Page 14, 7th December 1979

7th December 1979
Page 14
Page 14, 7th December 1979 — Cold Turkey before Christmas

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Cold Turkey before Christmas


ONE OE THE minor industries of Fleet Street is guessing where the Pope will go next. Just now, England is a great favourite. But, cor consider the complication. Would he come as a Head of State to drive with the Queen from Victoria Station in the rain? Would a band from the Brigade of Guards have to learn thatfrightful Papal anthem — about the aesthetic level or God Bless the Prince of Wales — and the Guard Commander have to learn the polite formula that invites the VIP to inspect the ranks in Latin?

Or would he come as an ecclesiastic, with a garden party at Lambeth Palace at which everyone would pretend not to stare? But why on earth should he come to England? No one likes us much.

If we are admired. it is for our horing patience, for the fact that we still queue, still murder almost only for sexual reasons, perform every sort of ceremony from the Trooping of a Colour to the killing of a fox with exquisite and unchanging decorum, still fry the best egg in Europe, still respect our clergy — "Morning Padre. Top hole sermon. What! Now, what'll you have?"

Other nations, though admittedly foreign, seem to have prior claims. i-rench Catholicism could do with a. little pepping up and the Dutch version could do with a spot of discipline. The Germans certainly deserve it, but not I hope yet another state visit to Berlin. Let's go to Bavaria. He might usefully employ the sort of language he used in Ireland in both Brazil and Argentina. He has yet to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem though that would not please the Arabs or do we not talk of Islam now?

But of all the countries, barring China and that lot out there, the least likely country, the last I would have predicted was Turkey.

The Turks, not the most subtle of people or the happiest just now, signalled desperately that they did not want him. This "sign ailing" is a sound diplomatic technique. It is a method of conveying a message without actually saying anything exact in words. Thus the Russians feeling a mood of detente, might release an extra ration of Jews.

Or the President of France knowing that nothing pleases the Frenelt eleelorate more than a clip over the ear for England, will do something deliciously illegal about "sheep-meat", or Mr Lynch in Dublin in the position of St Augustine, i.e. not wanting the Six Counties back ,ver. makes some concession about border flying to show that there's no immediate rush, but please understand that his position is a good deal more delicate than that which obtains in Westminster.

Or the British, sick of being ritually and unoriginally insulted by African states of uncertain virtue, won't lift a little finger to stop the British lions playing in South Africa which of course they could if they set their department heads to find some emigration impediment.

So the Pope was treated rather like a dangerous vaccine. He was greeted as a Head of State. He was guarded like a nuclear weapon. And diplomatically, when Islam has gone into one of its self-intoxicated frenzies — and goodness what fun all those young nien behind soup strainer moustaches are having — diplomatically one would have thought it ill timed.

So they hurried him around in helicopters. Gave him the VIP tourists' rush. Showed him the great church of the Holy wisdom which is now a museum. As well as a few wondrous mosaics, it has huge rondels with Islamic texts on thern hung like vast shields in prominent places. He was discouraged from prayerful gestures in this lovely and most desolate place. They also took him to the old Sultan's palace, no place for a Pope, which is one of' the most enchantingly vulgar repositories of expensive bric-a-brac in the world.

The trouble is that Turkey is a secular state with overwhelming Moslem sympathies. This secularisation was done by Kemal Attaturk who was largely responsible for defeating us in the Dardanelles. lie was a great toper as well as a great soldier and he enjoyed the bibulous company of a British Ambassador who later declared, without extravagant regret, that he had given his liver for this country.

Turkey also, I read, has about four political murders a day so that it is in a state of transition. Torn between their need of the United States, their dangerous dispute with the Greeks and their private delight in the antics of Islam, the visit of so august a Christian leader was the last thing they would have planned.

Gifts to Greeks

Bin THE real purpose, it seems, of this strange visit was to call upon the Patriarch of Constantinople. His All Holiness, Demetrios, the Ecumenical Patriarch, is senior in precedence above all the Orthodox prelates who preside over about 200 million faithful. But there are difficulties.

The first of these is that he does not control them. Indeed few prelates of such a noble See can have so few of the faithful in their charge. He is the senior in precedence, but that gives him no authority. The Holy Orthodox Church consists of 14 separate Churches and if they appear to be loyal first to themselves alone, it is only thus that they survived the massive pressures of Rome and then the long suffocating centuries of Turkish colonialism.

So the Patriarch cannot speak for the Patriarchs of Moscow, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem or the heads of any of the various selfgoverning Churches. Indeed when Pope Paul VI was visiting the Constantinople Patriarch, the great Athanagoras in the house of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, that gentleman, Benedietos, came down to the press in the hall to assure them that nothing of any importance was going on.

So Patriarch Demetrios cannot order his Church to do anything. And there is the disturbing fact that the prevailing attitude of the Orthodox leaders, say Himself of Athens, is one of a profound suspicion, bordering upon paranoia, even hatred. In their attitude to Rome.

There are historical reasons for this. Indeed they are almost as strong as the Irish grievance against England. But they have been retained for a century or two later than is legitimate to even the most put-upon Christian.

Go to some great ecumenical service, at Uppsala, or Westminster, or Canterbury and watch the nobly dressed Orthodox not on their own home ground. The impression they give is of utter intransigence. They stand veiled in their black, not even leaning on their great staffs or snake headed sceptres and they stand, bearded, unmoved, unsinging. courteous attendants at something as irrelevant as a garden party of a Shah. There are no exceptions to this that I know of. They can speak with a melting spirituality in private. Within their own churches all glory and dedication and beauty breaks out. It's about time someone said that they are not merely uninterested in ecumenical affairs but, even by Roman standards, just a bad or at least coldly mannered lot in the presence of their Christian brethren. At least in their public performances with strangers.

Once Cardinal Ileenan, an

incorrigible optimist, (i.e. one who believed in the immediacy of death) asked the entire upper Orthodox Establishment of England to a meeting in Archbishop's House in Westminster. The invitations went out. Few answers came in, The reactions were wrong in a 13th century sod. of manner. In the end, in the great room of Archbishop's House, Latin monsignori (English actually) were lifting chairs for unexpected and uninvited Archimandrites. The bishops, like Russians at a disarmament conference had decided it was safe and useless.

There were two laymen invited to speak. One Latin. One Greek. I was the Latin. I did my homework. I sent my script to the Cardinal who pinched half of it. (No historian he!) The Greek laymen ran on and on and on about the Fourth Crusade, somewhere about 1203. When the Franks had sacked Constantinople and supplied the West with half its major relics, with the Holy Shroud of Turin, with those superb and enigmatic horses in front of St Marks in Venice, with a mas.s of the sort of holy objects that great cathedrals now keep rather embarrassingly in their cupboards, There was at Westminster no holding out of hands to the further shore with love. There was suspicion and coldness and the worship of God and its charity kept still private within or without the Ikonostasis. I love their liturgy. I revere their spirituality. But someone has to say that the love of God is not based on a hatred sealed officially in 1054.

I do not think that anything basic has happened because the Patriarch or the West visited the Patriarch of Constantinople, Once again, I was not consulted. But it might do a little to melt the increasingly unforgiveableness of that lot. Ilistorically there is another side to be written about our relationship with the Orthodox. In religion and colonialism, we were not always in the wrong.

Bazaar happenings

LIKE THE: second world war, Christmas is beginning to look inevitable. Usual cliches, almost two thousand years old, about it coming so quickly can be compared with "thieves in the night" and the British reaction to our invariably bad weather.

As our Parish, together with every other Parish in Christendom, has had its Christmas bazaar the whole thing is infinitely reportable. It is an aspect of • our Holy Mother the Church in action and that it should be at once fun, glorious, holy and fulfilling is only right. Christmas is the gentle starting pistol for a communal effort of the greatest goodness.

Deeply and involuntarily involved this year, I watched it all as an owner does his horse in the hands of a trainer. I had no control. so: 0 The Vague Preliminaries: Rather like choosing the head of the Tory Party in the old days, she emerges from the many splendoured throng. An abundaoce of meetings from which emanate sounds. as if a lux had got into Lord Snowdon's exotic Regent's Park bird cage. No waste of time.

0 The process of organisation: book the hall; arrange advertisements: get the parish priest to mention the thing at Mass: re-write the advertisement; find that the printer is charming and wants to help: begin to camp out on the end of a telephone. "Dear, only 400 tea bags, will that be enough'?"

T1 Start the squirrellIng process. This year evening dresses. A slow accumulation of female vestments. Nobody wants or tolerates this sort of splendour any more. (But they sold well!).

0 Start Insisting that this is not a jumble sale. Fortnum's, Sotheby's, the Ritz and the Vatican Museum is our model.

Keep answering the door, we appear to be a depot. Lovely bottles about which, like the British economy, there is something wrong. I reckon they are worth more than the earned income. All temptations resisted in a most Protestant manner.

Something called Christmas presents come in; lots of them. Charterhouse breaks a small toy and is made to pay.

The sacred blackmail' of raffle tickets begins; we have bought all of theirs from muscular dystrophy to lifeboats. they, God bless them. buy ours. Superbly run by the sort of lady who might well save England.

Keep answering the door: three beautifully made pairs of children's mittens; more bottles. Too much brown ale, not enough vodka, A crate of splendid porcelain: evening dresses of unimaginable and Royal splendour, it becomes fun. Are we really a welfare state?

People are involved: it's a spiritual exercise. There is a joyous "tooing and froing" in cars which seems always to result in portly Charterhouse carrying yet another box into the Great Chamber. NonCatholics take your ApostOlie breath away with their goodness and generosity; how sweet to live in this place.

"The Thing" starts on a Saturday morning on two floors of the community centre. People come for bargains.

The young man dressed as Father Christmas earns himself a place in Paradise higher thtin that of Charterhouse.

Charterhouse wins a bottle of gin at the hoop-la (Paradise is for the moment postponed).

All the food is sold. Not only have we made more than enough to mend the church porch but have re-cemented the bonds of a very real family parish. A lot of people, not Charterhouse — except for answering the door — have worked themselves silly and enjoyed it.

We will sell what is over on a market stall.

It was all a form, not of political action, but of prayer.

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