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December 9, 2022

The Orthodox ghetto

Pope Francis loves the atheists. And does not believe in a God that is only Catholic. He even enjoys the fact that Christians are in minority globally. A lifetime Jesuit, he does not hide his anticlerical stance. In his youth, he appreciated the idealists of ‘materialism,’ dissociated himself from the anti-Semitism of his beloved mentor, St. Augustine, and now wants to take Catholicism out of its cultural ghetto. By having a dialogue with today’s ‘illuminists’ that promote the secularism.
This results from the epistle exchange and the interview granted these days to the founder of the most important left-wing daily of present-day Italy, `La Repubblica`. An atheist fascinated with Jesus, this is how Eugenio Scalfari defines himself. In retort, Pope Francis testifies that, without the Church, he would not have really met Jesus. This is why he conceives his pontificate as a reformist one.
All doctrine, legislation and administration aside, the Church is a way of life. A culture, in other words. And this culture is in crisis. A crisis that is not conjectural, like those vaguely named ‘the crisis of values.’ Pope Francis sets things in perspective: this is not about a ‘Christian’ culture, some kind of answer to humanism unsubordinated to religion. This is about cohabitation beyond tolerance and politeness. Without the haughty attitude of someone who is convinced about his ‘truth.’ We can, of course, wonder how rhetoric is this papal campaign in favour of the dialogue with atheists and non-Catholics. Not that it weren’t dishonest. But dialogue is not only a matter of benevolence, although without it this cannot even start.
This clash with modernity was painful, for Catholics. It was preponderantly conflicting, for a long time. Only the postwar era led to a more decisive attempt to get out of this ‘cultural war.’ But, as even the acting Pope says, too little has been done with this regard. But what happens with ‘the other lung of Europe’ – the expression that belonged to John Paul II – with Orthodoxy? The formal rhetoric uses the apologetic argument of the grand Orthodox opening towards culture. With reference either to Byzantium, or to the golden age of national culture. Creators temporarily retire to monasteries in order to complete their works, the ‘enlightened’ bishops also are major cultural personalities, while the presence of clerics in varnishing events, book launches or shows is something usual. The Orthodox press has pages dedicated to ‘Church and culture’ and, often, some intellectuals gather large audiences when they hold conferences on religious topics. But what lies behind this beautiful curtain?
Orthodox mentalities are rather ‘reactionary’ – if we use the standard of papal rhetoric. First, there is the desideratum of an ‘Orthodox culture.’ Of a creativeness exerted within the ‘stable of the Church’ or at least of Orthodox ‘values.’ In other words, the dialogue with atheists and non-Orthodox believers is useful only if it is apologetical, targeting the conversion of the discussion partner to the Orthodox truth. Not that this were specific only to Orthodoxy, as it can easily be found within the Catholicism, where the Jesuit-type stance of the present Pope is in minority, actually. What do today’s Jesuits believe with this regard? For instance, that God speaks through the quality art of anybody, atheists included. An Orthodox proud with his identity cannot believe this. And reality is up to the measure of the ‘reactionary’ credo. Who would have imagined that, in a town that hosts an important university, where the metropolitan bishop goes to Opera and the Museum, the Orthodox confessional school which he founded has pupils whose parents totally forbade watching TV? And where teachers have problems choosing what stories to tell children so that to avoid the characters of cartoons by Walt Disney – `guilty` of having been a freemason. Where artists with academic ranks regard the western art after Byzantium as degenerated. Where the confessors of students discourage the frequentation of ‘modernist’ culture. Where ‘folklore’ remains a safe value in relation to the ‘disputable imports.’ Where a star of the young generation of theological authors prints at his (otherwise prestigious) publishing house texts with ridiculous anti-Semitic accents written by a ‘teacher’ of modern Greece, Cosmas the Aetolian. Where the ‘foremost Romanian theological personality’ is declared someone who considers that ‘our kin’ is not the Jewish neighbour living in the same building, but the relative living in the ‘Romanian’ village where we originate. Where people who dreamt of a totalitarian, repressive and bellicose Orthodoxy are regarded as saints. Where nationalism is still often treated as a surrogate for culture. And where even the patriarch had to back off with regard to ecumenical dialogue. What culture can result from such understanding of Orthodoxy? Let’s get serious, the cultural crisis of Orthodoxy is severe. And its effects can be seen easily. Perhaps, as Pope Francis suggested, a Church needs to become minority in a country in order to return to a role of fertile yeast. A too big arrogance due to a strong influence can be fatal for it.

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