The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies
“Overcoming the Schism,” Chicago, May 8-10, 1998
THE SCHISM: GROUNDS FOR DIVISION, GROUNDS FOR UNITY
“A LATIN’S LAMENTATION OVER GENNADIOS SCHOLARIOS”
Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem.
In August of 1994, I was happy to be one of the many Latin clerics who over the years, in divisa or in borghese, have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Athos, the Garden of the Mother of God. On the feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration I was able to set foot on that peninsula where souls and bodies hidden from the world, but known to God and His angels, share still in the bright glory of that mystery narrated in the Holy Gospels. I made this pilgrimage with the blessing of my abbot after attending an international meeting of some clergy. On Athos I expected to be refreshed and edified, and I was, after having had to breathe deeply the “schismatic” atmosphere of a sadly typical postconciliar gathering of ecclesiastics, some of whom were merely juridically Roman Catholic, for whom God and the things of God could scarcely be said to hold the primacy, and the Pope not at all.
In a shop by the docks at the little western port of the Mountain I found a postcard representation of an icon depicting a touching and curious scene: “The Lamentation over Constantine Palaiologos” written at the Old Calendarist hesychasterion of the Mother of God of the Myrtle Tree in Attica. In the icon the emperor reposes on a bier with a candle as two women mourn on either side, one kneeling, written as “Orthodoxy” and the other, “Hellas”, standing with her hand to her mouth in a gesture of reverence, calling to mind the original sense of the imperial Roman adoratio. A touching scene, I say, because it brings to mind the magnificent “courage born of despair,” as even the malicious Gibbon puts it, with which the last of the Roman emperors died leading the defense of his New Rome, yet still a curious one, since this Constantine XII died in communion with the see of Old Rome, having received the Eucharistic viaticum on the morning of the halosis at a uniate liturgy, the last to be served in the Church of Holy Wisdom.
Even more curious was the figure “Hellas” for nothing could be less Byzantine, less Orthodox, less imperial, than the use of this term to name the nation of Greek-speaking Romaioi. To Orthodox Byzantium “hellenic” meant secular, pagan, something worse than heterodox, to be anathematized in the synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent. At the time of the fall of the City a “hellene” was one who exceeded even the utilitarian impiety of the Florentine latinophrones by promoting the Florentine Platonic revival.
The figure of Orthodoxy, undoubtedly the most important in the image, was in very strange company indeed, with anomalies more than anachronistic. That this icon was the work of Old Calendarists who clearly intended it to be the expression of a rigorously Orthodox historical sensibility indicates a fact, more relevant than ever, which those of us – inter quos ego – who sympathize with the zealots, Catholic and Orthodox, must keep in mind. It is this: We must be vigilant to ensure that in our understanding and defense of right belief and right worship we do not adopt the ideological preoccupations of political and philosophical movements, sometimes those of our friends and allies, which are foreign to our faith and its tradition, lest we undermine the very thing we are striving to preserve. We must examine carefully the understanding and instincts of the best representatives of our twin tradition, Eastern and Western, especially at the points in history when they are explicitly opposing each other or together combating the same contemporary errors. The happy result of this can be a genuine ecumenism, an ecumenism of the “anti-ecumenical,” innocent of ideology or indifferentism. Dom Gerard Calvet, abbot of the traditional Benedictine abbey of the Madeleine, Le Barroux in Provence has said: “The true ecumenism is that of Tradition… the more I deepen my understanding of Tradition, the more I rediscover other men.” 
Read Full Post »