Speed Reads


Elderly Orthodox priest heckles Pope Francis during Greece visit

A Greek Orthodox priest heckled Pope Francis during his Saturday visit to Athens, shouting, "Pope, you are a heretic!" before being led away by police. The elderly priest fell to the ground as police grabbed him, but he appeared uninjured.

Reuters reports that the priest, who was dressed in black ecclesiastical vestments and a silver pectoral cross, shouted loudly enough for the pope to hear him. According to The Associated Press, Francis "appeared not to notice."

"The pope is unacceptable in Greece! He should repent!" the priest told reporters after being removed from the scene. The Roman pontiff proceeded to a meeting with Ieronymos, the Greek Orthodox bishop of Athens, who welcomed Francis with "honor and fraternity." Roman Catholics make up only three percent of Greece's population, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Greek Orthodox Christians make up over 97 percent.

The Greek Orthodox Church is one of several autocephalous (self-governing) national churches that make up the larger communion known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism split from one another in 1054 due to controversies over the language of the Nicene Creed and the role of the papacy. Tensions were further heightened in 1204, when the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, then the bastion of Orthodoxy, and installed a Flemish Catholic as emperor. 

Some Orthodox Christians have a mostly positive view of Roman Catholicism and continue to hope that the schism might one day be repaired.

To others, ecumenism is a dirty word. When, in 1965, Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I lifted the mutual excommunications that had stood for over 900 years, another Orthodox bishop accused Athenagoras of falling into heresy and claimed that the Orthodox monks living in the monasteries of Mount Athos had stopped mentioning Athenagoras in their daily prayers.

Pope Francis plans to return to the Vatican Monday.