What Kind of a Witness is This?

Now that the Christmas season is over (both Old Calendar and New), I’d like to draw attention to the atrocious behavior exhibited by Greek and Armenian monks at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

What can be said about it, other than it’s simply appalling? See here for yourself:

I realize that monks who fast can get their ire up rather easily at times but there’s no excuse for this behavior. This is what happens when people start worshipping the institution rather than Christ. Let’s face it, this problem is endemic in the Orthodox world, especially among those Churches which are withering away. All they have is protocol; all they can discern anymore is the shadow of the substance –not even the Image.

That this made global headlines ensures Orthodoxy’s continued attrition and loss of moral authority. At the very least the leaders of the respective churches (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate) should discipline all the monks who live there –even those who did not participate in the fracas–remove them if need be, and put out a press release to that effect. They should apologize to the entire Christian world for the behavior of these men and both should go to Bethlehem and make a public display of contrition.

Nothing less will suffice.

About GShep


  1. Where are the abbots and bishops?

    I think this saying of a Desert Father applies because these monks clearly have a possessory spirit about the Church: Abba Isidore said: ‘The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible; it knows no end and drives the soul that it controls to the limits of evil. Therefore, let us drive it away forcefully from the outset. For once it has mastered us, it cannot be overcome.”

    • George Michalopulos says

      An important consideration. I tend to view this possessivess as being concommitant with worshipping the image (the Church) rather than He Who created the image (Christ).

  2. Sadly, this is only a more intensified display of what goes on all the time. I have made two fairly lengthy trips through the Holy Land, where Greek monks are in charge of many of the holiest sites. Both times, I found that they have a richly deserved reputation for rudeness and downright hostility among pilgrims in the area. I have actually been pushed roughly to the floor, capriciously and without warning, by a Greek monk during Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem, for no offense beyond being perceived as “in the way.” Pilgrims are routinely barked at and scowled at for the crime of wanting to visit places like the Orthodox temple at the peak of Mt Tabor, without having a Greek-speaking guide. Some of the most pious Christians in the world visit Palestine as pilgrims, and this bad behavior is giving Orthodoxy a terrible reputation among many thousands of devout visitors, who are often the very people we would most like to have as inquirers into the Church. Yes, there is occasional rudeness and bad taste on the part of visitors, but it hardly justifies this kind of nastiness as a modus operandi.

    • I have to agree with you. It is so very very different from what I remember in 1990.

      For some reason – maybe after the fall of the Iron curtain and the sudden influx of many new Eastern European and Russian converts – along with the rise of a second generation of zionists in Jerusalem – there has been a polarization, and a sense that the Armenians and Greeks in Jerusalem have been left behind in the new century. They kinda remind me of those two rival gangs fighting it out in “West Side Story”. (When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way..”)

      I went to the Holy Fire four years ago, and the young Armenian seminarians in my line punched out an old Orthodox man from Australia whose daughter had gotten him a pass. There are Israeli riot police stationed in the Holy Sepulchre to keep Orthodox Christians from rioting on Holy Saturday. The Catholics? They just peacefully attend their services near Golgotha and do their stations of the cross in the city.

      Witnessing the Holy Fire – and being one of the first in line to enter the church for the service – is one of the most dangerous things I have ever participated in. Eventually, maybe 10,000 people are sardine-packed in a church area that’s meant to hold no more than a few hundred. And then you stand for 3 hours while you wait for something to happen. There is the distinct possibility that violence could erupt at any minute. It lingers in the air. The real miracle is that there is no stampede, no sudden eruption of anger.

      Fortunately, the Armenians have their own spot on the left side of the Sepulchre where they can comfortably watch the jam-packed Greeks on the other side of the ropes. If you are not an Armenian, however, you don’t go over there. You could be knocked senseless.

      There have even been verbal fights and threats between the Armenians and the Jerusalem Patriarchate inside the Holy Sepulchre over who walks in first, who has prominence to exit first, who carries what. It’s no wonder the “Holy Fire” has sometimes been conceived for the faithful with a Patriarch or priest’s Bic lighter. Better than a fist-fight.

      Rather than gush over an imagined “spiritual experience” in this violence-charged atmosphere, I would say I was lucky to exit unscathed from an overly-packed UFC (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) event. I would never recommend anyone going to this charade, and never ever take children.

  3. I agree with George and wonder why monks who resort to violence and chaos at these holy sites are not disciplined by their bishops and superiors. How can ancient patriarchates govern churches in America if they tolerate such behavior.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Andrew, Seraphim, doesn’t this type of behavior (and mindset) give the lie to Lambrianides’ indictment against our own spiritual “immaturity” as well as the equally pernicious dictum that the Patriarchate of C’pole is a “universalist,” “non-ethno-racial” Church where “ethnicity doesn’t matter”?

      • John Christopher says

        The holy sites are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, not Constantinople.

        • Geo Michalopulos says

          Technically you;re correct. In reality both Alexandria and Jerusalejm are dependencies of C’pole. They get their direction from it as well as their bishops. Antioch broke free of this servitude about 100 years ago,

    • You wrote: ” I …wonder why monks who resort to violence and chaos at these holy sites are not disciplined by their bishops and superiors.”

      Rather, “Why are monks who resort to violence and chaos at these holy sites just like their bishops and superiors?”

  4. Esther Smith Holmes says

    Yes – the behavior by the monks in Bethlehem is atrocious. However,
    equally shameful behavior is being exhibited in our OCA as the bishops
    (and some Church leaders) give our Metropolitan Jonah psychological
    beatings without the brooms…”Lo, how they love one another…”

  5. cynthia curran says

    Well, this is bad, and yes some discipline should have been applied. Well, the worst actions by a mob of monks was done in 5th century Alexanderia against Hypatria. A lot of atheists and pagans use this example when the criticized christianity.

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  7. Ashley Nevins says

    There is simply no Biblical foundation or calling for monasticism in the NT.

    The traditions of men is the Orthodox end.

    Ashley Nevins

    • Monk James says

      Our Lord Jesus Christ’s prophet, foreunner, and baptizer John was a lifelong nazir (jewish monk), as was our Lord’s stepbrother, James.

      Both men are obviously in New Testament times, and Our Lord Himself recommended poverty, obedience, and celibacy for ‘those who could hear it’.

      The more Mr Nevins expresses his views, the less it seems that he’s read the scriptures.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Ashley, first of all thank you for not writing a tome. Most appreciated. However, I can see why now you feel the need to write dissertations. When you get to the point, you’re invariably wrong (as Monk James has so trenchantly pointed out).

      • Monk James says

        Not trying to be trenchant, even if it sometimes might seem so, I should have mentioned earlier that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself lived according to monastic standards, as did His holy Mother, His stepfather Joseph, St Paul and St John the Theologian, all well attested in the New Testament.

        It really does help to read The Book, and to understand The Tradition which surrounds it.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Ashley, you might want to check out these words of St. Basil the Great on the nature of life in the Church: http://silouanthompson.net/2011/12/basil-on-traditions/

      St. Basil was from the 4th century BTW, in case you do not know.

      The trouble with those who deny Holy Tradition, hierachical authority and creeds established by the Church is that they really don’t want to be obedient to anything but their own desires and beliefs. That is not Chrisitan.

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