The Patriarch and the Pentecostals


Pope Francis met the Pentecostals in an Italian locality and apologized to them for the persecutions of the fascist years. This is neither the first ecumenical fraternization, nor the first Catholic ‘mea culpa’. What surprises is the naturalness of the gesture. If John Paul II was more theatrical and used the publicity shock of his original initiatives, now the time has come for the ‘Franciscan’ simplicity, for a more honest assuming of the biblical principle of cleaning, one’s own eye before that of another. Which means of admitting one’s own mistake, even if covered by the darkness of time. The fascist regime generally privileged the Catholic Church, the accords with the Vatican in 1929 being considered an important political success for Mussolini. But the Christians belonging to other confessions suffered, same as other Italians which did not correspond to the ideological desiderata of the regime – homosexuals, for instance, exiled to barren islands.

This attempt at confessional ‘purification’ was not a fascist invention, as it corresponded to an old Catholic obsession (but also Orthodox and Protestant): true faith is only one, the ‘others’ must be combatted and extirpated like weeds. If other beliefs survived, this is only because of the force to oppose. Others simply disappeared following persecutions or even massacres. In Byzantium, for example, all measures were taken that even their memory disappears – so most of the information we have about the so-called ‘heretic teachings’ reached us only from the works of the ‘Orthodox’ writers who combatted them. Christian churches only seldom privileged the loyal competition of confessions, meaning that they contested the principle of the free market of religious ideas. Seeing Pope Francis sitting at the table with the Pentecostals, calling them ‘friends,’ to the Romanian case. Romanian Orthodox and Pentecostal believers fiercely hate each other, many sermons of priests and, respectively, pastors being dedicated to the vilification of the others. But why speak of Pentecostals, when the closer ties between some Orthodox bishops and the Greek-Catholics generated in their own Church fury and warmongering hatred. If the differences to Pentecostals are significant, those to Greek-Catholics are minimal. Why so much hatred? We must be honest and not avoid a painful truth: any Church defends its influence with all means, ignoring its own evangelical precepts. The Orthodox church, for instance, makes no secret from the importance it grants to the support provided by the state authority. Let’s not forget that, for many years, it vainly attempted to gain – also legally – a privileged status among the other confessions (following the Russian model). It even tried to take the lion’s share from the state programs of social assistance – a project blocked in extremis by opponents, despite a governmental accord. All in all, the Pentecostals and others like them developed more efficient social assistance networks with private money than the Orthodox Church. Yet, it is unconceivable for Patriarch Daniel or a metropolitan bishop to meet Pentecostals, have dinner with them and call them ‘friends.’ The fiercest (and more influential) Orthodox clerics see him as an enemy of ‘true faith.’ It is time for us to ask the meaning of this expression, for which more people died in History than for any other cause: ‘true faith.’ The Orthodox, more than others, are proud of keeping it ‘unaltered.’ Obviously, things are much more relative and prone to interpretation. But if we set aside the social and cultural evolutions and confront the religious life of today with the evangelical teachings, the result will not be comforting. Using the pretext of a millenary tradition – which actually hides all kind of things, better or worse – the Orthodox believers of today hide basic Christian imperatives. Perhaps it would help the Orthodox patriarchs to have a friendly dinner with the Pentecostals and apologize for the past campaigns against ‘sects.’ And learn to promote their own values with persecuting and insulting the others. There are many motives for conflict in the world, but what can be more tragic than the fact that religion too easily exacerbates them, instead of softening them? It is not God, but people, who need the apparatus. This is the main Christian responsibility.