NEW YORK.- The recent release of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” has evoked significant reaction from people of all faiths across America and throughout the world. In part, the controversy stems from the fact that the film, which focuses almost exclusively on the last hours of our Lord’s earthy life, makes use of extremely graphic violence. In addition, many have expressed concern that the film might create anti-Semitic feelings. In light of these controversies, and in response to numerous inquiries, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America offers the following observations.
Already, some of our own Hierarchs have issued statements regarding Mr. Gibson’s film. One of these statements, from our Metropolis of Chicago, criticizes the film for including a significant amount of material not found in the Gospel accounts of Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion, and expresses regret that the message of Jesus is apparently reduced to His sufferings. Another statement, from our Metropolis of Boston, acknowledges the possibility that the film may lead the viewer “to reflect deeply on the pain of Christ’s passion.” Elsewhere in the world, Orthodox Christian leaders have expressed dismay at the emotionalism produced by the film, which contrasts with the sobriety of the Orthodox hymnology and art of the Holy Week services.
With every passing hour, more and more Orthodox clergymen of various jurisdictions are registering their own approval or criticism on parish websites or personal weblogs or Orthodox Internet discussion groups. Clearly, Orthodox Christians, like other persons from communities of faith throughout our country, have articulated a wide range of experiences and reactions to this work of cinematic art.
In the days and weeks to come, millions of people of every faith and people of no faith will experience this movie, and Christians in particular will be challenged to answer for themselves many questions, including the following: Is the violence in the film appropriate or excessive? Does it enhance faith, or does it detract from it? Does the supplemental material used in the film, not present in any of the Gospels, create confusion and conflict within the minds and the hearts of the viewers? Does the movie seem to single out a particular people for blame, or does it implicate all of humankind in the death of Christ? Is the relentless focus on the physical sufferings of Christ excessive?
We have already heard many different answers to these and similar questions. However, despite the lack of consensus, we rejoice in the fact that questions such as these are being discussed in a variety of forums, public and private. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Gibson’s film (which in the final analysis is a personal expression of a particular tradition of piety), it has raised to national and international attention matters of vital spiritual significance, bringing to mind the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Whether in pretense or in truth, in every way, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice” (1:18).