Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI in Turkey: day 3

The reader is advised to sit through this one, as it is long albeit in depth and historically and culturally very instructive should your interest go beyond personal pain or pleasure. Let me start by saying that I have prepared a number of items, some of which are not that pleasant and might spoil the sheer beauty that is today, St Andrew's, the feast of the saint who was the brother of St Peter's and is the patron saint of the Church of Constantinople. So we leave the nasties to last.

I must say I consider myself blessed to be on this day is such a position of vantage, in the middle of the old Eastern empire and close to the Western. This morning I have been watching the liturgical celebration and the reading and signing of the joint declaration on television, switching between Hellenic Radio Television (ERT) and EWTN who broad-casted live from the Vatican. Both commentaries were very positive on the progress towards total communion. Rarely have I seen anything as touching as the two elderly, holy gentlemen on the balcony holding hands and embracing each other. A momentous day indeed! They were looking so handsome and the personal chemistry was palpable! It reminds you of the fact we are looking here at two thousand years of history built on the Roman Empire, of which the last thousand were spent bitterly in opposition of each other. It has given us however great cultural richness and diversity for which we can also be thankful.

On the subject of re-establishing a state of full communion between the two churches it seems that barring a few technical matters according to the Catholic side, and great difficulties reported by the Greek end of the dispute, things are steadily being worked out by a joint commission. Said commission has resumed meetings after a six years interval due to disagreement over the Eastern Rite Churches. But in the face of eternity and considering the time horizon in all matters religious, nobody is at present advised to hold their breath pending full communion. A merging of liturgies, of cultures is best not expected at all till the second coming of Christ. As a footnote: the status of Patriarch Bartholomew is one of primus inter paris, meaning that all this says nothing at all about the relationship between the Vatican and the other autonomous branches of Orthodoxy, which have to be worked out separately. Moscow being the isolationist type, isn't pleasantly disposed.

A thing or two on the words of some American commentators, whom I've heard referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as a Turk. What is actually meant, is that he has a Turkish passport or has Turkish nationality. Greeks have the same particularity that applies to Jewishness. It is a designation of faith as well as of race or ethnicity. The whole of this, together with the other aspects of culture, can be referred to as Hellenism. It is therefore rather alien to refer to a Greek person and the leader of the Greek church, and simultaneously call him a Turk, a German or what have you.
Now that we're on the subject, the Turks have always been envious of the concept of Hellenism and have invented their own variety called Turkishness. However awkward, it is not to be sneezed at, as it can be insulted and carry a stiff penalty as some can attest to, so by all means do so at your peril! At the same time it is luducrous. Hellenism rests on technically 5.000 years of history and more or less 2.800 years of known history. It is the basis of the European civilization on which Rome built its empire. Turkishness is hardly in that league. If ever a bill would be introduced towards the protection of Scotsness you'd be excused for having a laughing fit, yet the Picts have been on the job a lot longer than the Ottoman Turks, or Seljucs for that matter.

Having said that, it is time for a few other observations making the news:

- The boys at Al Qaida also have an opinion about the visit of the Pope to Turkey: despite the fact of the increasing numbers of Muslims in nominally Christian lands, one Holy Father on Muslim territory is too much of unholy infriction. Despite all the tough talk about "crusader campaigns" and other stuff reminiscent of the stable yard, Benedict being from Bavaria, isn't impressed.

- After a joint celebration of Mass at St George's last night Pope Benedict XVI and His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome (I am writing his name and title in full for the sake of completeness and aesthetic value), had their first private meeting. Expected subjects of discussion during their meeting were the Patriarchate’s legal entity, its confiscated assets and the reopening of the Halki Seminary, shut by ukase of Turkish government since 1971 in an effort to reduce the leader of a great Christian Church to a village pastor.

- Hellenic Radio and Television (ERT) meanwhile reported that while Pope Benedict was signalling approval, the European Commission announced it recommended the partial suspension of Turkey's E.U. membership talks, due to its refusal to open its ports and airports to the Republic of Cyprus. Talks on 8 of the 35 chapters have been frozen. The Euro Parliament's special rapporteur on the accession of Turkey, Dutch christian-democrat Camiel Eurlings yesterday complained bitterly about all these matters of non-compliance despite the years of preparation. It is of course unreal to expect to become a member of a club while at the same time not recognizing the existance of another; certainly not in Europe. The Turks meanwhile are banking on power politics under the ancient premise, big is better. This isn't the thing at all to go down well with the P.C.s in Brussels who prefer their minorities small; the smaller and the more under threat the better so they can be thoroughly protected. The Turks don't get that yet, as they still have to face and confront their own ghosts of the past. Given the reactions to certain confrontations of late, they are still in a state of denial, let alone be ready for a Truth and Conciliation Committee. Angela Merkel, whose nation has done an excellent job since 1945, perhaps can offer advice.

- The NATO meeting in Latvia has adjourned with handshakes all round, specifically for Croatia, Albania and the country here to the north, that for reasons best known to the Greeks, is referred to by the awful acronym of FIROM. These countries are now all but officially NATO members.
Also it has been decided to loosen the rules of engagement in Afghanistan, as the boys and girls there cannot fight explosive operetics with one hand tight behind their backs.

- Again great news on the Athens metro front: perhaps the Amsterdamned can come over at some stage and have a look how a metro line is built.

It is a bit steep, but the Holy Father is doing some sensitive visits this afternoon at the ancient imperial Church of the Holy Wisdom Agia Sophia and its Islamic rival, the Blue Mosque; having visited the sites myself and given the historical aspects (also it just occurred to me what a security hazard it is) I may be tempted to do a second post today (it's not just the writing and typing, it's also the pinging that drains your energy - try google that neologism!).

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