Monday, September 23, 2013


A few years ago I published a post on this blog called, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ about the previous Roman pope, Benedict XVI, in which I was critical of the holy father’s pronouncements about other Christian churches, and the Orthodox Church in particular being described as lacking something because we don’t recognize the primacy of the pope. In the same post I rhetorically asked my patriarch, Bartholomaios of Constantinople, what he thought of the pope’s pronouncements, and why he was exchanging kisses and presents with the man, while simultaneously persecuting the elderly hyper-Orthodox (fanatical) monks of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos for refusing to accept him as their spiritual head. I took that post down, after I realized that I had let myself take sides in controversies, which is something I intend not to do on Cost of Discipleship. I put the post back up, just so you can read it, if you want to, in contrast to what I am about to say about the current pope, Francis I.

Popes and patriarchs (don’t you love titles?), metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, proto-presbyters, priests and deacons are all anointed ministries in the Holy Church, which transform those who are duly elected and anointed into superior beings who figuratively float above the rest of us at best, and at worst ride our backs and mercilessly drive us to milking, fleecing, or even the abattoir. Did I really write that? Oh my God! What I meant to say was, ‘anointed ministries in the Holy Church, which transform their bearers into servants of God’s people, servants, protectors, teachers and guides, healers of souls and bodies, peacemakers, ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, spiritual fathers, even human sacrifices who join our savior Christ in shedding their blood for the life of the world.’ Having gotten it wrong the first time (I am an idiot) but hopefully right the second time (following the teachings of the saints), I now move on to the praise of the man of God, Francis, the pope of Rome.

Yes, and this time when I write, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ I really know what I’m talking about, saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. I don’t have to be a Roman Catholic to feel encouraged by the recent words of the current bishop of Rome, and by his life style. I am not saying his predecessor wasn’t honest. Indeed, he was, but he was honest only in that he continued to uphold divisive and even oppressive opinions which have been the cause of the separation not only between Catholics and Protestants, but Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The honesty of the current pope is of a different kind. He is honest, I think, because he faces the contemporary world with all its ills and aberrations, admits they exist, and then opens the door, not to more doctrinal or political responses, but to affirming eternal life in Christ as the basis of true life in this world. How does he do this?

Like his blessed namesake, probably the most Christ-like man who ever lived, Francis of Assisi, he points us away from human solutions and points us to the holy gospel, to Jesus Christ, and wants to encourage us to follow ‘that Man.’ To some, this may seem like wholesale betrayal of ‘the faith once delivered to the saints,’ but on the contrary I believe it is, at last, a church hierarch whom men have raised so high that he can finally be seen and heard as the voice of Christ (whose vicar he’s supposed to be) telling us, ‘follow Jesus. Do what you see Him doing in the gospels. Say what you hear Him saying. Don’t bury yourself in mere religion.’ To me, this is honesty. To confess Christ before men, and if you are pope, it puts you in a very good position to have your confession heard. Now, having said all that, I am back to affirming that, after all, pope Francis is no different from you or me or any other follower of Christ, and I’m sure he would admit that. He is probably annoyed on the personal side that he gets dissected and reported so much in the media, but he knows, on the official side, he can get the Message through.

That’s what the holy mystery of priesthood in the Body of Christ is really all about anyway. Yes, we who follow the Lord without the distinction of formal ministry are still called to be ‘a holy nation of priests and kings’ and also Christ’s ambassadors. Indeed, we are even better positioned to minister to others one-to-one as laymen than the ordained ministry is. At least, that’s how it is, though it shouldn’t be that way. This is where the current pope can turn some heads, literally and figuratively, and quite possibly initiate, by God’s grace, a reformation that could not only purify the Church head and members, but realize and enter into the unity for which Christ prays in His high priestly prayer. Nothing we humans have done, do, or will ever do on our own, following our own schemes and plans, will ever achieve either reformation or unity. Only Christ can do this, and we only when we look to Him alone.

Again, this is why I think and say, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ Does the truth now finally come out, that we have been harboring a heritage of historical animosity, all of us, on all sides, clinging to positions both ideal and real, replacing the Message of Jesus Christ with our theological speculations and protecting ourselves (from God, though we think, from each other) behind walls of tradition, instead of bringing salvation and new birth to humanity? We are quickly running out of time ‘to do our thing.’ Christ Himself is very close ready ‘to do His thing,’ and in fact, He has already started doing it. Without knowing the details, we can read about it, yes, in that forbidden, or idolized, or mysterious, or forgotten book, the Apocalypse, the Revelation to Saint John. As the final story of our race unfolds, it will give the word ‘apocalypse’ a new meaning, one that none of us could have guessed.

And the last of the Roman popes of the old order of things, what of him? Will he like John the honorable prophet and forerunner be crushed beneath the combat waged between heaven and earth, or will he, like holy prophet Simeon sing, after finally seeing and holding the incarnate God, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…’ and then disappear among the ‘great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands’?

No comments: