Intellectual Takes Greek Church to Task Over Papal Visit

Nikos Dimou Says Orthodox Close-Minded About Pope

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ATHENS, Greece, MAY 1, 2001 (ZENIT.org-FIDES).- Not all Greek theologians and intellectuals are opposed to John Paul II´s visit.



"The Orthodox are forgetting Christ´s command to love," Greek writer and journalist, Nikos Dimou, told the Vatican agency Fides. Dimou, 66, is called the "Greek Noam Chomsky," because of the variety of his writings, which include prose, poetry, essays and philosophical works.

Dimou, a baptized Orthodox Christian, describes himself as a "secular intellectual." He is critical of the Orthodox Church, ever "more closed and diffident of anything to do with the West. [Orthodox Archbishop] Christodoulos said openly that he was forced to accept the visit."

Commenting on the present climate in Athens, Dimou said: "I fail to understand how insignificant, dogmatic differences can make them forget Christ´s command, ´Love one another, love your enemies!´"

On Monday, almost 700 fundamentalists protested in Athens against the papal visit, shouting "the Pope out of Greece." The Holy Father is due to arrive Friday.

The protesters, who gathered in front of the University of Athens, were convened by the Greek-Orthodox Sotiria Movement, and, in the main, were elderly people, including monks and nuns.

But Orthodox bishops appealed to the faithful to respect the visit. "Reactions of this kind are not right," they said in a statement. "In the eyes of other Europeans, we might appear as religious fanatics or fundamentalists."

Dimou said, "Intolerance should be alien to every Christian. Two years ago, the holy fathers of Mount Athos made a serious mistake when they declared the Pope persona non grata. Today, they are repeating their error: He is simply an aging priest who wants to make a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul."

"They are going against Greek tradition, for which hospitality is sacred," he continued. "All the more so, when it is a question of the leader of the world´s largest Christian confession, the spiritual leader in countries that are our European partners. It is humiliating for Greeks to be labeled as intolerant, nationalist fanatics."

"Among the historical reasons for their anti-Pope attitude, the Orthodox bishops include the Fourth Crusade," Dimou noted, "but then we would have to declare everyone non grata: Franks, Serbs, Venetians, Germans, Romans! How can they continue to refer to events that happened 1,000 years ago? They are ruining our country´s image abroad!"

Regarding latest developments and the statement issued by the Orthodox Church´s Holy Synod about the papal visit, Dimou revealed: "There is resentment and new fear in the Holy Synod´s attitude."

"The Orthodox Church feels besieged, as the whole country does at times," he added. "There is a feeling that we are the only depositaries of truth: This increases a sense of deep insecurity and the conviction that we live in a hostile, indifferent world. In my opinion, this is the source of the widespread anti-West feeling in the country."

On the whole, the Greek press "failed to criticize the position taken by the Orthodox leaders, heightening the climate of hostility: It is clear that the majority of Orthodox Greeks have a distorted and negative idea of Catholicism, the role and person of the Pope," he said. "Thank God ... there are exceptions!"

At the political level, the Greek writer said that "the Orthodox Church gave its ´nulla osta´ for the visit, to avoid open conflict with the government, although Christodoulos, hostage of fundamentalist groups, has said more than once that this is not the time for a papal visit."