June 24, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)


27 min read

St. Mark of Ephesus preserved Holy Orthodoxy at the Council of Florence



St. Mark of Ephesus preserved Holy Orthodoxy at the Council of Florence

Written by Vladimir Moss

      The Fall of Bulgaria in 1393 exposed Constantinople to the Turks, and the West summoned a large army under King Sigismund of Hungary to rescue the first city of Christendom. The two armies met at Nicopolis in 1396. The Turks won…

     Now the Serbian Despot Stephen Lazarevich was a Turkish vassal, and so had to fight on the Turkish side. However, it may be that like St. Alexander Nevsky 150 years before, he consciously chose to support the Turks rather than the Catholics, seeing in the latter a greater danger to the Serbian Faith and Nation. In partial support of this hypothesis, Barbara Tuchman writes that, “as a vassal of the Sultan,” Stephen “might have chosen passive neutrality like the Bulgarians on whose soil the struggle was being fought, but he hated the Hungarians more than the Turks and chose active fidelity to his Moslem overlord. His intervention was decisive. Sigismund’s forces were overwhelmed.”[1]

     The way to Constantinople was now open for the Turks. But once again God saved the Orthodox when all human support had failed: at the battle of Ancyra in 1402 the Turkish Sultan Bayezit (with Stephen Lazarevich again fighting on his side) was defeated by the Mongol Tamerlane, one of the greatest and most ruthless conquerors in history. “Later the same year,” writes Simon Sebag Montefiore, “he annihilated the Christian city of Smyrna, floating the severed heads of his victims out to sea on candlelit dishes. By 1404, even the Byzantine emperor John I was paying him tribute in return for a guarantee of safety.”[2]

     However, the position of the Empire continued to decline. The City itself was ravaged and largely depopulated; its inhabitants dragged out a miserable existence, ill-fed, ill-clothed and demoralized. In a desperate last throw of the dice, the Byzantines decided to unite with the Roman Church in exchange for the promise of military help against the Turks…

     Outside the City, the only considerable Byzantine possession was the Despotate of Morea, now known as the Peloponnese. Andronicus Palaeologus had given Thessalonica into the hands of the Venetians, who then, in 1430, lost it to the Turks. There, in the capital of Mystra, a last flourishing of Byzantine civilization took place… And yet it was a strange flourishing when Mystra’s most famous citizen, the philosopher George Gemistus Plethon, was a student of Aristotle, Zoroaster and the Jewish Cabala, and who was discovered, after his death, to have been a believer in the pagan Greek gods!

     Colin Wells writes: “In so flagrantly abandoning Orthodox Byzantium for ancient Greece, Pletho represents an extreme version of the classicizing tendency that had helped drive the humanists [students of the “Outer Wisdom”, pagan classical literature and art] further and further from the Byzantine mainstream. Most Byzantines had already paid their money and taken their choice, and their choice was not Pletho’s. Their most urgent priority was to save their immortal souls, not to preserve what was an essentially Greek state. Imbued with Hesychasm’s somber, otherworldly tones, the mainstream of Byzantine civilization had already turned towards a better life in the next world while resigning itself to Turkish captivity in this one. For his self-reliant stand against the Turks, Pletho has been called the first Greek nationalist – so ardent was he, in fact, that he argued against church union not for religious reasons but for patriotic ones, preferring to find strength from within [the Byzantine state].”[3]

     Negotiations with Rome dragged on, “held up partly”, as Runciman writes, “by the Pope’s difficulties with the leaders of the Conciliar movement [in the West] and partly by the uneasy situation in the East. At one moment it seemed that a Council might take place at Constantinople, but the Turkish siege of the city in 1422 made it clear that it was no place for an international congress. Manuel II retired from active politics in 1423 and died two years later. His son, John VIII, was convinced that the salvation of the Empire depended upon union and tried to press for a Council; but he was unwilling at first to allow it to take place in Italy; while the Papacy still had problems to settle in the West. Delays continued. It was not until the beginning of 1438 that plans were completed and the Emperor arrived with his delegation at a Council recently opened in Ferrara and transferred to Florence [at the urging of Cosimo de Medici] in January 1439.”[4]

     The Greek delegation consisted of 700 ecclesiastical and lay notables, including twenty metropolitans. The leader of the bishops was Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople. He had previously told the Emperor: “The Church must go in front of the power of the Emperor, or next to it, but in no way behind it.”[5] And yet he meekly followed the same Emperor to Florence and submitted to his instructions. Moreover, he was prepared to make critical concessions on the issue of the Filioque, agreeing with the Latins that the prepositions “proceeding through” and “proceeding from” meant the same.

     But he did not become a Roman Catholic… One day, as Hefele writes, “The Patriarch was found dead in his room. On the table lay (supposedly) his testament, Extrema Sententia, consisting in all of some lines in which he declared that he accepted everything that the Church of Rome confesses. And then: “In like manner, I acknowledge the Holy Father of Fathers, the Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Pope of Old Rome. Likewise, I acknowledge purgatory. In affirmation of this, I affix my signature.”

“There is no doubt whatever that Patriarch Joseph did not write this document. The German scholar Frommann, who made a detailed investigation of the “Testament” of Patriarch Joseph, says: “This document is so Latinized and corresponds so little to the opinion expressed by the Patriarch several days before, that its spuriousness is evident.”[6]

     The need for western military help was not the only factor that propelled the Byzantines to Florence. Another was the idea, dear to the humanists whose influence was increasing in Byzantium, that Greek culture was so precious that it had to be preserved at all costs. But “Greek culture” for the humanists meant the pagan culture of Classical Greece, not the Orthodox civilization of the Holy Fathers; and by the fifteenth century, by contrast with the eleventh or even the thirteenth century, the Latins had become almost as enthusiastic fans of pagan Greek culture as the Greeks themselves. So it was much more likely that the Latins would preserve that culture than the Turks. Thus better for the humanists the pope’s tiara than the sultan’s turban…

     However, it was not only humanists or Greek nationalists that looked with hope towards the council in Florence. Paradoxically, even some of those who remained true Romans – that is, who valued the universalist heritage of Christian Rome more than any specifically Hellenistic elements, and for whom the true glory of the empire was its Orthodoxy – were attracted by the prospect. In the minds of some, this was because the idea of imperial unity between East and West was inextricably linked with that of ecclesiastical unity.

     Thus Fr. John Meyendorff writes that an essential element of the Byzantine world-view “was an immovable vision of the empire’s traditional borders. At no time – not even in the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries – did the Byzantines abandon the idea that the empire included both East and West, that ideally, its territories comprised Spain as well as Syria, and that the ‘Old Rome’ somehow remained its historical source and symbolic center in spite of the transfer of the capital to Constantinople. There were theological polemics against the ‘Latins’; there was popular hatred against the ‘Franks’, especially after the Crusades; there was resentment against the commercial colonization of Byzantine lands by the Venetians and the Genoese, but the ideal vision of the universal empire remained, expressed particularly in the exclusive ‘Roman’ legitimacy of the Byzantine emperor. As late as 1393, Patriarch Anthony of Constantinople, in his often-quoted letter to the grand-prince Basil I of Moscow urging him not to oppose the liturgical commemoration of the emperor in Russian churches, expresses the utterly unrealistic but firm conviction that the emperor is ‘emperor and autocrator of the Romans, that is, of all Christians’; that ‘in every place and by every patriarch, metropolitan and bishop the name of the emperor is commemorated wherever there are Christians…’ and that ‘even the Latins, who have no communion whatsoever with our Church, give to him the same subordination, as they did in past times, when they were united with us.’ Characteristically, the patriarch maintains the existence of an imperial unity in spite of the schism dividing the churches.[7]

      Another anachronistic idea from the sixth-century past that played a part here in the fifteenth century was that of the pentarchy – that is, the idea that the Church was composed of five patriarchal sees, like the five senses, of which Old Rome was one. Several completely Orthodox Byzantines even in the fourteenth century, such as Emperor John VI Cantacuzene and Patriarch Philotheus Kokkinos, had been in favour of an ecumenical council with Rome. Of course, the Latins were power-loving heretics. But this was not new. Even during the “Acacian schism” of the early sixth century Pope Hormisdas had presented overweening demands relating to the supremacy of the papacy, which Patriarch John the Cappadocian had accepted, adding only the significant phrase:“I proclaim that the see of the Apostle Peter and the see of this imperial city are one”. Could not the two sees be reunited again, this time under the leadership of the new Justinian, Emperor John VIII? And in this context Justinian’s idea of the pentarchy also became relevant again, for, as Meyendorff points out, it was “an important factor in the Byzantine understanding of an ‘ecumenical’ council, which required the presence of the five patriarchs, or their representatives, even as the Eastern sees of Alexandria and Antioch had, in fact, ceased to be influential. In any case, in the Middle Ages, these two interconnected elements – the theoretical legitimacy of the Byzantine emperor over the West and a lingering respect for the pentarchy, of which the Roman bishop was the leading member – made it into a requirement that a properly ecumenical council include the bishop of Rome (in spite of the schism), and the four Eastern patriarchs (although three of them were now heading churches which were barely in existence at all).”[8]

     Thus many factors – obedience to the emperor, fear for the fate of Hellenism, hopes of a reunion of Christendom – combined to undermine the resistance of most Greeks to the unia, which involved surrender to almost all the pope’s demands, including the Filioque and papal supremacy.


     During the council, the Latins wore down the Greeks with their scholastic reasoning. “The Papal theologian John Protonotarios, the Spaniard, otherwise known as Juan de Torquemada, uncle to the terrible Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, during one of the synodal assemblies, abused the logic of Aristotle to such an extent, that one Orthodox Bishop from Iberia was overheard by Silvester Syropoulos, an eyewitness of this historic Synod, muttering: ‘Aristotle, Aristotle, why all this Aristotle when they should be quoting St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Chrysostom, but not Aristotle.’ Syropoulos says that he writes this to show how the Latins were condemned for their scholastic mentality, which was foreign to the authentic ecclesiastical spirit, not only by the Orthodox who attended the Synod, but also by those “who spoke other languages” who were present at the discussions.”[9]

     Throughout, the heretical Pope stubbornly insisted that the Orthodox were outside the Church: ““The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”

     “In the end, weary of it all, longing to get home and, it was said, deliberately kept short of food and comforts, the whole Greek delegation, under orders from the Emperor and in obedience to the concordat of their Church with John V, signed the decree of union [on July 6, 1439], with the exception of Mark Evgenicus [Metropolitan of Ephesus], and, it seems, of Plethon…; and, after retiring for a while to his see of Ephesus, in Turkish territory, he submitted to pressure and abdicated.”[10]

     Michael Ducas records that on February 1, 1440, “the people of Constantinople kissed the hierarchs immediately as they disembarked from the triremes and they asked the hierarchs how things went. ‘What happened at the Synod? Were we successful?’ The hierarchs answered, ‘We sold our faith, we exchanged Godliness for godlessness, betraying the pure sacrifice, we became upholders of unleavened bread.’ They said all this and more obscene and sordid words. When they were asked why they had signed, they said ‘Because we feared the Latins.’ And when they were asked if the Latins had tortured them or whipped them or put them in prison they responded, ‘No’. The people then asked them: ‘So what happened? Let the right hand that signed,’ they said, ‘be cut off and the tongue that professed [heresy] be pulled out from its root.’…

     “The people spat in their faces, and history recorded them as betrayers and the people praised St. Mark of Ephesus as the pillar of Orthodoxy…”[11]

     In fulfillment of his side of the bargain, the Pope called on western leaders to mount a crusade against the Turks. The resultant “Crusade of Varna” set out from Hungary with twenty-five thousand men. It was crushed by the Turks at Varna in November, 1444…


     St. Mark now undertook the leadership of the anti-uniate Church with the motto: “There can be no compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith.”[12] And again: “Let no one lord it over our faith, neither emperor, nor false council, not anyone else, but only the One God, Who Himself handed it down to us through His disciples.”

      In July, 1440 St. Mark wrote: “To All Orthodox Christians on the Mainland and in the Islands.

      “From Mark, Bishop of the Metropolis of Ephesus—Rejoice in Christ!

      “To those who have ensnared us in an evil captivity—desiring to lead us away into the Babylon of Latin rites and dogmas—could not, of course, completely accomplish this, seeing immediately that there was little chance of it. In fact, that it was simply impossible. But having stopped somewhere in the middle—both they and those who followed after them—they neither remained any longer what they were, nor became anything else. For having quit Jerusalem, a firm and unwavering faith—and yet being in no condition and not wishing to become and to be called Babylonians—they thus called themselves, as if by right, ‘Greco-Latins,’ and among the people are called ‘Latinizers.’

      “And so these split people, like the mythical centaurs, confess together with the Latins that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and has the Son as Cause of His existence, and yet together with us confess that He proceeds from the Father. And they say together with them that the addition to the Creed (of the Filioque) was done canonically and with blessing, and yet together with us do not permit it to be uttered. (Besides, who would turn away from what was canonical and blessed?). And they say together with them that unleavened bread is the Body of Christ, and yet together with us do not dare to accept it. Is this not sufficient to reveal their spirit, and how that it was not in a quest for the Truth—which, having in their hands, they betrayed—that they came together with the Latins, but rather from a desire to enrich themselves and to conclude not a true, but false, union?

      “But one should examine in what manner they have united with them; for everything that is united to something different is naturally united by means of some middle point between them. And thus they imagined to unite with them by means of some judgment concerning the Holy Spirit, together with expressing the opinion that He has existence also from the Son. But everything else between them is divergent, and there is among them neither any middle point nor anything in common. Just as before, two divergent Creeds are uttered. Likewise, there are celebrated two Liturgies, divergent and discordant one with the other—one with leavened bread, the other with unleavened bread. Divergent also are baptisms—one performed with triple immersion, the other with “pouring” over the head from above; one with anointing chrism, the other completely without. And all rites are in everything divergent and discordant one with the other, along with the fasts, church usages, and other, similar things…

      “The pious canons speak thus: ‘He is a heretic and subject to the canons against heretics who even slightly departs from the Orthodox Faith.’ If, then, the Latins do not at all depart from the correct Faith, we have evidently cut them off unjustly. But if they have thoroughly departed [from the Faith]—and that in connection with the theology of the Holy Spirit, blasphemy against Whom is the greatest of all perils—then it is clear that they are heretics, and we have cut them off as heretics.

     “Why do we anoint with chrism those of them who come to us? Is it not clear that it is because they are heretics? For the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council states:

      “’As for those heretics who betake themselves to Orthodoxy, and to the lot of those being saved, we accept them in accordance with the subjoined sequence and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, those calling themselves Cathari (“Puritans”) and Aristeri (“Best”), and the Quartodecimans, otherwise known as Tetradites, and Apollinarians we accept when they offer libelli (recantations in writing), and anathematize every heresy that does not hold the same beliefs as the Catholic and Apostolic Church of God, and are sealed first with holy chrism on their forehead and their eyes, and nose, and mouth, and ears, and in sealing them we say: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’

      “Do you see with whom we number those who come from the Latins? If all those are heretics, then it is clear that these are the same…

      “If the Latin dogma is true that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then ours is false that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father—and this is precisely the reason for which we separated from them. And if ours is true, then without a doubt, theirs is false. What kind of middle ground can there be between two such judgments? There can be none, unless it were some kind of judgment suitable to both the one and the other, like a boot that fits both feet. And will this unite us?..

      “And we affirm, in agreement with the Fathers, that the will and energy of the uncreated and divine nature are uncreated; while they, together with the Latins and Thomas, say that will is identical with nature, but that the divine energy is created, whether it be called divinity, or the divine and immaterial light, or the Holy Spirit, or something else of this nature—and in some fashion, these poor creatures worship the created ‘divinity’ and the created ‘divine light’ and the created ‘Holy Spirit.’

      “And we say that neither do the Saints receive the kingdom and the unutterable blessings already prepared for them, nor are sinners already sent to hell, but both await their fate which will be received in the future age after the resurrection and judgement; while they, together with the Latins, desire immediately after death to receive according to their merits. And for those in an intermediate condition, who have died in repentance, they give a purgatorial fire (which is not identical with that of hell) so that, as they say, having purified their souls by it after death, they also together with the righteous will enjoy the kingdom; this is contained in their Conciliar Decree.

      “And we, obeying the Apostles who have prohibited it, shun Jewish unleavened bread; while they, in the same Act of Union, proclaim that what is used in the services of the Latins is the Body of Christ.

      “And we say that the addition to the Creed arose un-canonically and anti-canonically and contrary to the Fathers; while they affirm that it is canonical and blessed—to such an extent are they unaware how to conform to the Truth and to themselves!

      “And for us, the Pope is as one of the Patriarchs, and that alone—if he be Orthodox; while they, with great gravity, proclaim him ‘Vicar of Christ, Father and Teacher of all Christians’ May they be more fortunate than their Father, who are also like him. For he does not greatly prosper, having an anti-pope who is the cause of sufficient unpleasantness; and they are not happy to imitate him.

      “And so, brethren, flee from them and from communion with them, for they are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works (II Corinthians 11:13–15). And in another place, the same Apostle says of them: ‘For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, hut their own belly’; and by good words and fair speeches, they deceive the hearts of the simple. Nevertheless, the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal (Romans 16:18; II Timothy 2:19). And in another place: ‘Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the circumcision’ (Philippians 3:2). And then, in another place: ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you—let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8). See what has been prophetically foretold, that ‘though an angel from heaven,’ so that no one could cite in justification of himself an especially high position. And the beloved Disciple speaks thus: ‘If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting; for he that giveth him greeting is partaker in his evil deeds’ (II John 10–11).

      ‘Therefore, in so far as this is what has been commanded you by the Holy Apostles, stand aright, hold firmly to the traditions which you have received, both written and by word of mouth, that you be not deprived of your firmness if you are led away by the delusions of the lawless.

      “May God, Who is all-powerful, make them also to know their delusion; and having delivered us from them as from evil tares, may He gather us into His granaries like pure and useful wheat, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship, with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy and Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

     St. Mark’s confession had a good effect. In April 1443 when the three Patriarchs Joachim of Jerusalem, Philotheos of Alexandria, and Dorotheos of Antioch met in Jerusalem and condemned the Council of Florence as “vile” and Patriarch Metrophanes of Constantinople as a heretic.

     On the day of his death in 1444, St. Mark said: “Concerning the [uniate] Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church. I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints; and to the degree that I separate myself from them am I in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church. And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church.”[13]

     St. Mark, as Runciman writes, “was treated as a martyr by almost the whole body of the Greek Church. The Emperor soon found that it was easier to sign the union than to implement it. He remained personally loyal to it, but, influenced by his aged mother, he refrained from trying to force it on his people. He found it hard to persuade anyone to take the empty Patriarchal chair. Metrophanes II, whom he appointed in May 1440, died soon afterwards. His successor, Gregory Mammas, who was a sincere advocate of union, found it prudent to retire to Italy in 1451. Bessarion [of Trebizond], liked and admired though he was personally, had already moved to Italy, shocked at the hostility that his actions had aroused at Constantinople and believing that he could best served the Greek cause by remaining among the Italians. Isidore of Kiev’s adherence to the union was angrily repudiated by the Russian Prince, Church and people, who deprived him of his see. He too went to Italy. The Eastern Patriarchs announced that they were not bound by anything that their representatives had signed and rejected the union. George Scholarius, though he had accepted the union and was devoted to the works of Thomas Aquinas, was soon convinced by Mark Eugenicus that he had been wrong. He retired into a monastery; and on Mark’s death in 1444 he emerged as leader of the anti-unionist party. The lesser clergy and the monks followed him almost to a man.

     “The Emperor John VIII died weary and disillusioned in 1448. His brother and heir Constantine XI considered himself bound by the union; but he did not try to press it on his people till the very end of the final Turkish siege. In the autumn of 1452 Isidore of Kiev, now a Roman cardinal, arrived at Constantinople with the union decree, which was solemnly read out in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia on 12 December. Isidore, who was anxious that everything should go smoothly, reported that it was well received. But his Italian assistant, Leonard of Chios, Archbishop of Mitylene, wrote angrily that few people were present and many officials boycotted the ceremony. Certainly, though during the last few months of the Empire’s existence Saint Sophia was served by Latin and by a handful of unionist clergy, its altars were almost deserted. The vast majority of the clergy and the congregations of the city would have nothing to do with them…

     “At this supreme moment of the Empire’s agony, the [uniate] Church of Constantinople could provide little help for the people. Its provincial administration had been disorganized by the Turkish advance. In Constantinople itself the official policy of union had produced chaos. There was no Patriarch. The last occupant of the post, Gregory Mammas, had fled to Italy. As bishoprics fell vacant the Emperor could find no one to fill them who would support his work for union. The clergy and the congregations of the city held aloof from the ceremonies in the Great Church of Saint Sophia, going instead for guidance to the monastery of the Scholarius, where the monk Gennadius, the former George Scholarius, fulminated against the union. Was it right for the Byzantines to seek to save their bodies at the cost of losing their souls? And indeed, would they save their bodies? To Gennadius and his friends it was all too clear that the help provided by the West would be pathetically inadequate. Holy Writ maintained that sooner or later Antichrist would come as a precursor of Armageddon and the end of the world. To many Greeks it seemed that the time had come. Was this the moment to desert the purity of the Faith?”[14]

     Gennadius went into seclusion, but left a notice on the door of his cell: “O unhappy Romans, why have you forsaken the truth? Why do you not trust in God, instead of in the Italians? In losing your faith you will lose your city.”[15]


     Of vital importance was how the rising star in the Orthodox firmament, Russia, would react to the council…

     In 1434, on the death of Metropolitan Photius, Bishop Jonah of Ryazan was elected metropolitan of Kiev and sent to Constantinople for consecration. “But here,” writes Protopriest Peter Smirnov, “obstacles were encountered. The Greeks were going through their last years. The Turks had moved up to Constantinople from all sides. The only hope of salvation was seen to be help from the West, but that could be bought only by means of humiliation before the Roman pope. Negotiations concerning the union of the Churches were undertaken. On the Latin side, people were being prepared in the East who would be able to agree to union, and they were given influential places and posts. One of these people was a certain Isidore, a very talented and educated person, but one who from a moral point of view was not especially firm, and was capable of changing his convictions. It was he whom they hastened to appoint as metropolitan for Moscow before the arrival of Jonah in Constantinople. St. Jonah was promised the metropolitanate after Isidore.

     “Soon after Isidore had arrived in Moscow, he declared that the Eighth Ecumenical Council was being prepared in Italy for the union of the Churches, and that it was necessary for him to be there. Then he began to prepare for the journey. Great Prince Basil Vasilievich tried in every way to dissuade Isidore from taking part in the council. Finally he said to him: “If you unfailingly desire to go to the eighth council, bring us thence our ancient Orthodoxy, which we received from our ancestor Vladimir, and do not bring us anything new and foreign, which we will not accept.’ Isidore swore to stand for Orthodoxy, but at the council of Florence he was especially zealous in promoting an outcome that was favourable for the pope. At the end of the council and after the reception of the unia, Isidore… returned to Moscow, and in his first service began to commemorate the pope instead of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The great prince publicly called him a Latin seducer and heretic and ordered that he be placed under guard until a conciliar resolution of the matter. The Russian bishops gathered in Moscow [in 1441] and condemned Isidore. Together with his disciple Gregory he fled to Tver, then Lithuania, and finally to Rome, where he remained for good with the pope.

     “After Isidore’s flight from Russia, St. Jonah remained for seven more years a simple bishop… Finally, in 1448… Basil Vasilievich summoned all the bishops of the Russian land to a council. The Fathers of the Council, on the basis of the Church canons, previous examples and the decision of the Constantinopolitan Patriarch that St. Jonah should be metropolitan after Isidore, appointed him to the see of the first-hierarch. At a triumphant service in the Dormition cathedral the omophorion which had placed on earlier metropolitans was placed on him, and the great metropolitan’s staff, the symbol of first-hierarchical power, was put into his hands.”[16]

     The Russian Church was now technically in schism from the Great Church of Constantinople, which had fallen into the Latin heresy… “However,” writes N. Boyeikov, “even after he had learned about the treachery of the Orthodox emperor and the events which had shaken Byzantium, Basil did not consider that he had the right to break the canonical dependence which the Russian Church had inherited since the time of the Baptism of Rus’, and after Jonah’s election he wrote the following: ‘After the death of Metropolitan Photius, having taken counsel with our mother, the Great Princess, and with our brothers, the Russian princes, both the Great Princes and the local ones, together with the lord of the Lithuanian land, the hierarchs and all the clergy, the boyars and all the Russian land, we elected Bishop Jonah of Ryazan and sent him to you in Constantinople for consecration together with our envoy. But before his arrival there the emperor and patriarch consecrated Isidore as metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus’, while to Jonah they said: “Go to your see – the Ryazan episcopate. If Isidore dies or something else happens to him, then be ready to be blessed for the metropolitan see of all Rus’.” Since a disagreement in the Church of God has taken place in our blessed kingdoms, travellers to Constantinople have suffered all kinds of difficulties on the road, there is great disorder in our countries, the godless Hagarenes have invaded, there have been civil wars, and we ourselves have suffered terrible things, not from foreigners, but from our own brothers. In view of this great need, we have assembled our Russian hierarchs, and, in accordance with the canons, we have consecrated the above-mentioned Jonah to the Russian metropolitanate of Kiev and all Rus’. We have acted in this way because of great need, and not out of pride or boldness. We shall remain to the end of the age devoted to the Orthodoxy we have received; our Church will always seek the blessing of the Church of Tsargrad and obey her in everything according to the ancient piety. And our father Jonah also begs for blessing and union in that which does not concern the present new disagreements, and we beseech your holy kingdom to be kindly disposed to our father Metropolitan Jonah. We wanted to write about all these church matters to the most holy Orthodox patriarch, too; and to ask his blessing and prayers. But we do not know whether there is a patriarch in your royal city or not. But if God grants that you will have a patriarch according to the ancient piety, then we shall inform him of all our circumstances and ask for his blessing.’

     “On reading this gramota of the Great Prince Basil, one is amazed at his tact and the restraint of his style. Knowing that the emperor himself had betrayed the faith, that Patriarch Gregory had fled to Rome, as also Isidore who had been sent to Moscow, Basil II, instead of giving a well-merited rebuke to his teachers and instructors, himself apologised for the fact that circumstances had compelled the Russian bishops to consecrate a metropolitan for themselves, and comes near to begging him to receive Jonah with honour. It is remarkable that the Great Prince at every point emphasizes that this consecration took place ‘in accordance with the canons’, while doubting whether there was a lawful patriarch in Byzantium itself or not. The whole of this gramota is full of true Christian humility and brotherly compassion for the emperor who had fallen on hard times.”[17]

     The Russian Church was now de facto autocephalous – and would become so de juretowards the end of the sixteenth century. And soon, after the fall of New Rome in 1453, the Russian State, too, would be independent, not only in the sense of being de facto self-governing (she had been that for centuries), but also in the sense of owing no filial, de jureallegiance to any other State. Indeed, the Russian Grand Prince Basil II was already being called “Tsar” and “Autocrat” by his own people, and “brother” by Emperor John VIII… Russia, whose Church constituted only one of the two hundred or so metropolias of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was becoming the leader of the Orthodox world…[18]

January 19 / February 1, 2018. 

St. Mark of Ephesus.

[1] Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, New York: Knopf, 1978, p. 560.

[2]Montefiore, Titans of History, London: Quercus, 2012, p. 157.

[3] Wells, Sailing from Byzantium, New York: Bantam Deli, 2006, pp. 91-92.

[4] Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, Cambridge University Press, 1968, pp. 103-104.

[5] A.P. Lebedev, Istoricheskie Ocherki Sostoiania Vizantijsko-Vostochnoj Tserkvi (Historical Sketches of the Condition of the Byzantine Eastern Church), St. Petersburg, 2003, p. 102.

[6]Hefele, Histoire des Conciles, vol. VII, pt. II, pp. 1015sq.

[7] Meyendorff, “Was there an Encounter between East and West at Florence?” in Rome, Constantinople, Moscow, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996, p. 89.

[8] Meyendorff, op. cit., p. 90.

[9] John Sanidopoulos, “The Danger of ‘Mutant’ Theology”, http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/03/the-danger-of-mutant-theology.html?m=1.

[10] Runciman, op. cit., p. 109. Bishop Isaiah of Stavropol, the Bishop of Tver and Bishop Gregory of Georgia secretly left the city to avoid signing. George Scholarius, the future patriarch, together with John Evgenicos, St. Mark’s brother and the Despot Demetrius [of the Morea] also left earlier without signing. And the signature of Methodius of Lacedaemon is nowhere to be found… (The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy, Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1990, p. 466)

[11]Ducas, in volume 6 p. 299 of the History of Paparrigopoulos.

[12] “In the eyes of Mark even the complete political extinction of the Byzantine State was not as important as the preservation of the integrity of Orthodoxy” (Constantine Tsipanlis, Mark Eugenicus and the Council of Florence, New York: Kentron Vyzantinon Erevnon, 1986, p. 60).

[13] St. Mark, P.G. 160, cols. 536c and 537a.

[14] Runciman, op. cit., pp. 109-110, 159-160.

[15]Gennadius Scholarius, in Sir Edmund Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury, VII, 176.

[16] Smirnov, Istoria Khristianskoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi (A History of the Orthodox Christian Church), Moscow: Krutitskoe podvorye, 2000, pp. 159-160.

[17] Boyeikov, Tserkov’, Rus’ i Rim (The Church, Rus’ and Rome), Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1983. See Fr. John Meyendorff, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, Cambridge University Press, 1981.

[18] And yet at the same time that it acquired full independence, the Russian Church lost its unity: a separate metropolia for the Lithuanian State was established in Kiev in 1458 (N. Riasonovsky, A History of Russia, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 121).

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