into perfected creatures of God’s making, exercising our pure faith towards the ONLY true Faith; that of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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