Cypriot Orthodox Leader Rejects Criticism of Pope

Papal Visit Comes Amid Tension Over Ecumenism

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NICOSIA, Cyprus, JUNE 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The leader of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus is denouncing those in his community who are criticizing the upcoming visit of Benedict XVI.



Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostom II of New Justiniana and All Cyprus is underlining the fact that although some of the other Orthodox leaders are protesting the visit, the majority of the 17 members of the Holy Synod voted to invite the Pope to their country.

The Pontiff accepted the invitation from Archbishop Chrysostom II, as well as from Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, and will begin his visit on Friday.

That afternoon, he will participate in an ecumenical celebration. On Saturday, the Holy Father will pay a courtesy visit to Archbishop Chrysostom II and have lunch with him.

On Sunday, at a Mass with Benedict XVI, the working document of the synod of bishops for the Middle East will be presented. Afterward, the Pope will have lunch with the patriarchs and bishops of the synod of bishops' Special Council for the Middle East and with Archbishop Chrysostom II.

The Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus has been a powerful voice of unity since his election. However, in recent days, other Orthodox representatives, led by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, have spoken out against the idea of dialogue with the Catholic Church, and against the Pope's upcoming visit.

Athanasios sent a message to the Pontiff, advising him to suspend the trip as his visit would be considered a "provocation" against Orthodox Christians. According to news that appeared in the Cypriot press, this sector might be planning a boycott against the visit.

On May 23, the Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros publicized the words of Metropolitan Athanasius: "It would be better if he didn't come, because I don't think he will bring anything good. Up to now I have not seen any positive intervention of the Vatican in our national problems."

For his part, Archbishop Chrysostom II energetically rejected these attacks, stating that those who are opposed to the visit "should stay calmly at home."

Tensions

In statements published today by the Italian SIR agency, Father Umberto Barato, vicar general of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Cyprus' Latin Catholics, said: "Weight must not be given to criticisms. The Orthodox Church approved the visit by unanimity."

Metropolitan Athanasios, who formerly served as abbot of the Panagia tou Machaira Monastery, was almost elected in 2006 as head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, but Chrysostom was chosen instead.

The present patriarch shares the line of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who is more oriented to reform and dialogue.
 
The tension between those who favor and those who oppose dialogue with the Catholic Church is nothing new. In April of last year several Orthodox worldwide, self-proclaimed "guardians of the faith," signed a document in which they publicly rejected the idea of ecumenism with any other Christian church.

In this manifesto, known as "A Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism," the signatories described ecumenism as "Christian syncretism," stating that it is "the greatest heresy of all time." Some six metropolitans, 49 archimandrites, 22 hieromonks, 30 nuns and abbesses and others pledged to resist all ecumenical efforts between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church or any Protestant churches.
 
Patriarch Bartholomew I responded to this manifesto in a message published for the Sunday of Orthodoxy (celebrated Feb. 21 this year), in which he clearly rejected the ideas in this note, stating that Orthodoxy "has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself."

"These opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above episcopal synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church," the Orthodox leader noted.
 
"Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because the truth has never been endangered by dialogue," he stated in his message, recalling that the decision in favor of ecumenism was affirmed by "all the patriarchs and the Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues."
 
[With the contribution of Michaela Koller and Inma Álvarez]