From the Internet: 20 September 2023

The assassination in Berlin this morning of Pope Linus II has been a great shock to the world. This Pope, who had transformed Roman Catholicism in a generation, was shot with a single bullet from the revolver of a Jewish fanatic who reproached the Pope for his repeated calls for justice for the Palestinian people.
Pope Linus II, his civil name George Zakiyah, was born in an impoverished Aramaic-speaking village in western Syria on St. George's Day, 6 May, 1945. Though his parents, Youcef and Myriem, were Orthodox by faith, they were forced to bring up their only son as a Catholic, since at that time this was the only way in which they could obtain schooling and medical care. Of humble peasant background, George showed himself to be a very able pupil and with the help of a scholarship he went on to study Modern Languages at the University of Damascus, on graduation studying theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. In 1963, aged 28, George was ordained, working as a parish priest in the Lebanon, mainly in Beirut. In 1988 he was appointed Catholic Bishop of Damascus, where he showed great diplomatic abilities which may well have resulted in his appointment as a Cardinal only six years later in 1994. At this point it seemed as if his already distinguished career were over and he would eventually retire into the ecclesiastical obscurity of the Middle East. However when Pope John-Paul II died and a divided Catholic Church could not agree on a successor, this young and obscure Arab Catholic Cardinal was elected Pope of Rome. This surprise-choice was in fact a compromise. To traditionalists it seemed a safe bet to elect a non-European and a non-American, appointed Cardinal by the conservative John-Paul II. To liberals he seemed a good choice to represent the Third World since he was young and came from an oppressed minority. Only the State of Israel disapproved of his surprise election. Surprise increased when the new Pope refused to take the name 'John-Paul III', as all had expected, and instead took the name Linus II after the first Pope of Rome, Linus I, consecrated by St. Peter. Indeed the new Pope's choice was the first of many, symbolising a radical departure from what had gone before and a genuine return to the Early Church.
Indeed Pope Linus II took as his slogans: 'Return to the first millennium to go into the third millennium' and 'Turn the clocks back a thousand years to put them forward a thousand years'. And these phrases did indeed set the pattern for his whole 'episcopate' - as he called it. Traditionalists and liberals alike were stunned by Pope Linus' call to cast aside all the 'errors', as he openly called them, amassed by the Roman Catholic Church during the second millennium. Pope Linus' first symbolic act, to drop Latin as the Vatican's official language and replace it by English, shocked many. Even more so when he pointed out to them that Christ had never spoken Latin, but Aramaic, the Pope's own mother-tongue, and that if Christ returned, he would not speak a dead language such as Latin. But this was nothing compared to his next act, which was to allow married men access to the priesthood. For the first time in over 900 years married Catholic priests were officially allowed to celebrate the mass. But the Pope's third act shocked traditionalists even more. Admitting that his predecessors had been mistaken in their dogmatism, Pope Linus stated that as Pope he had nothing to say about the use of contraception, declaring that this was not a dogmatic question, but a pastoral one, and that it was up to Catholics to act in this domain according to their consciences and their confessors' advice. He himself, he said, could see cases in which there was no alternative to contraception.
In the furore but also popular acclaim that followed these actions, Pope Linus' fourth action, to return to traditional Trinitarian Theology and spirituality by outlawing the 'filioque' and removing it for ever from the Catholic Creed, passed almost unseen, except by the Orthodox Church. But it was in fact this act which has led to the extraordinary spiritual renewal which the Catholic Church has witnessed in the last two decades. The realisation that much that had previously passed for spirituality had in fact been psychic fraud was perhaps the deepest change in all of Pope Linus' radical episcopate. Certainly it led to the decanonisation of several previously popular Catholic 'saints'. At this vital point, in February 2002, it seemed as though the Catholic Church would break apart into traditionalists and liberals. The situation was saved, however, when in spring 2002, Pope Linus stated his clear opposition to priestesses, cremation, the changing of the date of Easter, condemning freemasonry and reinstating into the calendar several Saints, such as St. George, the Patron of Palestine, St. Catherine, St. Barbara and St. Christopher, who had been rejected at the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists were so pleased by these moves that it seemed that they were almost ready to forgive the Pope for his former apparently liberal stance. In fact such actions were to typify Pope Linus' whole episcopate. Thus in 2003 when he moved out of the Vatican, which he turned into a 'Musuem of the Renaissance', abandoning his status as a political leader and abolishing the Vatican as a State, he appalled traditionalists but pleased liberals. But in the same year when he called on Catholics worldwide to renew their prayer-life, calling for monastic renewal and calling all Catholics to weekly fasting and regular confession, both of which they had almost wholly abandoned, the opposite occurred. In particular his restoration of the forty-day Lenten and Advent Fasts, of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and of the eucharistic fast shocked liberals, but appeased the traditionalists.
The crowning achievement of Pope Linus' episcopate must however be his calling of the First Council of Rome, to which he invited not only Catholic bishops, but also all Orthodox bishops, giving the latter the right to vote on equal terms and greeting Orthodox Patriarchs as equals. It was at this Council in 2010 that Pope Linus in a great act of humility condemned the dogma of Papal Infallibility and rejected the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. His liturgical reforms which returned Catholicism to the practices of the Early Church, including his demand that priests administrate confirmation at the same time as baptism, give infants communion, that communion be for all under both kinds, the return to priestly celebration facing the altar, back to the people, the abandonment of the mediŠval bishop's mitre in favour of the earlier form and the rejection of Gothic Architecture as a 'mediŠval aberration' attracted the attention of many. But it was above all the return of Roman Catholicism to collegiality and the total abandonment of what Pope Linus himself called 'Papism' that truly stole the world's attention. His nomination of six Patriarchs for North America, Latin America, Africa, Australasia, China and India with absolute authority for all Catholics in their jurisdictions has certainly been the greatest reform of Catholicism since the eleventh century Hildebrandine reforms, which first introduced compulsory clerical celibacy and enforced papal authoritarianism. Today the Pope of Rome is merely a venerable figurehead among the Metropolitan-Bishops of Western Europe and on other continents local Catholic Bishops now elect their own Patriarchs from their midst, quite independently of Rome.
In the ecumenical field Pope Linus' policies were greeted with enthusiasm by both Protestants and Orthodox. The former were pleased with Pope Linus condemnation of the 'grave errors' of the Middle Ages such as indulgences and his decanonisation of several medieval Catholic pseudo-saints, who had been well-known for their persecution of Protestants and other dissidents. Pope Linus, perhaps not surprisingly given his background, drew Catholicism much closer, however, to the Orthodox Church, which he called 'the source of the true Catholic Tradition'. His decanonisation of 'political saints', mass murderers as varied as Charlemagne, Josaphat of Polotsk, Andrew Bobola or Stepinac of Zagreb, was warmly greeted, as was his abandonment of the Uniats and his call to them to return to Orthodoxy. His condemnation of the previously justified filioque as 'a profound spiritual error' which had led to 'the spiritual deformation of Catholicism', together with his condemnations of Scholastic theology as 'mere philosophy' and his call for a return to 'the values of Patristic theology' as well as the decanonisations of Scholastic philosophers were just as appreciated. But it was perhaps above all his categorical condemnation of the Crusades as 'abominable banditry', and the condemnation of Austrian, Polish and Croat aggression towards Orthodox during the twentieth century and the direct and indirect responsibility of the Vatican for the mass-murder of Orthodox in the First and Second World Wars that made Pope Linus popular among ordinary Orthodox. Nobody will forget his repentance in Serbia and his insertion into the Catholic calendar of the Serbian New Martyrs massacred by so-called 'Catholic' fanatics, which so outraged the hardline Croat government in 2012. Nobody was surprised when this was followed in the next year by the inclusion in the Catholic calendar of all Orthodox saints, including the Russian New Martyrs. Although relations with the Muslim world were somewhat improved by this Arab Pope's condemnation of the Crusades, generally links with the non-Christian world moved little during the Pope's episcopate and with Judaism probably worsened. Indeed it was Pope Linus' reiterated calls for the return of Palestine to the Palestinians that provoked his assassination this morning by a Jewish fanatic in Berlin.
Frankly it is difficult to see what will happen now in the Catholic Church. It is hard to imagine who could possibly replace this head of Catholicism in Western Europe who condemned the 'errors of Catholicism', calling on Catholics to 'return to the Church' and who repeatedly called himself 'only a Bishop of Rome'. Since Pope Linus' abolition of Cardinals, it is now the unenviable task of the Metropolitans of Western Europe to choose a new Pope. How can this man who has rewritten the history of Western Christianity ever be replaced? This question remains unanswerable, unless of course it is decided that there is no need to replace him ... .

More details of the book "The Lighted Way" and where to buy it, can be found on The English Orthodox Trust page of this site.

to top of page