An elderly Greek Orthodox priest yelled, “Pope, you are a heretic” as Pope Francis entered the Orthodox Archbishopric in Athens on Saturday and was taken away by police, a reminder of the wavering distrust between the two divided churches.
The video showed the man, who was dressed in black robes and a black hat and had a long white beard, shouting the words in Greek outside the building before police moved him further away.
He shouted loud enough for the pope to hear the commotion. The priest fell while being taken away and was lifted up by police.
Francis appeared not to notice as he walked into the residence for his private meeting with the Orthodox leader.
Francis’ state visit to Greece comes 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first such visit to Greece since the Great Schism.
Christianity split into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in 1054.
The Pope used the occasion to ask forgiveness for the sins “by action or omission” committed by Catholics against Orthodox the centuries. Francis renewed that apology Saturday in front of Ieronymos and other Orthodox prelates.
Francis and Ieronymos went to the room of the Archdiocese’s throne, where the Archbishop said that “this day of your visit is especially important for us”, while the Pope began his speech by greeting Hieronymos with the words of the Apostle Paul – “grace and peace from God” – whose steps he follows in his apostolic journey to Cyprus and Greece.
During his speech, Archbishop Ieronymos referred to the pandemic, the environment and immigration, applauding the Pope’s sensitivity to the issue, but also saying that the flows should stop and referring to the weaponisation of refugees by countries such as Turkey.
Ieronymos also mentioned the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, stating that Popes from that era had kept their distance from the Greek struggle for freedom. “I do not want to embarrass you,” said Ieronymos, “but I believe that among people who want to be called brothers and sisters in Christ, the best language is honesty.”
After his speech, Archbishop Ieronymos presented Francis with a silver icon of the Apostle Paul.