EP on “60 Minutes”: Comments by Abp Chrysostomos of Etna

From a private e-mail list; reprinted with permission. Hat tip: A.C, R.D.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve had time to see this on the West Coast, but the Ecumenical Patriarch was on the famous 60 Minutes program on CBS that is seen all over America. I just saw it. …If and when you see it, would you mind telling us what you thought?
ANSWER: We were provided a recording of the interview on “60 Minutes” from an East Coast television channel, so we have already seen it here at the monastery. It was an event of historical importance. This program has tens of millions of viewers (when President Onama appeared on “60 Minutes,” almost 25 million people viewed the show), so its influence nationwide is immense.       
        I am not sure that my personal reaction to the interview has any more importance than that of any other viewer. But since you and several others have already asked, I will offer my general impressions for what they are worth. In so doing, perhaps I can comment on several factual errors, in the interview, of which all viewers should be aware.
        I. As for the Oecumenical Patriarch himself, one could only describe him as impressive, effective, and gracious in his interview. His defense of the Orthodox Christians in his native Turkey, his comments about the nature of Orthodoxy, and his demeanor were certainly beyond reproach. Whatever differences we may have with him with regard to his ecumenical excesses and willingness to accept a papal status on the world stage that is not his to claim (see below), which are all momentous and problematic issues, he nonetheless very worthily and articulately represented Orthodoxy in the most positive way to a television audience sadly unaware, to a great extent, of Orthodox Christianity.
        II. With regard to the content of the interview, three important issues struck me:

        a) The statement in the narration accompanying the interview, that the Oecumenical Patriarch is the “Pope” of Orthodoxy, was incorrect. In the Orthodox Church, all Bishops, from a diocesan Bishop to a Patriarch, are, of course, equal. No single Orthodox Bishop, even if he holds the title of Oecumenical Patriarch, has any more authority in determining doctrine than another. The source of infallible authority in the Orthodox Church lies solely in the Oecumenical Synods. There is, therefore, no papal figure in Orthodoxy and pretensions to such status are contrary to Church tradition.

        b) It should also be noted that the Oecumenical Patriarch is not the “head” or “leader” of the world’s 350 million Orthodox Christians. The “head” or “leader” of the Orthodox Church, in all theological sources, is identified as Christ. The Oecumenical Patriarch is often called the “princeps (or primus) inter pares,”  a title taken from imperial Rome, or “first among equals.” But more correctly,  he simply holds a “primacy of honor” in Orthodoxy. He represents his equals (the other Patriarchs, such as those of Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc., and every other Bishop) and nothing more.

        c) The statements made in the segment about Cappadocia were also quite wrong. This is not an area of ancient Christianity that somehow existed in Turkey, as the narrator suggested. The center of Christian Hellenism was what is called Turkey today, and Cappadocia was located in that Christian land, or Anatolia. (Athens, the capital of pre-Christian Greece, was little more than a village at the time.)

        Before the fifteenth century, Anatolia, with its center in Constantinople, was recognized as an important and ancient symbol of Christendom. It constituted the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire and was conquered by Moslem invaders in 1453, when it became the center of the Ottoman Empire, under which the Greeks became an enslaved population.

        Only at the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century did part of the Greek world (what is known today as Greece, with Athens as its capital) revolt, winning its independence. (In some parts of Greek Macedonia, this victory did not come until as late as the early twentieth century.) However, the rest of the Greek realm, now known as Turkey, remained in Moslem hands.

        Thus it is that the foremost Cathedral of ancient Christianity, St. Sophia in Constantinople, was transformed into a mosque. This was also not made clear by the narrator. Hagia (Agia) Sophia is now a museum where, indeed, Orthodox are forbidden even to pray (or, technically, to Cross themselves, even though many of us, including me, have done so in risky defiance of the rules).