Patriarch Kirill & Pope Benedict: A Tale of Two Leaders for a new Missionary Age

I’ve been asked to become an Orthodox columnist on and accepted. Below is my first essay. Regular readers will notice ideas we discussed on the AOI Observer.


Catholic Online (

Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill know that virtue is the only bulwark against oppression. That’s why they exhort their flocks to moral virtue in almost identical language.

NAPLES, FL. (Catholic Online) – Over four decades ago Pope John Paul II said that the restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church was necessary for the cultural restoration of Western Europe. At the time his words seemed audacious. Russia was still under the Communist yoke, the winds in Poland were just starting to blow, and the Berlin wall loomed invincible.

Culture watchers dismissed the statement as the wistful longing of a faithful man. Yet John Paul, with his gift of seeing through the clutter of immediate events into the deeper and far-reaching ways of God, knew better. He believed that the fall of Communism would unleash a transformation that could only come from those who suffered.

His words are proving true. The Orthodox Church in Russia, after 80 years of brutal persecution, is emerging not only as a religious force in Europe, but also as the new leader in worldwide Orthodox Christianity. More Christians have been killed for their faith in the last century than all other centuries combined. Many of them were the Orthodox Christians of Eastern Europe.

Pope John Paul had a great fondness towards the Orthodox Church but never realized his dream of visiting Moscow or Constantinople. That would fall to his successor. At the time, the strain between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in general and Moscow and Rome in particular was more pronounced. Now the climate is changing.

What accounts for the shift? One reason is the election last year of Patriarch Kirill, the new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill is a theological conservative in the mold of Pope Benedict. Both see religion as the wellspring of culture. Both understand that Europe cannot escape a final capitulation to tyranny if it does not rediscover its Christian roots.

The relationship between the Orthodox and Catholics continues to have significant strains however, and the present rapprochement is not an impending sign that the Churches will unify. Nevertheless, there is greater unity in the frank acceptance of real differences than in the shallow reality that is created by pretending they don’t exist. Accept the differences and the skies clear. We see that much work can be done together.

One area of cooperation is restoring Christian culture. If religion is the wellspring of culture, then our moral orientation – how we live and behave, the choices we make, how we order our relationships, how we value the human person – becomes critical. The spiritual life of the Christian is really a life that is lived in ways pleasing to God under the Great Commandment: Love God and neighbor. How we treat one another really matters. It touches not only the neighbor but reaches deep into the larger society.

Moreover, obedience to the Great Commandment is also the guarantor of freedom. If people throw off their responsibility to God and neighbor and live for themselves, then they will either relinquish their freedom to others or a greater power will take it from them.

Pope John Paul understood this. Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill understand this too. They experienced tyranny first hand. They know that virtue is the only bulwark against oppression. That’s why they exhort their flocks to moral virtue in almost identical language.

Moreover, both leaders see that moral renewal is essential for the renewal of Europe. Religion cannot be separated from morality, and morality cannot be separated from religion. A healthy and free society requires morally virtuous people, and people discover the freedom that virtue fosters through religion.

If Europe’s moral collapse continues, more instability will result and a new power will arise to maintain order. It could be a state ideology that resembles the former Communist tyrannies of Eastern Europe, or more likely a closed religion like the Islam of the East.

The next decade may be one of both instability and great creativity, much like the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a very exciting time to be alive, but it will also require more of all Christians. We have capable leaders to help us see things more clearly.


Fr Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, FL. He is the editor of Orthodoxy Today ( and President of the American Orthodox Institute (


  1. Congratulations on this new opportunity! This is a wonderful article and I am sure you will be a positive voice for Orthodoxy at catholic online.

  2. Let me second Andrew’s words Father!

    Your point about moral renewal is a good one while I would be hesitant to absolutize the point (there are virtuous atheists), I agree with you that “A healthy and free society requires morally virtuous people, and people discover the freedom that virtue fosters through religion.”

    The challenge your words put before me is to do more than simply assert that the Gospel is the well spring of real human freedom. I must as well demonstrate this freedom in my words and actions personally. As part of this, and again you touched on this above, I must put myself at the service of others and their freedom.

    To do this I must proceed anthropologically–that is by a care attention to not only what it means to be human in general but what it means personally of those I serve–and not ideologically. The latter is I think is always a danger because, knowing by faith the the way, content and outcome of human freedom in Christ, I am tempted to “skip ahead.”

    What I mean is the danger is that I seek to impose freedom on others rather than nurture freedom in them. On this point I am reminded of Fr Schmemann’s observation that a missionary does not go somewhere where Christ isn’t; he is rather some who goes somewhere and finds Christ there ready to met him.

    It is here that pastoral challenge and the challenge of the public square converge. Though the form may change, the work is the same, not to bring, much less impose, Christ but to reveal Christ whether in the heart of the person or in the public square.

    Again, congratulations on the new job and may God bless the work of your witness.

    In Christ,


  3. … there is greater unity in the frank acceptance of real differences than in the shallow reality that is created by pretending they don’t exist.

    A quotable quote!

  4. Axios!

    On a related theme, I’ve been wondering what is going to happen if the EU bails Greece out. How will that affect the CoG and the EP? If Brussles pays the bills, they will no doubt demand the right to name the tune, and it won’t any of the Eight Tones.

  5. cynthia curran :

    Well, with Greece economic problems, is any nation in the modern world that’s mainly Roman Catholic or Orthodox that is successful in the economic realm. Ireland was doing it up until now. Greece-Orthodox, Spain-Roman Catholic and Portugal-Roman Catholic are by far the worst in economics in Western Europe. I think the last time the Orthodox had the advantage over the west in terms of economics was way back in the Byzantine Empire. Maybe, John C examples of the better market ideas of the Byzantines is helpful.

  6. This is wonderful news and an amazing testament to the work done by Fr. Hans in bringing the light of truth and Christ into the cultural and societal debates of our day in order to bear witness to the Orthodox Christian moral tradition and enlighten all those who seeking the Truth. Make no mistake about it, this is a significant shift in improving relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and helping them join forces to counteract the evil, lies, liberalization, radicalization, secularization, and corruption of the world that have been devastating their flocks and leading so many astray.

    Congratulations Fr. Hans and may God grant you, many, many years!

  7. George Michalopulos :

    Hear, hear! Fr! Wonderful words indeed, Fr. Isa, I like your witticism! I fear that the opening of Mt Athos is to be a condition of the bailout. I feared this from the inception of the Eurozone and the loss of national sovereignty. did you know that the drachma was the oldest, continuously used currency in the world? If for no other reason than that, the Greeks should have never accepted the Euro. The Danes and English to their credit opted out of the Euro.

  8. Fr. Hans: Wishing you to stay free of flees – if possible – and/or undergo frequent disinfection.

    Many of the Catholics have a believing heart but unconsciously they do not let God lead them. This mindset is the main characteristics of Catholicism. It started back then when they believed that a man can replace Christ by becoming His ‘Vicar’ on earth.

    The secularization that we blame for all the evil in the world began when Roman Catholicism institutionalized secular power at the heart of its structure. RC kept changing and reinventing itself throughout history because it is profoundly calculating, always looking for immediate advantages. The price paid was always the scarification of the Truth.

    When the mind does not conform to the faith of the heart, it becomes blind to the truth and slowly becomes profoundly atheistic.

    There are some comments on the site: “Unity is the only way. Peace. ” 🙂

    I have no illusions about the good that unity would bring. To be Orthodox means to have a deep love for Orthodoxy AND accept the sacrifice that Orthodoxy involves.
    These are at odds with:
    * the comfort of the Roman Catholic/Protestant world (short services, absence of fasting, entertainment)
    * its imagined superiority
    * its relativism.

    To be a practicing member of the Orthodox Church means to carry the Cross. To survive as a Church equals to put the Truth first even when the price is martyrdom.

    • The secularization that we blame for all the evil in the world began when Roman Catholicism institutionalized secular power at the heart of its structure.

      Insofar as the Emperor Constantine is the “first Christian Emperor” and an honored saint in the Orthodox Church (Feast Day, May 21)* it is, I think, the Orthodox rather than the Catholics who would have the better shot at first prize in the “institutionalized secular power at the heart of its structure” category. Not necessarily that the Byzantines had it first, but with “Saint” Constantine they seem to want it more.

      (One more reason why AOI should have a discussion board.) 🙂

      *Source. Orthodox Wiki

      • Michael Bauman :

        State power does not necessarily translate as being secular. The first use of the word secularism was not recorded until 1846 (Online Entymological Dictionary)

        The Byzantine Emperor was meant to serve divine ends. That is not secular. Secular government is a creature of western humanism, at least if one means the state ruling apart from and/or over the Church.

        • Noted.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Here’s my take. The father of modern secularism is John Calvin — if you define secularism as blindness to the divine dimension of creation. Calvin effectively rationalized Christianity, that is, robbed it of it’s sacramental character. The pagans saw this divine dimension although the struggle then was comprehending correctly what this divine dimension actually was. Now we deny it exists.

          Having said that, I think secularism is just a layover, like sitting in Charlotte for a grueling two hours waiting for the connection to Pittsburgh. Secularism is just too hard a cross to bear and I doubt that any society who adopts it can bear it for even one generation. That society must turn to some kind of religion just for relief. What religion it turns to is the real question we should be asking.

          On another note, yes, your point about Constantine is correct. The pagans were not blind to the divine dimension of creation at all. However, they would not know of the God above all gods — the God of the man Abraham — until the Gospel that reveals the God above all gods was preached.

          Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


          Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you…(Acts 17:21-23)

          Secularism can’t really be defined in terms of the relationship of state to church. Rather, it is a state of mind, a way of thinking, and thus seeing. It affects culture though, and that effects people’s expectations of the state.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    Eliot, there is much wisdom in your words. However I believe that you may be painting with too broad a brush. In my experience with Catholicism (parochial schools for my sons, being born in a Catholic hospital), I must spring to their defense in certain respects, areas in which we Orthodox are lacking (at least in America).

    I’m talking more than about the sanctity of life. Besides the aforementioned hospitals, I am astounded by their many acts of charity. I fear for our souls (and for those of our bishops) when I reflect that we Orthodox have quite probably “forgotten our first love.” I cannot tell you how disheartened I get when I hear the endless inter-Orthodox games that are being played here and abroad –“Chambesy part X” or whatever. Please understand, I indict myself in this regard.

    Think of it, how many Orthodox physicians are there in a moderately-sized parish? How about nurses and dentists? How come a large American city such as Chicago or San Diego doesn’t have a free Orthodox clinic on one of its church’s campuses? They’re not that difficult to establish. They don’t even have to be open every day, just every other evening, perhaps for 2-3 hrs. In time, when an Orthodox physician retires, he could expand its hours.

    How many of our parishes have wonderful parish halls with state-of-the-art kitchen facilities. I dare say that the majority lie dormant throughout the year, only to be opened for the food festival or the occasional baptism/wedding reception? Couldn’t they operate a soup kitchen for just 2 hrs a day? This isn’t as expensive as you’d think –the USDA regularly gives commodities to charities rather than let them spoil.

    None of the above require massive outlays of money (but what if they did?). Think of all the retired and semi-retired people that hang out at the typical Orthodox church/parish hall throughout the week. Why can’t (for example) the 30 or so Orthodox parishes in Pittsburgh donate 5% of their budgets to create a local charity, one that was independently run? It could be headed by a local board of directors elected from members from the various parishes.

    I realize I may be confabulating here (certainly thinking off the top of my head, never a good thing but here goes) but the point I want to stress is that we need to becareful of our Ortho-triupmhalism vis-a-vis the RCs. I don’t even feel comfortable in criticizing the hypertrophic qualities attributed to the pope when one of our primates goes around calling himself “All Holy,” or when professors at one of our seminaries supposedly write a treatise that justifies universal jurisdiction for a patriarchate whose only claim to fame was that it was the capital of a long-dead empire.

    The apparent lack of love and compassion that exists today within Orthodoxy can cause a crisis in faith in certain individuals. I fervently believe that many have left the Church because of it seems that we are bereft of so many things that constitute what most people associate with a church. Let’s be honest, as far as our overall numbers go, we are simply treading water –if that.

    If I misunderstood your criticisms of Catholicism, please forgive me. I for one believe that many of the more egregious errors that have crept into Catholicism evolved because of the Filioque clause (which demoted the personhood of the Holy Spirit thus creating a vacuum which the papacy filled). I just don’t see how we can be “right teaching” if we’re not “right acting.”

    Indeed, because we have the right doctrine, I fear that our judgment will be more severe.

  10. George, you are basically pointing out that:
    * the RC are humanist,
    * we have ‘our Judas’, and
    * we are passive.

    You are correct: our minds and hearts are infected by the cultural deformation of our time, we too carry the weight of modern secularism. Many of us have adopted a welfare state mentality, a consumer mentality, we have reduced our role to passive spectators.

    We have the EP caught up with the ideology of globalism and its branch – climate change initiatives, and some worldly-minded leaders slowly conforming under the increasing political or secular pressure. Based on the fact that the early Church had women deacons, there are few voices of some of those lapsed from the Tradition or ‘partial converts’ pleading for women deacons.

    All dilemmas and false problems, arise because of a lack of human understanding of
    the most precious gift of our Deliverer: the eternal salvation. We must seek first the things of the Spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven, the eternal salvation.

    The contemporary disintegration of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and their offspring is a sign of a falling away from Christ. By withholding essential parts of God’s Truth from its people, by the deformation of the truth they lead their flocks on the path down into the pit. The Anglican Church became a mere institution affirming people in their sins. This is definitely a sign that they are divorced from the restorative Grace of God.

    The Orthodox are not perfect, but we always have hope in the protection of the New Martyrs, the Divine inspiration and assistance. These come if we put the Truth first, no matter what is the price to be paid. Christian fellowship is important, but worthless, even dangerous at expense of the essential ‘fellowship’ with God, the Truth.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Eliot, I agree in the main with what you’re saying. What I’m saying however is that I’m not so sure that many non-Orthodox are actually “falling away from the Fathers.” I fear that perhaps (and I’m very guarded about this as I could be wrong/hope I’m wrong) is that too many of us have already “fallen away.”

      I know this may seem a contradiction: how can some heterodox be acused of being more faithful to the Fathers than we who are right-believing, but as I’ve stated for various reasons, it appears that this may indeed be the case. What gives me hope is your pointing out that we have “protection of the New Martyrs…Divine inspiration and assistance,” etc.

      • It is true that many of us have already “fallen away”. We can say that too many of us are only formally members of the Body of Christ, and only a small part are inwardly Orthodox.

        Faith can’t be understood by our fallen human reason or intellect. I am the first sinner, I have little faith. What strengthens my faith is the true, real, deep faith of the Martyrs, Confessors and Fathers. I know they purified their hearts through ascetic practices of prayer, fasting, struggling against sin, and the sacraments.

        Standing up for the truth ultimately means love for others. We must proclaimed the truth of the Holy Orthodox Church – the means by which men are saved. If I don’t believe this, I am merely a formal Orthodox.

        Personal sin is not the same as heresy. Heresy is personal sin preached to others. When you encounter it you have to cut yourselves off, for fear of being contaminated. I have heterodox friends but I make it clear: I do not want to discuss religion with you anymore. I concluded that it is a waste of time. They trust too much their own (fallen) reasoning. I love them and I pray for them.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Eliot, that’s excellent advice. Now that you mention it, I’ve found that with my hetereodox friends, I don’t have to discuss religion. They’re good people because of their own devotion to Christ. As a rule, those that are interested in Orthodoxy do so when they don’t see me acting like a sinner and/or hypocrite. What’s sad is that almost all heated discussions take place with fellow Orthodox. does anybody else have this same experience?

  11. I would also like to remind readers of Pope Benedict’s countless Wednesday addresses on the Church Fathers. As an Orthodox Christian I find these to be wonderful lessons. No Orthodox bishops is demonstrating this type of leadership through education.

    • OK, I know I probably shouldn’t do this here, but it is too good to miss. I hope you will let it stay posted, at least for a little while…

      Hitler Rails Against Pope Benedict


      • George Michalopulos :

        Did you all see the one in which Der Furher finds out that Scott Brown won the Senate seat in Mass? Hilarious.

        • I didn’t see that one in particular, but apparently that scene from Der Untergang has been used to spoof(?), parody(?) a lot of issues.

    • I can only second that! They are outstanding. Not only are they informed by extensive critical study, but they are faithful to the spirit of the Fathers and deeply challenging on a personal level. In many ways, this is how it should be done. The see this level of pastoral ability in someone at the highest executive level (I know – an odd way to put it) is very heartening! It also encourages me that his such a good grasp of and appreciation for the eastern Fathers. There is a lot in his thinking that is very amenable to Orthodox thought.

  12. cynthia curran :

    Constantine is defintely a figure that caused chrisians to deal with the world after making it legal and encouraging religous tolerant compared to what happen before and after his time. Constantine gradually moved toward christianity in his life. His vision or dream may or may not be true. He did exile Athansius and his son was an Arian. Also, Justinian and Theodora are also saints, two other saints that are questionable. Theodora rejected the council of Chaldecon. And even Orthodox Wiki admits in her earlier years that she was influenced the monophysites. The empire may have driven the Romn Catholic Popes to the Franks by humilating them in the 7th century, two byzantine emperors had the popes thrown into prison and charging high taxes on church property in Italy.
    As for Calvin, he may have been responsible for making christianity secular but Orthodox contribute him to things he is responsible for. I believe that he only had one person Michael Severus put to death for hersay and according to Paul Johnson he used the Justinian Law code to do this. So, he used a law code developed from the Byzantines and anicent Romans not from Reformation Protestantism. Also,while he stated that it was ok to have lend at interest, he believed in regulating interest and sometimes wages and prices. He was not a great believer in the free market.

  13. cynthia curran :

    but orthodox contribute to him things he was not responsible for i mean.

  14. cynthia curran :

    she was influened by the monophysites

  15. cynthia curran :

    George, I think why you have more disagreements with other orthodox is that you are free market and more into limit government which to some orthodox is incorrect because those views developed in the west;and therefore any ideas from the west are incorrect. Theology and politcs are not the same thing but some people can’t seperate them.

  16. cynthia curran :

    Well, I don’t know why Chicago doesn’t have orthodox charities but San Diego is pretty obvious- in the west, most areas eastern orthodox are only.6 percent of the population. In a higher than average immirgant metro area of 3 million like San Diego muslims even outnumber Orthodox. The biggest christian groups in San Diego are Roman Catholics, above average hispanic population and evangelical protestism among those that attend church. San Diego like a lot of metro areas in the west has below average church attended.

  17. George Michalopulos :

    Cynthia, I understand where you’re coming from. My point is that it’s not just raw numbers alone that matter, but the wise use of what resources we do have. For instance, how expensive would it be to run a soup kitchen at the whatever Orthodox parish is closest to the local skid row? (Assuming that that parish had a parish hall w/ full kitchen.) Now let’s say that there are four other Orthodox parishes in the same greater metro area. Now let’s say that these other four are suburban and more middle-class, with an annual budget of approx $200,000. What if they each created a line-item in their budget of 10% for local philanthropy. That’s $20K per parish. $20K x 4 parishes = $80K per year. That’s more than enough to operate a soup kitchen (with volunteer labor).

    In the meantime, that same inner-city parish could operate a thrift store, collecting throughout the year clean, used clothing that the suburban parishes’ youth groups/ladies’ auxiliaries/etc. gatherered. This could generate income in that these cast-offs could be sold for pennies on the dollar.

    The above are simple, not-too-capital-intensive things that Orthodox parishes throughout the US could do. I think it would be a blessing to all involved. And before you know it, each of the tithing parishes would be flourishing. Just a thought.

  18. George Michalopulos :

    Anil, thank you for the input. I fear that such examples are extremely rare. I hope to be proven wrong.


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